I interviewed Five Star front-woman Deniece Pearson a few weeks back, and while my adult professional self was calm and composed, my 12 year old self was excited, psyched and doing mental back flips for the entire duration of the conversation. If you grew up in the eighties you’ll feel me on this. Five Star were HUGE! The accomplishments speak for themselves: the group had a total of six top 10 UK singles, their album Silk & Steel hit the number one spot and they became the first black British group to top the UK album charts in 1987. The siblings were also named Best British Group by the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) which was like the equivalent to what the Brits/Grammy’s are today, and performed for the Queen and Prince Phillip at the Royal Variety Performance.
At the height of their success they sold out 6 nights at Wembley Arena and have sold 10 million albums around the world without having ever toured outside the UK. Five Star also managed to reach the holy grail of entertainment – cracking America, appearing on numerous TV shows including American Band Stand, Solid Gold, Soul Train and many other popular shows. They were the UK’s own Jackson family and we even had a Joe Jackson figure in the guise of the formidable Buster Pearson, the siblings’ father. And yet for all their accolades and accomplishments, chances are if you are under 30 you probably have never heard of them. This became apparent to me when The Voice debuted on our screens last year and featured Deniece during one of the auditions. While the over 30s portion of my timeline were expressing surprise and to some degree, dismay, at what seemed like a fall from grace for a star who was having to sing for her proverbial supper instead of resting on her laurels on account of previous accomplishments. The younger set weren’t even aware of who she was, which to me was a problem, although not wholly surprising. One of the main reasons for me starting this blog was to shine a light not just on contemporary Black British talent who are frequently ignored and overlooked by the mainstream, but on artists of the past who never get the credit they deserve for their contribution to the rich tapestry of modern British music that is loved and revered all over the world. But as you will find after reading this, Ms Pearson is far too gracious and filled with positivity to grumble about such matters.
Hi Deniece, it’s an absolute pleasure to speak with you today. What was it like to return to the spotlight last year with your appearance on The Voice?
Oh it was wonderful, it was a real challenge though. When I first came back to the UK I came across The X Factor, and I was thinking of doing it. The rest of my siblings told me not to do it, and then a friend of mine told me about The Voice, he said it’s not a gimmicky programme, so I was doing Respect The Diva, and this offer came up and so I decided to do it, and I thought it was absolutely amazing, it was great to meet Tom Jones. There was so much young talent, and Tom has been going for years and years and is such an inspiration. So to have him share his knowledge was an invaluable experience.The whole experience was phenomenal, it was a huge challenge, but I really enjoyed doing it.
Having achieved such incredible success with 5 Star,what was your goal in going on the show?
Well two things really: firstly exposure, to let people know we are still and around. And just to reintroduce myself to the public again. The show drew 11 million viewers, I mean, that’s just a great step. It was great to have such positive comments from wil.iam and the rest of the judges.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve been out the country for a while, can you talk me through what you’ve been up since the group disbanded?
Well we all went to the States, I got married and had children, although they’ve all grown up now, one is 18 and one is 17. We did so much while we were out in the States. We were signed to Epic records on a label called Rah Rah. Then the group kinda broke up, then got back together again. I even joined a girl group and we toured with Tamia, I was even a nanny out there. Then we all gradually came back to England and got the group back together.
How has the music industry changed since the 80s?
The music industry has definitely changed. Now you have to really sell yourself, you have to build up your own following before you are even looked at by a record company. The whole business has changed, the whole sound has changed, but it’s great to be back home, I’ve been back maybe 9 or 10 years.
Most of the younger generation are probably unaware of who 5 Star were/are and just how huge you were in the eighties. Doesn’t the lack of recognition bother you?
I think that we have to do our best to keep ourselves alive. There are a lot of 80s artists that are still doing shows and making a living with their back catalogue. It would be great to get more recognition because we did loads, we accomplished a lot. With us coming back out and doing stuff, I think that’s the best way to regain that.
What would you say were some of the highlights during the heady days of stardom?
The most meaningful for me was just my whole family doing the Royal Variety Performance, and also the tours, just feeling the love that was out there. And just knowing that we brought a lot of people through bad times. So many people are coming to the shows I do now, I just did the Cinderalla panto, and it was just so amazing to see so many 5 Star fans come out to see that show. It’s just wonderful to be able to give back. And meeting the Queen and just interacting with the fans was really, really amazing. The time went by in a blur. If we weren’t learning a song we were doing a video, or doing TV or learning a new routine to a song.
Do you have any of your iconic sparkly jumpsuits?
I wish we did, they all got lost in the move to California. Although we lost all of our stage outfits I still have two Rifat Ozbeck jackets that we wore to a photo session.
This question is a bit random, but I always wondered whether the constant bleaching of your hair caused damage?
Well I was lucky because my mum used to bleach her hair and when she was finished I’d use the little bits that she had left over, so I had this blonde hair that was plaited back in a French braid, and then when the group started it went more kind of ginger, so I’d put more colour on and it would get as light as it could get. But I loved my blonde hair. When I began to suffer breakage I cut it off.
During the 80s the group started to suffer a lot of backlash and there was an infamous incident when a caller on a children’s TV show swore at you all live on air. How was it going through the whole process of achieving incredible success but then facing backlash from the very same press and public that made you? And then of course there was the whole bankruptcy as well. How did you cope under such tremendous pressure?
My Dad was really protective of us, and his first instinct was to move us all away from it. When it all happened there were press camping outside our house and we couldn’t leave the house. We were stuck inside for a week, everyone was afraid to leave so I thought ‘you know what?’ I’ve got to get out of here. So I just remember going out to cut the hedges and the press came out. That made the front pages of the SUN, I was pictured in my shorts and my clippers. That was the final straw for us so my Dad decided we should go live in the States. And it was a totally new lifestyle for us in LA, we would do juicing and go out running living the LA lifestyle.
Do you feel celebs have it a lot harder today in terms of press intrusion?
When you are a celebrity you have to expect it. A photographer’s job is to get the best picture of you and get money for it. So you can’t really have one without the other so you just have to be very, very careful when you are in the public eye.
What was it like performing together again the five of you last year, after all this time has passed?
Oh my gosh, it was like the old days it was so brilliant – the magic was back. My Dad has passed away since then so it’s kinda turned everything upside down, our emotions are here, there and everywhere. But hopefully we’ll get it together as it’s our 30th anniversary this year and I’d love for us to do something to celebrate that.
Deniece’s single Close To Nowhere is out now. For further details visit www.deniecepearson.com
Five Star had too many tunes to mention but my top three has to be:
All Fall Down – My first introduction to the group, saw them on daytime TV
Let Me Be The One – 5 Star at their funkiest and most soulful
Rain Or Shine – a new look, new sound, glossy video? This was the moment the group had arrived
What are your favourite 5 Star tracks?