“HELEN BOULDING; NEW RED DRESS. AT LAST THE DEBUT ALBUM INSTORE AND ONLINE 11TH FEB 2008.”
This is what the publicity leaflets being strategically placed around The Taurus in Manchester exclaims. Delays that make Virgin seem like a paragon of punctuality, must have had even the artist herself wondering whether or not fate has stricken a fatal blow, to the prospect of unleashing her album that was finished last summer.
Helen Boulding, Sheffield’s own Independent woman, has just completed some last minute fine tuning before her Co-headline slot with Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers.
Relaxing onto a creaky chair outside the venue and enjoying the mild February air, this chirpy northerner exudes contentment and a little relief;
“It was delayed mainly because I was eager to have the album produced by Youth, so we re-recorded some of the older songs. It was all finished last summer, but we decided that it was better not to release it towards the end of the year, as it is not traditionally a good time to release a debut album.”
It certainly was interesting decision, but given the forthrightness of the reply, the artist seems to have no doubt that it was the right one. The decision proves well-grounded so far, as it gave Miss Boulding the chance to work with revered artists. Touring with Bryan Ferry and collaborating with Squeeze’s Chris Difford and Pink Floyd’s Rick Wright. It must be a strange transition to make from writing your own material and having 100% independence in what you create, to having to compromise and fit in with the creative needs of others?
“I love co-writing, different personalities allow you to combine different flavours and it gives the material extra strands. I love writing on my own as well because it is a release. Writing songs for me is a way of putting an issue or problem to bed.”
Through her pleasant personality and friendly manner, it is easy to see why this enterprising lady has been able to put her hand equally as successfully, to both of the above forms of song-writing. ‘New Red Dress’ is impressive for its consistency and ranging mood coverage. Although, one song, ‘I Always Look This Blue’ jumps out for its swooning melody, heart-felt vocals and philosophical acceptance of defeat in love;
“With that one, I tried to capture the emotion that I was feeling at that point in my life. It mainly came about from me liking someone that I really didn't want to like, but couldn't help myself. Most of my songs are about putting my feelings out there and it is important for me to do that.”
You can tell the authenticity of an artist by their ability to retain focus whenever they’re performing or talking about their art. A procession of tacky hat sellers fails to interrupt Boulding in her flow;
“ I believe that survival in music should be based on the artist’s ability rather than other factors like the size of their marketing budget and backing from their label. I have made a big step towards this by being made album of the week on Radio 2, I was judged purely on my music by them.”
Beating Hot Chip, eh? That is a big step or even a giant leap?
“Definitely I feel like I've swum the channel.”
What of the rumour that the inspiration to go it alone and release her debut album independently, came from Imogen Heap?
“Oh, I’ve known Imogen for a very long time. She did very well getting her own album out there and across, I admire anyone who is able to get up and get on with it without any help from a major infrastructure, i've done it and it's tough, you really have to be focused. She's a lovely girl and very talented lady, so she deserves all her success. I am happy to take it as far as I can independently. It would be great if 'Maid In Sheffield' becomes a household label and then I'd be in a position to release other artist’s work too, that it is certainly something I may look into in the future.”
Given the personal nature and therapeutic side to ‘New Red Dress’, it must be difficult to choose one song that currently sums her thoughts and feelings up? Helen kindly agreed to find one anyway;
“Hhhhmm, I really enjoy playing ‘Way To Go’ acoustically at the moment. It is uplifting yet moody.”
Is this since her move to London? That must have been perspective changing, have they made her an honorary southerner?
“Oh no, I still consider myself to be a northerner and always will. I want to move back to Sheffield in the not so distant future.”
It is impossible to talk to an aspiring singer/songwriter without mentioning Amy Winehouse and her contribution to music. So what has she done for the plight of women in music? A pensive look appears on the face of Helen and some thought goes into the following reply, making it sincere and thought provoking;
“I think she should just be judged on her music. She is undoubtedly a great artist with a great character and it is easy to see why she is the new big thing. We sorely need big characters out there.”
Isn’t it a little disappointing that we have to have a new big thing all the time? As a result, we're thrusting people like Duffy and Adele straight into the limelight to fill Amy’s shoes. When really they should be given time and space to make sure that they are ready for the sort of exposure that has put Amy under incredible pressure?
“Yeah, I agree with that. Also It'd be great if the new big thing that the industry are looking for is not the same as the last big thing, but something different and individual and characterful in it's own right….not just a poor imitation of the last big thing. It always baffles me how they always look for another one of what they've just had instead of thinking 'we just had one of those, so let's try something new that we don't already have!”
Helen slips away to make some final preparations for her last gig before ‘New Red Dress’ is placed in the public domain. It’s for the music appreciating people out there to judge now and this is an artist who seems ready for the trial.