`Soul' Sounds from Britain
With three hit records, the Chimes ring out loud and clear. MUSIC: INTERVIEW
NEW YORK — THEY started out as a two-person band in search of a singer. Now they're part of what some see as a new wave of British ``soul'' music. They're the Chimes, the latest in a string of soul-flavored artists from the United Kingdom headed up by the successful group Soul II Soul, which produced the Chimes's first hit single, ``1-2-3.''
The Chimes - made up of Scottish drummer/keyboardist James Locke, Scottish bassist Mike Peden, and English vocalist Pauline Henry - play a pared-down, no-frills fusion of pop, rhythm-and-blues, and jazz, which isn't dependent on studio technology for its appeal.
In a telephone interview I asked Mr. Locke and Ms. Henry - who were in London - about their success and about the advent of soul music from Britain.
``We didn't know we were part of this clique, you know,'' says Jamaica-born Pauline Henry. ``We just happened to be doing what we do....''
But Henry says she is happy to be part of a wave of soul-music, because ``not everyone can do it. Soul revival,'' she continues, ``means talent - being able to sing, being able to play your instrument, being able to use a minimum of props to get a message across. That's not a bandwagon a lot of people can jump on, because it's about live performance.''
``There aren't really that many people'' performing British soul, agrees Locke. They can be named in just one breath. ``All these bands have a similar attitude, in terms of the music - similar, not the same.''
Henry insists soul music has been a fixture in the UK for a long time. ``Simply Red has always been there ..., Alison Moyet,'' she says. ``But it wasn't `street' [music]; the new slant on soul music is that it's got a street base. That's why the kids are latching onto it....''
She credits Soul II Soul with popularizing the new sound but says it was really Terence Trent D'Arby who launched the style in Britain with his 1987 album, ``Introducing the Hard Line According to Terence Trent D'Arby.''
The Chimes go beyond a tough street sound, however. They have put the vocal element back into dance music. Henry's powerful voice has been compared to Anita Baker's, Patti Cathcart's (of Tuck and Patti), Aretha Franklin's, Gladys Knight's. But she says Chaka Khan and Jennifer Holiday have been her two main influences.
Locke says he and Peden are fortunate to have found her, but he recalls that the relationship got off to a rocky start. Locke and Peden, who had been working together for several years and searching for a certain sound, wanted a singer to round out their style. After auditioning a number of women who weren't right, they heard Henry sing over the telephone and decided to fly her in from London for an in-person audition.
``We didn't really get on, for lots of reasons,'' says Henry. It started when she was picked up at the airport by a truck. ``I wasn't too pleased,'' says the feisty singer. ``Also, they were planning to do a `we-do-the-writing-she-does-the-singing' number. My background is as a singer/songwriter - an artist, not just somebody to be shoved on the television to do her stuff. So when I met them, any notions of that had to be nipped in the bud.''
And nip she did. After a couple of months, the Chimes worked out all the kinks. If they hadn't, says Henry, she would have gone back to her job as a hair stylist and makeup artist. ``I was hardly scraping the bread line. ... Not that I didn't want the chance, but I was quite happy doing my thing,'' she says.
``It was quite a shaky beginning,'' says Locke. ``It takes time to get to know people. We all aired our doubts on the first day, which was probably the best thing to do, because we all know where we stand now; we all trust each other better....
``You tend to forget that vocal art is another instrument. ... You can't just press a button and expect a singer to sing. We knew that we wanted a really powerful voice and that it had to have American elements in it. We also knew what we wanted in terms of looks - which is a bit sexist, but ... if you see Mike and me you'll know why we need to have someone that looks good!''
Since the Chimes's success with ``1-2-3'' from an album called ``The Chimes,'' they've had a follow-up hit on another dance groove titled ``Heaven.'' The are also enjoying success with their third single, a gospel-ish cover of U2's ``I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.''
Do the Chimes believe that British soul music will be around for awhile?
``I think, if anything, it's the Americans who will keep it up, because they've got the means ... a lot of talent,'' says Henry.
So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Chimes are planning a fall tour of the United States.