Friday 14 September 2012 – Lateral Love Australia Song of the Week
Nothing’s Real But Love…by Rebecca Ferguson
If pop music is infinitely surprising then the often circuitous route that brings a major star to our attention is surely exemplified in the wonderful Rebecca Ferguson.
Just over a year ago, this painfully shy, woefully under confident single mother of two was shown auditioning for The X Factor. In what is surely one of the best audition sequences ever shown on the programme, her story of dignified resignation – pregnant at 17, then again at 19, with no money and little hope – struck a chord with the nation. It seemed that this was a voice destined never to be heard. Then she opened her mouth and her stunningly raw rendition of Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come” set the bar on the show, oh, just a million miles higher….
It’s immaterial that she came second on the show – perhaps even preferable, as it has meant that the last year has allowed this Liverpudlian world-class singer/songwriter to hone her writing skills and to channel that remarkable soul voice into a selection of songs that will establish this 25 year old as the voice of her generation, and a global superstar.
With a writing skill that belies her years, Rebecca Ferguson’s debut album does not pander to fashion. It’s not a hybrid of every current hip musical genre, shaken around a bit and mixed into an amorphous lump. This is soul; raw emotion pours out of every fibre of every note making the others sound… ordinary. Fiercely proud of her working class Liverpool roots, Rebecca’s route here hasn’t been an easy one, but it’s given her a dignified fighting spirit, which bursts through her lyrics and informs the path she hopes her career will follow. Basically, she is a true artist, in it for the long haul.
Until now all Rebecca’s admirers have had are her TV appearances. That audition of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ has had 2.9million views alone on YouTube, whilst her inspired renditions of Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’, Chris Isaac’s ‘Wicked Game’ and Candi Staton’s ‘You Got The Love’ showed that her range of influences was stunningly diverse. But the show itself gave Rebecca something that money can’t buy. “It completely changed me as a person. I’m strong now. Singing used to just be a dream, now it’s my focus. I had begun to give up hope and then the show happened and now, with this first album, I just wanted to get to a point where my voice and my songs are as good as they can possibly be”.
It got her here, to her first single, ‘Nothing’s Real But Love’; passionate yet displaying the control that only a great singer can muster, the subject is one close to Rebecca’s heart – what’s really important in life – “No money, no house, no car, can beat love.”
“People used to say to me ‘Being rich doesn’t make you happy, Rebecca’’’ she says. “And I’d think I’ve got no electricity, nothing – tell that to my empty fridge. But now I’m doing okay, I realise, they were right. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got, as long as you’ve got love. I know that sounds cheesy, but that’s everything”.
It’s a theme continued on much of her searingly honest debut album. “I spilled my soul out. A lot of it comes from writing about relationships I’ve been in, so I think everyone can probably relate to the lyrics – we’ve all been there.” A self-confessed perfectionist, Rebecca, who has always written her own material, wrote a song every day for months. “People just made an assumption, ‘She came off The X Factor she won’t be able to write. We’ll just write her songs.’ Then as time passed they realised, ‘Oh, she can actually do this!’”
Working with a roll call of song-writer/producers including Eg White (Adele, James Morrison, Duffy) Fraser T Smith (N-Dubz, Tinchy Stryder, Cee Lo Green) and Claude Kelly in New York (Britney, Whitney Houston, Jessie J) Rebecca has bared her soul, and admits creating it wasn’t always easy. “Some days in the studio I’d been crying and say ‘Ok I’ve had a really bad week, I’m not going to lie but we’re going to write about it, and hopefully something good can come out of that. Someone can listen to it, and think, ‘She’s been there too. She knows how I feel.’”
Created over the last 11 months the album is a highly accomplished and timeless piece of work; from the sweet pared back piano led ‘Teach me How to Be Loved’ to the big band sound of ‘Fairytale’, Rebecca’s voice soars effortlessly. And if ‘Shoulder To Shoulder’ doesn’t make you cry then there must be androids amongst us….
Whilst her direct musical influences are soul based, a quick arbitrary scroll through her iPod veers between; Ben Howard, Ray Charles, Bombay Bicycle Club, Tupac, Sam Cooke, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Florence and The Machine, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj and, of course, Adele. “She’s been such a support and said such lovely things about me,” she says of her fellow chanteuse. “She even admitted she voted for me 80 times when I was on the show. She means every word she sings, which I love.”
At times still shy, but with a surprisingly big laugh, creating this album has also rewarded Rebecca with a new level of assertiveness and self-belief, “I refused to re-vocal some of the songs on the album. I meant every word of those songs when I sang them, and I’m not going to do them again, and not mean it. I don’t care if that makes me sound like a diva.”
Growing up in a chaotic one-parent household, life was far from diva-ish. With three brothers and two sisters, music was an escape for Rebecca, “I didn’t have a very easy childhood to be honest and to get away from that I dreamt my life away; dreamt of singing.” Even from a tiny girl Rebecca could see her future, “I used to write songs age three,” she laughs, “There’s pads and pads of lyrics I wrote as a teenager at my mum’s house.”
Although well behaved, she admits she didn’t enjoy school; always wondering why she was there, when she knew her musical destiny. One that wasn’t going to be easy to get to, “My mum was really strict and I was only allowed to listen to Christian music. But I remember one of her friends who knew I loved singing giving me two tapes – Cher and Whitney Houston. I’d sit there for hours and hours listening to those two albums on repeat.”
There wasn’t any money to spare for Rebecca to follow her passion for singing, so at 14 she got a job in a clothes shop to pay for singing lessons. Performing Arts College followed, but then at 17, everything changed when she got pregnant with her first child Lillie May, followed by Karl two years later. “People would say to me, ‘Well your life’s ruined now!’ For a while I started to believe it, but you don’t have to get rid of your dreams just because you have kids. They’ve just pushed me to succeed, to want to do better for them. And for me.”
Incredibly humble, but with an eye trained firmly on the future, her potential is vast. “I am very proud of this album. It wasn’t easy to write and I poured that much of myself into it that if people don’t like it, it’ll be hard; but I’ll take that on the chin,” she says. “As long as people can say ‘I believed what she was saying’, that’s the ultimate.”