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Gabrielle Talks Music and Equality: “We’ve Just Gotta Be Optimistic and Fight the Fight”

“I get to make music again, which is my first love – apart from men!”

This year marked 25 years since the release of Gabrielle’s debut single ‘Dreams’. Reaching number one, a record at the time for highest chart position of a debut single from a solo female artist, the single set a precedent for an impressive back catalogue of tracks we all recognise and love.

After an 11-year hiatus, Gabrielle is back with her sixth album ‘Under My Skin’. Critically applauded for having the classic Gabrielle sound intertwined with modern and radio-friendly production, it’s an album that will impress long-time fans as well as newcomers. With tour dates planned for the rest of the year, including a support slot with Rick Astley and headlining the DIVA Music Festival, it’s clear to see that Gabrielle is back and ready to remind you that she’s one of Britain’s best vocalists.

We managed to catch up with the music icon to talk about all things music and equality, as well as the importance of following your own dreams.

First of all, congratulations on your latest album ‘Under My Skin’ going top 10! How did it feel when you found out?

I was really excited because you never know what’s going to happen when you bring out new songs. The response has been phenomenal so I’m really chuffed! I’m really happy about how its been received.

Can you tell us a bit about the album? How would you describe it?

It’s a collection of songs, mostly autobiographical – it’s definitely older and wiser Gabrielle. There are songs about love, empowerment, acceptance, and the recognition of who you are. It’s an album full of optimism and all those things we go through in life.

In my case, I’m a lot older now so I have the opportunity to reflect on my life and show how I’ve moved on from certain things – I’m in a happier place, I’ve got a lot more freedom.

You’ve been on a bit of hiatus for a while. Was there ever a particular moment where you thought now is the time to come back?

Well, I had little ones and they’re not babies anymore! Now that they’re 15 and 23, it’s time to concentrate on me, me, me. I’m always going to be their mum, but it’s time for me to go back to being the Gabrielle I was before I was a mum too! I get to make music again, which is my first love – apart from men!

In 2016, I went on tour with Michael Bolton and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. At the end of the tour, I was feeling really down because I was missing being on the road. That’s when I realised that the only way I could do a longer tour, and not a support slot, was to have new songs. I know I’ve got a back catalogue for days, but my audience has been with me from the beginning and they hear the same songs all the time.

The catalyst for me was definitely coming to the end of the Michael Bolton tour and realising I wanted more! I just love the interaction with the audience and people telling you how much your songs mean to them.

You’re also heading out on the road next month with Rick Astley. How are you feeling about it?

I’m on a buzz! I can’t wait to get back on the road, I love the idea of supporting Rick Astley. I’m really excited because I get to sing new stuff.

I’m really loving that I’m going out and performing the new tracks and my audience is already singing back to me, you know what I mean?! I didn’t think people would know them, but I’m just loving seeing people singing the new songs like ‘Shine’ because they’ve heard it on the radio.

It’s nice to hear how excited you still get about heading on the road!

Oh, I love it! I think that my confidence has grown so much – my manager keeps saying she loves the new me. If I’ve not been on the stage for a while, I usually get really nervous and scared but, coming back this time around, I’ve learnt to fight through the nerves and just go full force as soon as I hit the stage! I am loving it, the timing is right for me and I’m absolutely in my element.

You’re also headlining the DIVA Music Festival at the end of the year too! Can you tell us a bit about that?

Oh my god, I’m going to have my band with me and we’re going to be singing the hits and the new stuff – I cannot wait, it’s going to be a real party vibe. If you want to have some fun, have a dance around and a good time, come on down. Bring the one you love, bring the one you fancy, bring your family, it’s going to be an amazing time.

I’m really pleased to be headlining, amongst all these other amazing artists. It’s all exciting and I can’t wait to perform the new music too!

Research earlier this year found that in six big festivals over the summer, only 25% of the solo acts were female. Have you ever found yourself being the only one or a handful of female acts on a line-up?

Initially, I never used to think of myself as a solo act as I’ve always been with a band. Diversity does take a while and we shouldn’t have to talk about it in 2018 but it’s a thing, it’s real.

Man has chosen to stay in the dark ages about so many things for so long, such as gay rights, but hopefully, through time, it’ll become something we won’t have to worry about anymore. As long as we don’t sit on our arses and be quiet about it, as long as we’re mentioning it, then time will change. It’s taken a long time for civil rights and gay rights to change but we’ve just gotta be optimistic and fight the fight. That’s what it’s about.

I think that’s what’s so important about things like the DIVA Music Festival. It’s about showcasing these empowering female artists and showing there is an audience that wants to see them.

Exactly! We get impregnated, we have the babies and we create life. If we didn’t have those babies, man wouldn’t be able to walk the earth so we need to be treated like the queens we are!

We shouldn’t be treated like we’re on the back shelf, we should be up there with our male counterparts. If having festivals that celebrate female empowerment is what it takes then that’s what we do and we keep on doing it until eventually, people recognise it.

Change is happening but it’s still taking time for people to be okay with it.

The fact that, in 2018, we’re still talking about male and female wage gaps is terrible – what’s going on! Why can’t we all be as one, why can’t we all party together? We should all be able to sit together, side by side, and just recognise that the one thing that ignites us is that we all have red blood flowing through our veins. It doesn’t matter who you love, what culture or religion you follow, we’re all people at the end of the day. I think we’re a long way away from people finally getting it, but I hope that I live to see it. 2Pac sang about not seeing a black president but we’re at that time now, I saw it happen. I want to be able to see the equal rights of people and women in my lifetime.

People are still subjected to things because of their gender, their beliefs, or their sexuality. We’ve had Barack Obama be president and we’ve had Ellen DeGeneres become the first out woman on U.S. television, change and equality are happening but it’s still taking time for people to be okay with it. One day, we’ll be able to talk about it like it’s not a thing. I want to be able to read the newspaper and not see that someone’s been beaten up because they were holding hands with someone of the same sex. I want us to get to a point where sexuality isn’t a big deal anymore.

Exactly. So, having 25 years of music under your belt, is there anything on your wish list you’re still wanting to achieve?

I want to do Glastonbury! I think Kylie Minogue is headlining it next year (apparently!). Maybe as we’re in the same age-bracket they may think they can only have one oldie, but that’s one of many things on my wish list I want to do! I really want to perform at Glastonbury.

Lastly, what piece of advice would you give anyone wanting to start out in the music biz?

Apart from getting a lawyer for when someone puts papers in front of you to sign, just do you: stay true to you. There’s nothing worse than starting out your career and doing stuff you hate.

I know that when I first started out, I had a lazy eyelid and I thought that I wouldn’t be able to make it because no one out there looked like me on TV but it worked out for me. It’s just about having that confidence to recognise that just because people think negatively or take the piss about something doesn’t mean you can’t make it. If you don’t believe in yourself, how should you expect anyone else to?

It’s about staying true to yourself and keeping your dignity. You’ve just gotta do you and try to be as true to yourself as you can be: never give up on your dreams!

Gabrielle’s latest album ‘Under My Skin’ is out now: https://gabrielle.lnk.to/UnderMySkinID

Gabrielle will be headlining the DIVA Music Festival, alongside KT Tunstall and Heather Peace. The festival takes place from Friday 30th November to Sunday 2nd December at Vauxhall Holiday Park. You can buy tickets right here.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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