Mica Paris: My grandparents thought pop would turn me into “a harlot, a junkie”
Set to ring in the New Year at Shaka Zulu, The Queen of Soul talks about her journey into the ‘destructive’ world of music
‘People say ‘Miche, you’ve been in this business for 26 years, how come you haven’t become a victim of drugs and excess?’ There’s no point hailing my strength, it was my grandparents. Both of ’em were hardcore, man – seven-days-a-week-of-church hardcore. They just wouldn’t have had it.”
Mica Paris is a soul queen who’s never quite graduated from the old school. And nor would she want to. Her whole career stemmed from childhood church sessions singing gospel to rapturous praise and applause, and indeed that’s where she found her love of performance.
As a 19-year-old, she broke into the mainstream with her platinum debut album So Good, which produced the hit single My One Temptation. Since then, Paris, now 44, has gone on to become a Radio 2 presenter and television fashionista, co-presenting the BBC series What Not To Wear for two years in between the continued success of her musical career.
“What are women like?” she counters, when asked if she ever compartmentalises her work in music, media and fashion. “We can do five or six things at a time. I do feel like I’m working at the circus at times – like a juggler – but when things need to get done, you just don’t really think about it.”
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On December 31, one of these many projects is hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration at Shaka Zulu in Camden, where her vintage soul and gospel classics will help ring in 2014.
Considering it was just last month that Paris was turning on the Hampstead Christmas lights with Gok Wan, the born-and-bred south Londoner is having quite a spell in the city’s north west. She laughs: “I didn’t expect to be in Camden quite so much, but it’s always been a place for music – I mean that’s what we love about it. When Prince and I worked together, he chose to open his store here, which says it all really, doesn’t it?
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“You used to have places like Carnaby Street, even the King’s Road, but Camden seems to have survived. I think it’s to do with the arches, they haven’t had a Marks & Spencers shoved underneath them and it’s saved the atmosphere.”
For soul particularly, Camden has been a home from home since as far back as the Sixties. As a leading ambassador for the Amy Winehouse Foundation, however, Paris notes the late singer’s role in “reinventing” this relationship for the new millennium, with both encouraging a space “where people feel free”.
That ethos is at the centre of both Paris’s fashion sense and music. When she talks of the latter now, it is with almost parental responsibility and she hopes to have shown young musicians that they need not be caught up in the cycle of self-destruction that has claimed artists such as Winehouse.
“When I first said to my grandparents I wanted to work in music, they turned to me and said [she puts on a Jamaican accent], ‘Not in this house girl. Do you want to end up being a harlot, a junkie?’ They really were very concerned, so I wanted to prove it doesn’t always have to end up that way.”
Times change and now Paris is enjoying the revived influence of soul in electronic and house music. Slipping into the mainstream, though, the efforts of Miley Cyrus and co. probably wouldn’t have put her grandparent’s minds to rest. From a musical perspective, Paris is equally concerned.
“Pop nowadays is eating itself. It’s being rinsed out to death and everything sounds so similar. What’s strange is that, because of this, I’ve become this kind of cultish figure. People say, ‘Oh, I love Miche, she’s the cool one’ and it’s surreal because I didn’t start out being cool. I was commercial for a very long time, and pretty mainstream with stuff like My One Temptation.”
Paris’s plans for the new year will see her reunite with the architect of her early triumphs. For the last two years, she has been working on her eighth studio album with Rod Temperton, the renowned songwriter who has penned megahits including Michael Jackson’s Rock with You and Thriller.
The pair last worked together on Paris’s 1993 album Whisper a Prayer and having just finished the new record, Paris can’t wait to bring its songs to the masses.
“I’m not trying to compete with Rihanna and the like, God bless ‘em,” she says. “And I can blow smoke up my own ass because I didn’t write it. Sometimes as an artist you’ve just got to stand back, look at these songs and just appreciate being in the presence of someone of Rod’s calibre. I mean what’s come out the other end, my God…”
She pauses for a moment, almost overwhelmed by the thought. “It’s just proper soul music, you know?”
Mica Paris plays Shaka Zulu on New Year’s Eve. For tickets, visit www.shaka-zulu.com