THIS coming Bank Holiday weekend of the 26th and 27th May sees the launch of Music First Festival at The Oval, Hastings.
The music festival is spread across two days with Luv80’s on the Saturday and the Summer Soul BBQ on the Sunday.
The whole weekend boasts exclusive line ups featuring some of the most established and and globally popular artists from the golden years of soul who will be performing their seminal songs live on stage in the seaside sunshine.
Joining us for a catch up and a chat about all things Luv80’s is an artist whose career spans over forty years with fourteen top forty chart hits and ten studio albums released to widespread critical acclaim, we welcome the legendary Alexander O’Neal.
Hi Alexander, thanks for joining us – how are you?
Fantastic, I’m fantastic thank you! Looking forward to the interview so lets just go for it and see what happens!!
Music First Festival launches this coming May Bank Holiday in Hastings with your performance as a very special guest which we are really excited about and hope you are too!
Dawg,,, that line up! You seen it!? Damn, YES I’m looking forward to it! And on top of that, I just love playing for my British fans as they have shown me so much love and support over the years, it’s my pleasure and privilege to perform for them – its an honour.
The line up really captures the essence of 80’s pop favourites – what do you think made that period of time so magical?
Well, being a black entertainer coming out of America – it was almost like someone opened the doors for us and before us. You have to bare in mind, everything that we were doing at that time had to be totally politically correct as we had so much opposition which meant a lot was on the line, so there was definitely magic in the air.
Regardless of creed, as a musician first and foremost it was an opportunity for us to really stamp our identity on the sound of that time period, with so many other truly gifted artists around too, it was genuinely special and a really important time in my career.
I refer to it as the Minneapolis sound which without question was a spin off from what Prince was doing at that time, featuring lots of keyboard and great vocals. I was working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis who were incredibly talented producers when we got hired and fired by Prince but thats another story for another time haha!
I gather you have played in Hastings before now, what are your memories of the seaside town and how long is it since your last visit?
Well it has been quite a while since the last time that’s for sure and I certainly haven’t played an event on the scale of this one before so I’m really excited. The organisers of Music First Festival clearly know their music as the line up has got me excited and I really can’t wait to get down there and do my thing!
One thing about it, when it comes to the acts – everything is competitive and although its friendly, it is still competition among us and of course, we arrive with the intention of stealing the show! So I’m looking forward to getting there, kicking ass and taking names!!
You’ve recently completed your Resurrected Tour with dates in London, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham and beyond, did you enjoy the performances?
Thats correct and yes, the whole thing was a great experience, thank you. Ya know, we did the whole the resurrected thing because there comes a time in your life when you have to resurrect which I am still in the process of doing, so we are still working in that direction and making good progress along the way too. We’ve got a new record label coming soon, which will of course be entitled Resurrected Records and there is a new album on it’s way also and with both comes a lot of new possibilities and avenues, so its an exciting time that’s for sure.
There’s a lot of really good stuff going on in my life generally and in my musical career too. The tour was great and the fans were even better, it was a very positive experience overall and I really enjoyed performing every step of the way which is what it is all about.
Will this new album you mention also feature Mamma Freedom in collaboration?
Yeah thats right and ya know, this album will be so different to everything I’ve released before… I definitely stepped out of my comfort zone. This was something I really wanted to do – I mean, I’m truly thankful for the recognition I have for being ‘a great R&B singer’ however, I would like to be known as a ‘great singer’ period. So to do that, I can’t just keep doing R&B songs and albums as it will just reinforce the stereotype, with people saying ‘that sounds like it’s from the eighties’ and I don’t want that. I want to show people what I can do and this album is my way of doing just that.
I co-wrote this album with Mamma Freedom who are a Manchester based Funk band coming straight out of New York and they are seriously, unbelievably talented – check them out. I have recently released a re-recording of my single “Fake” which they collaborated on with me as well as my recent “Hearsay30” album too and they have been supporting me on tour as well, so we have definitely got a good thing going on!
We have written a lot of great songs so I urge my fans to check the new album out – you have to be adventurous and we definitely have been this time around. I’m trying to go somewhere in my career that I have never been before and in order to do so, you need to have all the right means and this album pretty much exemplifies that.
Where do you feel most comfortable? On stage with a live audience or in the studio producing your hits?
Definitely on stage – that’s where I’m at! I get claustrophobic in the studio and you know, the way I see it – in the studio environment, you don’t get better the longer you stay in there, I think you get worse! From the first phases and takes of recordings you get the meat of it in the first couple of hours and beyond that you’re just beating the brush so to speak.
I don’t do that any more, back in the day I’d go in the studio and stay there solid for four or five hours without a break. I’d go in at ten or eleven at night and not leave until three in the morning and it was all work. The way we approach our studio time in Minneapolis was all serious! So often you see studios full of girls with booze fuelled parties going on and all the rest of it – well, we were never down like that. It was all strictly work with us so I’m definitely more comfortable on stage where my fans can see the best of me and I can give them everything I’ve got.
I’m also my own worst critic when it comes to recording, everything I put my name to has to be the best it can be otherwise I’m not letting it go out there. That’s my approach anyway and it has worked so far!
It’s been over thirty years since the release of your album Hearsay and still going strong now – what makes it so special and literally timeless, you seemed to capture a magical essence.
You know, that is just something that just happened and I’m not sure what makes it timeless to be honest. We’ve just released the ‘Hearsay30’ album which features a more mature Alexander O’Neal and I don’t compare what I’m doing now to what I have done in the past as each album stands on it’s own merit, some of course are going to stand out more than others and for different reasons and in the same respect some people will prefer one to another for their own reasons and thats just the way it is.
I am proud of them all – some maybe make you feel like you could have done better but its all dependant on where you are in your life at that time. Maybe you are just doing the business and getting it done or maybe you are somewhere profound and you manage to capture that magic and share it. That is the beauty of being a recording artist and why I am so proud of what has been achieved over the past thirty years.
‘Hearsay’ was recorded at a time when we were young and it was just so special and there was just a snowball affect. We didn’t set out to make a concept album or whatever it became known as, but everything just started happening and it opened up our eyes to what this project could be and what it was to become. I think we came out of it pretty well…
You have mentioned in the past that ‘Crying Overtime’ is your favourite song from the album as it describes the life, times ands feeling of Alexander O’Neal – saying that it defines you – can you elaborate please.
Well that is my favourite song and that isn’t because I’m crying overtime, no – its because of the passion of the music in those chords and some chords a singer gets and its just so automatic, it’s so you. So when you do it, with no effort at all and it comes out like that it just delivers the passion in my voice and that is why I love it so much.
‘Hearsay’ is arguably your biggest album but is it your favourite? If not, which one is and why is that?
They are all my favourite, simply put. I don’t have any least favourite because they all stand on their own merit and I don’t compare them, I just do them and that’s that. I’m just trying to finish up a career Dawg and I’m not done yet, I’m just going to keep going!
If there was one song of yours thats stands out – which one is it and what makes it so special?
Mmmmm, I could say several but I would probably go with ‘Innocent’. You know we came out with that and nobody wanted to take us seriously, they really didn’t. They were so smitten with Prince and their heads were up their asses and they didn’t want to give anyone else the time of day. It didn’t matter though, it was my destiny.
God gives gifts to who he pleases and he gave me a wonderful gift to share with the world and it was not to be denied so I would have to say ‘Innocent’ yeah. It was a spin off of the Prince sound at the time, being the lead singer with ‘The Time’ there were a lot of discrepancies and controversies in that period. Everyone was trying to get their point across and prove themselves and I always felt that if I was good enough to be fired by Prince, then I was definitely good enough for the music industry so I focused and became more determined than ever, managing to make a good situation out of a not-so pleasant situation and the rest is history.
Sometimes thats what you have to do – just be patient. We have a saying in Minneapolis that goes, ‘if you can’t say something good about somebody then don’t say anything at all’ and that’s what got me to where I am today. I didn’t say anything at all, I just took it on the chin and got on with it – its very hard for your friends to come back and help you get a record deal when you are just sat there complaining and talking about things being unfair. I just keep my nose to the grind no matter what and kept at it and eventually it did happen for me!
I come from a singing family ya know, my sister is a better singer than me in my ears as are other members of my family but I know a lot of people that are better singers than I am. The thing that makes Alexander O’Neal unique is when you hear one of my records, you know straight away that it is me, Alex – straight up. You can’t say I sound like someone else, I have my own voice and that is what I have been truly blessed to have.
You hear Gladys Knight, you know that its Gladys Knight, or Luther Vandross – there’s no mistaking that it’s Luther and its the same with me, having that uniqueness is what makes all the difference. I realised that very early on and to be honest not that I would say I didn’t like my voice, I certainly wasn’t smitten with it, but it’s what I was given and I knew I had to make the most of it.
There’s others singers I prefer to me, put it that way! Marvin Gaye, Donnie Hathaway, James Ingram, Charlie Wilson – people like that, there’s endless amounts of them that I love their voice so all I could do was be me and be the best that I could be and I worked hard at that all the time and here we are today.
They inspired me, and most of them are my friends too and I never thought I’d be able to say that, growing up listening to Gladys I never imagined ending up going on tour with her for four months and becoming friends. Luther was an associate because we had the same record company, so I kinda had to walk in his shadow as they were giving him all the support, so I was taking mine.
Sometimes you gotta do that, you wanna win the game, well you gotta TAKE it, ok. So that is what I was doing, I was taking and giving it to my fans. Thats the kind of artist I am, I am the sergeant of the platoon and not only would I teach the other guys how to survive, but I’d be the first one in there and the first one out of the trenches too.
That was my thing and that was my approach to my career, every time. It was my tenacity that stood me apart from the rest and still is, I felt that I had the total package. To be honest, I never felt that I had the full support from my record company that I deserved because at Epic Records you had Michael Jackson paying all the bills, Luther Vandross as I said and then just me doing my thing but they didn’t wanna hear it! But, England told the world who Alexander O’Neal was and that’s why I’ve always had so much love for the UK and England especially.
You know the UK has been so supportive over the past forty years and its like no matter what you do, as long as you try to give it everything you got and make the most of the opportunities you are given when you are part of this industry then they will forgive you all your shortcomings because they realise you are human. On top of that, I think the reason my UK fans have stayed in my corner so long is because they know I leave it all on stage Dawg, I give my heart and soul up there every time. I’m always looking for those one hundred and fifty percents even when I’ve only got eighty-five sometimes and they sense that, they know I give them everything I got, each and every single time.
That seems like a good place to end there, it’s been inspiring talking to you so thank you for taking the time to talk to us – is there anything you would like to say?
Well just that, I’m really looking forward to taking to the stage at Luv80’s and with me I’m bringing a nine piece band to Hastings, to accompany the best version of Alexander O’Neal that I can be for y’all. I cannot wait, thank you to my fans for your support over all these years and thank you for this interview too – have a blessed day my brother, peace.
For more information on Music First Festival ‘Luv80s’ – Celebrating 80s Pop Culture head here.