Go­ing solo is big Step into the un­known

Warwickshire Telegraph - - MUSIC -

Af­ter years in pop group Steps, Claire Richards is break­ing out on her own with the re­lease of her de­but solo record. She tells LUCY MAPSTONE about her fears of go­ing it alone, and why she is so proud of the mu­sic that made her fa­mous

CLAIRE Richards – or “Claire from Steps” as she’s known to mil­lions – is a lit­tle bit freaked out to be fi­nally tak­ing the plunge with her de­but solo al­bum.

The singer, whose voice is in­stantly recog­nis­able as one of the strong­est of the five-piece group, is gear­ing up to drop her record My Wildest Dreams, more than 20 years af­ter start­ing her ca­reer in the pop jug­ger­naut.

“I’m not a risk-taker at all,” she con­fesses through a ner­vous smile.

“I like to know that I have done some­thing well, and that it’s not gonna fail. So this, for me, is quite a big risk. That world of the un­known is a bit scary.”

And it must be scary for some­one who rose to fame at the age of 19 in 1997, safely bol­stered as one-fifth of one of Bri­tish pop’s big­gest acts.

Steps were rather un­touch­able with their string of catchy dance-pop hits, step-by-step dance rou­tines, Top Of The Pops ap­pear­ances and fun videos.

Com­prised of Claire, Lee Latch­ford-Evans, Lisa Scott-Lee, Ian “H” Watkins and Faye Tozer, the group had a sat­is­fy­ingly suc­cess­ful first run, nab­bing a Brit Award, two num­ber one UK sin­gles, 14 con­sec­u­tive top fives and a chart-top­ping al­bum, with more than 20 mil­lion records sold glob­ally.

Af­ter split­ting in 2001, and via the short-lived duo of Claire and Ian called H & Claire, the band re­united in 2011.

But their most suc­cess­ful re­u­nion took place last year, with a sell-out arena tour and num­ber two come­back al­bum Tears On The Dance­floor.

All of this, Claire says, is largely what in­spired her to go it alone af­ter years of want­ing and wish­ing. That, and fi­nally dis­cov­er­ing who she is as a per­son.

“I do be­lieve ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, and this feels like that. It just feels so right.”

With a know­ing smile, she adds: “And I’m glad. I know it sounds like a cliche, but ac­tu­ally I’m re­ally glad that it hasn’t hap­pened be­fore now.”

Af­ter tak­ing a step back from the spot­light fol­low­ing the break­down of Steps and then H & Claire, she says there was a “long pe­riod of time where I didn’t re­ally sing at all”, but get­ting back into it with the group has re­con­firmed that she loves to do it, and that she can.

“This last tour we did, I sang com­pletely live for two hours ev­ery sin­gle night, which was a worry and some­thing I’d never thought I could re­ally do, but I did, and I came out think­ing, ‘You know what, I’ve def­i­nitely got this’,” she re­veals.

There have also been huge changes in her per­sonal life since she was that starry-eyed teenager sign­ing her first Steps record con­tract all those years ago.

Claire, now 41, has been through a di­vorce, a sec­ond mar­riage and is a mother-of-two.

“I feel like I didn’t re­ally start fig­ur­ing out who I was un­til I got to my 30s,” she ad­mits.

“And it’s only the last cou­ple of years that I re­ally feel like I know ex­actly who I am, I know ex­actly what I want. It’s taken a long time to get to that point.”

Does she feel vul­ner­a­ble, not only com­ing back into the mu­sic fray af­ter such a big life up­heaval, but go­ing it alone for the first time?

She shakes her head.

“I don’t know if vul­ner­a­ble is the word... I mean, I’ve never re­ally per­formed on my own. I’ve done the odd lit­tle thing, but I cer­tainly haven’t car­ried an en­tire show by my­self be­fore,” she ex­plains.

“It’s the whole ‘it’s all on my shoul­ders’ thing... It does freak me out a lit­tle bit, I’m not go­ing to lie.”

She thinks she “prob­a­bly won’t be able to cope very well” if her band­mates turn up to watch her in ac­tion when she hits the road later this year.

“It’s weird. Nor­mally we’re on stage to­gether, and I know that if I caught one of their eyes at the wrong mo­ment I’ll be a mess – I’ll be cry­ing on stage, which won’t be good for any­body!”

There was also the task of com­ing up with her own mu­si­cal style, af­ter years belt­ing out dance hits such as Tragedy, 5, 6, 7, 8 and One For Sor­row.

“I was al­ways a bit wary. I was never re­ally sure what my lane was go­ing to be. Steps has such a spe­cific type of pop mu­sic and I was never go­ing to do that,” she says.

“But where do you go? You try to do the coun­try thing, and at one point I wanted to be the fe­male Michael Bu­ble, and it all just got a lit­tle bit weird,” she re­calls with a chuckle.

They got there in the end, Claire and her song­writ­ing team, and she de­scribes her sound as “def­i­nitely pop but, lyri­cally, it’s much more thought­ful and more re­flec­tive”, with sim­i­lar­i­ties to Kelly Clark­son and Ce­line Dion.

“There are influences from lots of dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I don’t think it nec­es­sar­ily sounds like any­body. I think if you try to be a poor im­i­ta­tion of some­one that’s do­ing it re­ally well, you’re go­ing to strug­gle.”

Claire is re­fresh­ingly un­fussed about chart suc­cess or stream­ing hits, too.

“It’s a dan­ger­ous path to go down,” she says, of chas­ing chart highs. “It takes the love of the mu­sic out of it.”

“I love to sing, and I can now say that I’ve got an al­bum’s worth of songs that I think are great, and ev­ery­body work­ing on it thinks we’ve done a re­ally good job. It has to be not about try­ing to get to num­ber one.”

Nei­ther is she both­ered about how she might be per­ceived by some, as part of what mu­sic snobs have for years writ­ten off as a nov­elty act; a point­less pop par­ody of cheesy songs with no real depth.

In fact, she’s re­ally rather en­joy­ing the chance to prove peo­ple wrong.

“I do think peo­ple still think that Steps, as a whole, are not re­ally very ta­lented, and none of us can sing, blah blah blah,” she says with a sigh.

“It al­ways makes me feel good when peo­ple are sur­prised that I ac­tu­ally can sing, so I’d like more peo­ple to re­alise that we’re not just a throw­away poppy band, that we ac­tu­ally have some­thing to back it up.”

She con­tin­ues: “The mis­con­cep­tion about Steps is be­cause peo­ple mostly judge us for 5, 6, 7, 8 – but the fact is we’ve sold way over 20 mil­lion records and we’ve sold con­cert tick­ets to mil­lions of peo­ple over the years.

“That says some­thing about an artist, and not ev­ery­body re­alises that. If we’re not their thing that’s fine, but it would be nice to get a lit­tle bit of re­spect and recog­ni­tion.

“I mean, there are not many Bri­tish artists that have achieved what we have.”

Claire Richards and (left) sur­rounded by her Steps band­mates

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