Musician Julia Fordham – from Southsea to southern soul
PUBLISHED: 10:15 09 August 2013 | UPDATED: 10:15 09 August 2013
From the Hampshire coast to California, Julia Fordham has seen success spanning two decades. Claire Pitcher caught up with her following her first UK tour in 20 years
“I am officially a local lass and proud of it,” says 51-year-old singer songwriter Julia Fordham. “My parents live on Hayling Island and I usually come back at least once a year.” Her visits are few and far between now because Julia lives in California, but when you speak to her it’s clear her heart still belongs to Portsmouth.
When she was just 16, her first job before she broke into the music business was working at Radio Victory for three years: “I used to do some of the voiceovers for radio commercials and got to sing some of them too.” But it isn’t just memories of working in Portsmouth that she cherishes, there are poignant childhood ones too: “I absolutely love Southsea Promenade and the fair. I remember my granddad taking me there when I was about eight and last year I got to take my own little girl there, she will be eight this week. It was such a treat to see her enjoying all the rides that I remember so fondly,” recalls Julia.
With 10 albums, from Happy Ever After in 1988 to her most recent, Under the Rainbow, Julia has had success all over the world. From her humble beginnings living with her parents on Elphinstone Road in Southsea, when did she first realise she had an extraordinary musical talent?
“At school there were the sporty girls, the hip girls, the cool kids, the in crowd, the outsiders, and I found myself in with the meandering ‘musos’, strumming along on a guitar singing folk songs.” By the time she was 14, Julia was writing her own compositions.
“People commented that I had a unique voice and I might be onto something. I guess my first big break at that time would have been playing at the Black Dog in Havant on open mic night; it was that regular experience that set me on the right path.”
That path took her London, where she performed backing vocals for various bands, which finally led to her own deal and then cracking the top 40 with Happy Ever After: “It was my first big song and really got the ball rolling.”
You can only really describe Julia’s voice as deeply haunting, so much so it suits various styles.
“I’m kind of like a left field pop singer, I started in the folk scene but ended up in the jazz clubs and I also did a blue eyed soul album called Concrete Love,” she says. Having had so many albums, of varying styles it’s difficult for Julia to choose a favourite, “I think it would have to be my second album Porcelain as it was a defining moment for me; I really honed my sound and direction. I also have a soft spot for my Baby Love EP, a collection of songs that flew out of me shortly after my baby did.”
With over 30 years experience on the international music scene, Julia has worked alongside some of the world’s greatest artists; one of the most memorable highlights being when she sang with Lady Smith Black Mombaza in Paris: “I was a huge fan of their sound the moment I heard them on the Paul Simon album,” she says. “It was also an incredible treat to have Michael McDonald sing on my version of his song I Keep Forgettin’ We’re Not in Love Anymore, which is on my China Blue album.”
Other seminal career moments for Julia include singing at a recent event honouring Pete Townshend and another with Peter Gabriel and an orchestra from the Congo that was featured on 60 Minutes.
Her musical success led her to America, but not until she was working on her fourth album.
“It was called Falling Forward and I went over to work with a brilliant producer there called Larry Klein. He was married to Joni Mitchell and played bass in her band and for many other top notch musicians. I decided to stay on and made my fifth album, East West, with world music producer and composer Michael Brook. The next thing I knew I had put down roots and had been seduced by the southern Californian lifestyle and climate.”
This summer, for the first time in 20 years, Julia returned to the UK to tour - including a stop at her old home turf in Southsea.
Following her fleeting return to Portsmouth, what’s next for Julia?
“I’ve been asked to do a jazz album for JVC in Japan, my first song, Happy Ever After, was a big number one hit and I still go back regularly and play places like the Blue Note and the prestigious Cotton Club.
I am also working with Judith Owen a fellow Brit songwriter who is also based in LA, on a close harmony project, so watch this space.”