FEEL THE MUSIC IN ME with British soul artist Sulene Fleming

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A number of vocalists have performed with Brand New Heavies since they formed in London in the 80s. 2016 saw Sulene adding her vocals to the Heavies tour of Europe and Japan. One of the dates was in the North East… Yeah, when I worked with the Heavies we played in Newcastle at the fab Hoochie Coochie club. The owner Warren always treats the artists well, he’s a great guy. It’s an intimate venue and the vibe is quite special, and they were an awesome crowd. I had played there before with another band I work with The Fantastics. We are in the mixing and mastering stage of a third album that will be finished early 2019. I sang and wrote some songs on the second album ‘All the People’ along with the forthcoming album. We will be performing songs when they are booked in’.

 What else have you got planned ? ‘In January I will be recording with a popular band from the mid 80s, but I can’t say who just yet. I’m a fan, so looking forward to working with them. I also write for music production libraries used in TV and Film. I also perform a lot doing private functions. Added with a two and a half year old daughter it’s not easy to juggle everything, but the journey is interesting to say the least’.

Looking back when did you start listening to music. Did your parents sing or play an instrument ? ‘Growing up my brother and me were blessed with the sound of music throughout the house. The music was varied from 50s to 80s from The Everly Brothers, Bob Marley, George Benson to Al Green. I loved looking at the record covers and the inlays, there was so much detail in the artwork.

We all enjoyed listening to a lot of different genres. I don’t think I disliked any of the music that was played, I just loved how it made me feel. We watched Top of the Pops religiously every week and remember hearing ’The Final Countdown’ by Europe, I was rocking out with a sweeping brush haha’

When did you start singing and was there a moment when you said ‘I can do this’ ? ‘I started to sing from a very early age, I dreamed about being a singer but no, I didn’t truly believe it would be my career path. A few things occurred growing up where I thought it could be possible to potentially sing for a living.

When I was around 14 at school I was forever getting into trouble for hanging out in places where I shouldn’t have been. It was a strange place to hang, but all the girls would spend too much time in the school toilets!  Chatting, smoking and I’d always break into song. My friends always said I had a great voice. When the teachers caught me, yet again they used to say…‘Sulene, Sulene the toilet queen!  Not the best way to be greeted I must admit, but true.

My first step into music semi-professionally, was at the age of 15. I had been approached by a youth worker named Maurine. She told me about a new youth centre they had opened. The first time I attended I absolutely loved it. There was a DJ set up and microphones with a small recording studio.

I went there for a few months, then Maurine had set up an audition for me at a small talent show in London for my first live performance. The show was televised but unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the show. I was the youngest of all the contestants and think I came third.

My first paid gig was at a ‘Women Coming Together’ awards. I was very nervous. I think I got around 50 quid which was great for me at that age.

Aged 15 I joined a new band, they were called Tropicana and we cut our first record. This was my first pro-experience in music. I loved being in a large recording studio and learning a little of how the music industry worked. We released a Christmas song and the b side was a cover version of Saturday Night by Whitfield. I think it got to number 50 in the charts or was it 100 haha, I can’t recall.

One of the cover songs we recorded was ‘Do You Love Me’ by The Contours. Then one day we were sitting and chatting in a café when we heard the song on the radio, it had been recorded by another artist! We felt that we had been ripped off as this was too much of a coincidence. That was the day I realised how tough it was in music.

Every song we recorded was a cover with a reggae spin, but even at the age of 15 I knew it wasn’t really going to go anywhere. To cut a long story short, we decided to call it a day. Looking back it was a great laugh at 15 years old and I gained a lot of experience which was to set me up for the future’.

Can you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio ? ‘The very first time was on Pulse radio and I was 15 years old. This was the Christmas song I mentioned earlier ‘Reggae Christmas’. I did think WOW this is a nice feeling’.

As well as being a songwriter Sulene has also added her voice to countless numbers of studio sessions and live backing vocals. She has also performed along side artists including Sonique, Beverly Knight and Mica Paris. What does music mean to you ? ‘It’s scientifically proven that music can help to change your mind set, can aid in relaxation and help when feeling negative emotions. It is an outlet for expressing any feeling you may be having. Particularly for me, when performing live you can let all emotions run free no matter what they are. It’s a beautiful thing!

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 Have you any plans for the remainder of 2018  ? ‘On New Years Eve I’m performing at Cool Cats in Singapore, it will be my third time in Singapore this year. I’ll be backing Leroy Hudson again and the Jazz Café just after Christmas and have quite a few private gigs to keep me busy through December’.

Contact Sulene on her official website https://www.sulenefleming.com/

Interview by Gary Alikivi November 2018