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Lisa Stansfield has done as much as anyone to establish Britain as a credible home of disco and house, soul and R&B, a viable alternative to the United States. Really, considering the last three decades of those genres, this nation’s saving soul graces have been Lisa and Sade, and anyone operating in those realms today owes them a debt of gratitude.

“Sade is unbelievable,” she says. “She certainly had an influence on me and the way I saw myself. She was unusual, and so was I. Nobody could find a place to put me. I wasn’t the typical soul artist. Certainly not the typical English soul artist.”

Lisa recognizes the sublime music made in the name of disco but acknowledges that satin and spandex were never her thing.

“Seventies disco was amazing, but I thought, I don’t want to look like that,” she recalls of her upbringing in Rochdale, which eschewed glitz for northern grit. “It was tacky.”

There was an American dance group who did point the way forward: disco gods Chic and their 1979 album Risque, whose sleeve had a stylish, sepia sheen, one that Chic’s Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards themselves modeled on Roxy Music.

“It was very disco, but also very deco,” she notes, recalling how she explained the appeal of the Risque artwork to her then-collaborators, Andy Morris and Ian Devaney (the latter still her musical partner -and husband). “I said, ‘this is what we should be: not all spangly, but playing it quite cool.’ The idea was to have a sort of English reserve, but scratch the surface and there would be more underneath. A lot of 70s disco and soul was ultra-polished, with all the edges knocked off. It needed roughing up a bit.”

When she first emerged, in the mid-80s, she was one-third of a group, with Morris and Devaney, called Blue Zone, who were in thrall to Chicago house and Detroit techno. One of their tracks from 1988, Big Thing, exploded on the underground, leading to a team-up between Lisa and electronic dance duo Coldcut: the single People Hold On became a No 11 hit in the UK (and a Top 10 entry on America’s dance chart), and the rest is history. Since her breakthrough, with a combination of “determination plus good luck” as she puts it, Lisa has sold over 20 million records, bringing her unique brand of soul, R&B and Brit-house to the masses.

Her successful streak, which as of 2018 shows no signs of stopping, started in 1989 with the Affection album and its attendant singles: All Around The World (which did indeed become massive across the globe), What Did I Do To You,
Live Together, You Can’t Deny It and This Is The Right Time, the latter another joint effort by Lisa and Coldcut.

But her success has been satisfying on an artistic level as well as a commercial one. Coldcut and Messrs Devaney and Morris may have been the producers on her first two albums (Affection and 1991’s Real Love), with a little help on her third (1993’s So Natural) from Bobby Boughton, and Lisa Stansfield (1997), Face Up (2001) and The Moment (2004) may have seen everyone from Mark Morales to Trevor Horn behind the studio console, but recently she has become more involved in production, especially on 2014’s Seven and the latest album, Deeper. And all the way through she has been the primary composer of her material.

“The first writers I knew about were Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland,” she explains, admitting that she felt guilty when she first saw the names Stansfield-Devaney-Morris on the credits of her debut album. “It felt naughty, as though they shouldn’t be there. Even after 30 years, I still feel like, ‘Oh god, they’re going to find out.’ Like I’m pretending, somehow.”

She is being unduly modest. Songs such as All Around The World, This Is The Right Time, Change, All Woman and The Real Thing are indelibly stamped on the national consciousness. So highly is Lisa regarded that she was invited to contribute Someday (I’m Coming Back) to the biggest-selling movie soundtrack of all time (1992’s romantic thriller The Bodyguard) and to join forces with the legendary John Barry for 1993’s film Indecent Proposal (the sometime actress was also invited to screen-test for the latter, but that’s another story).

Depending on the song, she will have focused on either music or lyrics, or both. But the effect has been uniformly powerful. She remembers humming the melody to All Woman and leaving it on the answerphone at the recording studio, flitting as she often was back then between Britain and the States. She later worked it up into the sleek, poignant ballad we all know and love.

“All Woman has been there for a lot of people,” she allows, telling of the time she was in a pub in Ireland when a “really hard and scary-looking man” told the landlord to buy her a drink. He proceeded to recount that his marriage was crumbling when he heard the song. He played it to his wife, and they spent the night listening and talking, crying and reminiscing. “You saved my marriage,” the man told Lisa, still visibly moved by the memory.

For the first three albums, Team Stansfield was on a roll. “It had a life of its own,” she says of that rollercoaster period that saw her win numerous awards, including Brit Awards, Ivor Novello Awards and Billboard Music Awards.“It was so exciting.”

Her self-titled 1997 album drew further acclaim for its mastery of classic genres while Face Up saw her embracing the then-emergent UK garage. “When we make music we really do experiment with our own thing and I think that's really healthy,” she says of her diverse approach. “I can’t make the same album again and again. Some people do.”

A culinary metaphor occurs. “You can go back to the same pot of stew and put in similar ingredients, but you need different spices and herbs each time,” she decides.

Of her 2004 collaboration with Trevor Horn, she confides that it “didn’t quite work -no disrespect but it’s probably the most middle-of-the-road record I’ve ever done”, although she remains a huge fan of his, especially his production of Grace Jones’ 1985 album Slave To The Rhythm. What was missing was that all-important grit. “I’m a bit of a rough diamond, aren’t I?” she suggests.

Lisa believes she and Devaney recaptured their mojo on Seven and Deeper, produced in tandem with Mark Cotgrove alias Snowboy. “We never want to toe the line,” she asserts of Deeper’s highly individualised take on Philly soul, club music and deeply personal ballads. “With Seven and now Deeper we just said, ‘Fuck it.’ We don’t want to compromise. Deeper feels like we did when we made the first few albums. It’s got that excitement. It felt like a voyage of discovery. If there was something, a little musical element, we were afraid might be too scary or ‘edgy’, we kept it in. It’s about pushing things, musically and lyrically. Challenging people.”

She cites as an example Twisted, named thus because “it’s like three different types of music, with ‘normal’ verses, a northern soul break and a sort of Latin chorus.” Meanwhile, album opener Everything is “like being given a beautiful big kick with a soft shoe up the arse.”

Deeper is, Lisa contends, the perfect album to put on before a Friday night out, but it also provides the ideal Saturday morning comedown soundtrack. And it ends with a superb version of The Family Stand’s Ghetto Heaven, which brings the artist back full circle.

“It was my favourite song on the first tour for Affection,” she says, misty-eyed. Has singing it made her survey her career and assess her contribution? “Yeah,” she replies. “It’s pretty sweet. I was in this bar on Sunset in LA recently, and I got talking to this young gay black guy, full of life. He asked me what I did and I said I was a singer from England. He said, ‘Oh, I love British music, especially Lisa Stansfield, she’s my favourite!’ When I told him who I was he said, ‘I can’t believe it’s you -you’ve made my whole week!’ It’s so lovely to know my music has touched so many people. Hopefully it will continue to do so. For another 30 years? If my little legs can last that long.”

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