While Nile Rodgers and friends were bringing the funk to Camden at the iTunes Festival on Saturday night, a mile or so down the road veteran UK soul singer Don-E was gracing the stage at the Jazz Cafe to celebrate the release of his new album Little Star. The London based singer is back after a seven year absence with a solid album which features his trademark mellow grooves alongside collabos with the likes of Ty and an awesome ensemble track with some of the forefathers of UK soul including Omar, Leee John of Imagination, Carl McIntosh from Loose Ends and Junior Giscombe. I caught up with the man himself to discuss what he has been up to during his absence as well as his hopes for his new album. Read what he had to say.
So what can we expect from your new album Little Star?
Well the album is like a celebration of all the different sounds I grew up on over the years. So I’m kinda going back to the rare grooves vibe with groups like Cash Flow, Leroy Hutson, Earth, Wind of Fire and those types of artists. On the album I’ve also got a cover of a Dennis Brown tune I love – Love Has Found Its Way, it’s one of my favourite songs by Dennis.
So you haven’t recorded for a while, what have you been up to in between then?
I’ve been touring with Grace Jones. I call her Amazing Grace, as she’s just amazing. One of my former producers rang me up about eight years ago and said he’s rolling with Grace and she’s trying to put a band together. So he basically instructed me to find a band. Then I met her, she cooked me dinner that night and said to me ‘So you’re going to join my band?” And I was like ‘Err, yeah’ you can’t exactly tell Grace Jones no. So I set up the band, got my brother involved and got the ball rolling. I actually covered Slave To The Rhythm on this album too. I wasn’t sure whether anyone had covered it before so I was messing around with it on the tour bus and made it a bit more housey/dancey and Grace played it to Toots from Toots and the Maytals and he told her it was a good tune (laughs), so there you have it.
That’s an awesome story, I’m actually trying to envision Miss Grace in the kitchen, what did she cook for you?
She cooked me curry goat and white rice, she’s actually got quite mumsy side to her. Her son is in the band so it was actually quite a family affair.
During that time was it nice to be away from the spotlight?
Yeah definitely, I’m easy either way, I don’t mind being in the background. I started off as a musician in the band so it’s not a problem. It was nice to observe being on a tour of that scale. Grace is a legend, so it’s just interesting to see how it works at that level. I’ve never done tours of that stature as a solo artist, so it was an eye-opener into what works and what doesn’t work.
Has it been quite a challenge trying to sustain a career in an industry known for being super competitive?
Well at one point I did consider giving up and had to question whether this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Then I went to a session with Omar and Stevie Wonder came down and I sat there and remembered when I was a kid and used to dream of meeting people like Stevie, and here I was sitting with him. When stuff like that happens it does make you realise it’s worth pursuing your goals. The other day I recorded the single Spiritual and Junior Giscombe came in and started singing his part. When he finished recording he asked ‘Is that cool bruv?’ And it’s nuts because when I was 13 Junior came to my school and performed Mama Used to Say. When he finished he gave a talk explaining how it’s possible to come out of the hood and make something of yourself. So it’s crazy for me to have someone like Junior ask if his vocals are okay. So it’s incidents like that that leads me to think that maybe I’m doing the right thing and should stick to my guns. This industry is not for the fainthearted, but for me I’ve always felt that if I make a decent record it will catch on and I’ll be able to make a decent living from it.
To me a lot of artists such as yourself, Junior who you’ve just mentioned, Omar, etc are immensely talented but don’t get the recognition, the younger generation coming up now aren’t even aware of what you and your counterparts have achieved…
Well that’s why I decided to record the single Spiritual. I grew up on Junior, Loose Ends, Imagination and that to me is like a lost history. If we don’t highlight it people won’t be aware of it. So at Carl’s (McIntosh) birthday party, we were all sitting there drinking and someone said we need to just record a song. So on the track you’ve got myself, Omar, Leee John, Noel McKoy, Carl McIntosh and Rick Clarke. The grime generation have documented their movement, they’ve got video clips and films. But with us, I don’t know if it’s due to the time it took place, after all there wasn’t any internet, but we don’t have much. So I thought now is the perfect time to do it because we are all alive. It would be a shame if one of us passed away and we never got round to doing this.
Don-E’s album Little Star is out now for further details visit don-emusic.com
A tad bit predictable perhaps, but this is my fave Don-E track