Mica Paris: 'I just went for things that blew my head off'

Mica Paris: 'I just went for things that blew my head off'

Mica Paris

British soul pop icon marks the centenary of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald and embarks on a fresh sonic adventure

It has been 30 years since Mica Paris first made an elegant splash with the sweet soul pop of her debut hit 'My One Temptation', leading to a brace of prestige collaborations with many of her heroes from Prince to Bobby Womack, Natalie Cole to Dave Gilmour. Since then she's bobbed in and out of the spotlight as a radio and television presenter and personality (from What Not to Wear to Strictly Come Dancing) and stage and screen actress, most recently taking on the powerhouse role of Mama Morton in the UK touring production of Chicago. She's busier than ever, yet hasn't released an album in nine years.

But even that is about to change, thanks to another of her all-time musical heroes. To the delight of her jazz-loving dad, Paris has progressed from her south London soul and gospel roots to embrace the intuitive phrasing and spontaneous skatting of jazz, embarking on a series of concerts celebrating the centenary of Ella Fitzgerald.

'Jazz is feel,' she says of her latest territory. 'When you do pop, the structure of the song must remain the same all the time. Jazz is very much spiritual: you let the music take you where it's gonna go and you don't know where the hell that is.'

Fitzgerald fans will be aware that her centenary year was 2017 but Paris' tribute has been so successful that she has trucked right on to meet demand, and will bring her Ella show to Fringe by the Sea. A two-song EP recorded with the Guy Barker Jazz Orchestra has led to plans for a full album of Ella standards. 'I just went for things that blew my head off,' says Paris of the tricky task of representing such a rich and varied repertoire. '"Love for Sale" is a great song: how can you not want that?'

Paris has been so inspired by her jazz odyssey that she's working on another album, this one featuring original material co-written and produced with her Britsoul contemporary Omar, and she's also developing a play of Fitzgerald's life, in which she will star. 'I felt she hadn't been given the props; no one was celebrating her life,' Paris says. 'A lot of people don't really know what happened and it was pretty amazing. She was managing her own band. She was a feminist and didn't know it.'

Mica Paris: 'I just went for things that blew my head off'

Mica Paris
Paris hasn't stopped there though. She's also writing a book, I Should Have Known Better, on iconic but troubled singers such as Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse, and interviewing the great female singers of our times for a new Radio 2 series called Mica Meets.

'Basically, everything I'm doing right now is about women: how powerful women did it, but also how hard it is being a career woman in general. There are artists all around getting to own more of their work, and that's great, but it's tougher to get your stuff promoted. You do still need the power of the industry behind it. You could do it on your own but it's so much harder because people don't listen to anything but money. Women will get respect in all industries I believe when we get paid the same.'

The Time's Up and #MeToo movements have shone a bright spotlight on sexism and inequality, but Paris is mindful that change is a long time coming, expressing some relief that her elder daughter Monet quickly abandoned notions of embarking on a music career.

'I've had nothing but wars with my career because all I've ever done is fight for what I want,' she says. 'It hasn't stopped, I'm still doing it 30 years later. I came into music wanting to do everything and I still feel like that. I'd love to make a country album, a gospel album, to have lots of different records in different genres, but the industry hasn't really allowed me to do that. Now I'm in a place where that industry is different and there is way more freedom. This is my third wave. I'm riding it, so let's see where it takes me.'

Fringe by the Sea

With a spot of sea air and an entertaining line-up of music, comedy, theatre, film, author and children's events, North Berwick's multi-arts festival offers a respite from the madness of Edinburgh in festival season.

Various venues: North Berwick

Fri 7 Aug 2020

Times & prices vary / 07490 164 824

Sat 8 Aug 2020

Times & prices vary / 07490 164 824

Sun 9 Aug 2020

Times & prices vary / 07490 164 824

…and 7 more dates until 16 Aug 2020

Mica Paris Sings Ella Fitzgerald

The R&B and soul singer pays tribute to the music of Ella Fitzgerald.

Boisdales of Canary Wharf, London E14

Wed 29 Jan 2020

£27.50–£185.50 / 020 7715 5818

Thu 30 Jan 2020

£27.50–£185.50 / 020 7715 5818

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