By Cheryl Mullen - 07/20/2002 - 07:59 PM EDT
"In the beginning, God created the stars and the heavens and the earth. And He filled the earth with beings of every permutation--the beasts of the land, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea. And God saw that it was good--but not good enough. Something was missing."
"And God in His infinite wisdom said, 'I shall fashion a being with an exquisite voice so spellbinding that all the other creatures of the earth shall be transfixed upon hearing it. She shall have a four-octave range and she shall exercise it in nearly every song she sings. She shall also have bestowed upon her the ability to write songs as gorgeous and mesmerizing as her voice. This being shall be called Julia Fordham, and she shall have legions of followers called Banana Demons scattered throughout the world."
OK, so maybe I exaggerated a bit. But not about Julia Fordham's talent. Blessed with the voice of an angel, she has been wowing audiences for more than two decades.
Born in England in 1962, she first picked up a microphone at the age of 9. By the age of 12 she was writing her own songs, and by 14, she was performing at a local folk and jazz club. At 15, she left school to pursue a career in the music industry, and by the age of 16, she was living on her own and singing jingles for a local radio station.
After spending a few years singing backup for Mari Wilson and Kim Wilde, Julia struck out on her own. Her self-titled debut CD was recorded on her 25th birthday and released by Circa Records in the UK (Virgin Records in the US) in 1988. A few years later she relocated from the UK to California, and has since released four more albums on Virgin: Porcelain, Swept, Falling Forward, and East West.
Her latest release on Vanguard Records, Concrete Love, almost never saw the light of day. After parting with Virgin, Julia had signed with another major record label and had recorded Concrete Love for that label. Just before the album was to have been released, the record label axed every artist who wasn't a HUGE money maker--"the whole blinking lot", as Julia herself put it. Just when all hope seemed lost, Julia signed with Vanguard, and Concrete Love was officially released on June 18.
The album got another boost from divine songstress India.Arie. Prior to Concrete Love's release the two ladies happened to meet and became instant friends. During this meeting Julia gave India a promo copy of the CD. When India received several Grammy nominations at the beginning of this year, Julia helped her celebrate by hosting a proper British tea party in her honor. After everyone gorged themselves on tea and chocolate cake, the guest-of-honor diva declared that she wasn't leaving Julia's house until Julia performed the title track from the CD. So Julia got out her guitar and started singing. And as she sang, India sang this amazingly complex harmony line on top of Julia's part. Julia was so impressed that she invited India to come to the studio to record a second version of "Concrete Love". The Julia/India version is what appears on the final release. And when Julia performed recently in Atlanta, GA (India's hometown), she invited India to come to the concert and sing the song onstage with her--on twenty minutes' notice!
As amazing as Julia's albums are, she is even more amazing in concert. It's one thing to hear that glorious voice of hers coming through your stereo speakers. But to have it live and in front of you is absolutely incredible. It's even more incredible when you stop to consider that because the majority of her songs make full use of her four-octave range, it is nearly impossible to sing them halfheartedly. When a mere mortal singer has the sniffles or is tired or simply doesn't feel well the day of a gig, s/he can occasionally get away with schlepping through the show. Not Julia. No siree-bob. I had the pleasure of hearing her perform at Joe's Pub in New York City a couple of weeks ago. During her first performance she delivered a rendition of Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You" (which appears as a hidden track on Concrete Love, by the way). She started the song by taking it down an octave, but still hit the high note at the end. This earned her a smattering of applause. Then she caused everyone's jaw to drop by casually mentioning, "I was a bit worried about that note", then went on to explain that she was deathly ill and in fact had no voice at all up to two hours before showtime. I can honestly tell you that if she hadn't said she was sick, no one in the audience would have guessed.
While she may have the voice of a diva, there is absolutely nothing diva-like about Julia's personality. She is warm and engaging with a VERY down-to-earth sense of humor. Believe me, this is one bawdy Brit! When she appeared on the CBS "Early Show" recently, she had an unfortunate clothing mishap in which she, um...came out of her top, if you catch my drift. (Did I mention this was a live TV appearance?) At her concert at Joe's Pub later that evening she asked the crowd, "How many people here saw me on 'The Early Show' this morning?" A few hands went up. "OK, and how many of you saw me come out of my top?" This time the hands were accompanied by applause and laughter. At that point and throughout the rest of the show she proceeded to say and do things in reference to her breast--oops, I mean guest appearance that I can't mention here. Let's just say that she had the audience in stitches. I almost came out of MY top, I was laughing so hard.
There is a particular reason why Julia holds a special place in the hearts of New York City area fans like myself. There is a song off of her Porcelain album called "Manhattan Skyline". Mind you, the song was recorded in 1989 and had absolutely nothing to do with the events of September 11th. However, after the tragedy, the song became even more meaningful to those of us who were affected by the event. At her recent NYC shows Julia said that she had briefly considered pulling the song from her concert repertoire because she didn't think that performing it would be respectful. But she explained that she had gotten so many emails and letters from fans encouraging her to sing it that she decided to continue. Speaking for myself, I'm glad that she's continuing to do the song because it's one of my favorites. In fact, when I try to expose my friends to her music that's often the first song I will play for them. So Julia, even though I've said this to you before, I'll say it to you again--Keep doing the song, and don't let your inner voice or anyone else try to convince you otherwise. You go girl!!
WHERE TO FIND OUT MORE: Julia's CDs can be obtained in nearly any major music chain in the States (I picked up my copy at a Virgin Megastore), as well as your major online retailers (amazon.com, cdnow.com, etc.). And while there are several websites that contain information about her as well as sound clips, the best source of information that I've found is her email list. To subscribe, click here and go to "Falling Forward Mailing List". The webpage itself hasn't been updated in over a year, but the mailing list is up-to-date.
And how would you like to win an autographed copy of Concrete Love, Julia's latest CD? GoGirlsMusic.com, a wonderful website for aspiring female musicians, is sponsoring a contest in which the winner will receive a signed CD. As of the date I posted this column the contest was still up and running, so click here and enter now!
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