A forgotten gem from the 90s UK soul scene.
Daryl Easlea 2012
Former Bugsy Malone child actor and Royal Ballet School alumni Vivienne Mckone shone brightly and briefly on this, her sole major label recording. It’s confident, assured and richly evocative of the back-to-basics nature of early-90s soul.
Signed to Pete Tong’s London subsidiary ffrr amongst a host of Brit talent, Mckone’s album was overseen by veteran US producer Stewart Levine, who had relocated to the UK in the wake of his enormous success working with Simply Red.
With a team that included British jazz star Ronny Jordan, ABC sideman Dave Clayton and Simply Red guitarist and future Stone Roses member Aziz Ibrahim, they created warm, affecting settings for Mckone’s simplistic, instantly beguiling melodies and piano playing.
Lead single, Sing, is classic soul updated with an infectious “ooh-ee-ooh” refrain – it reached 47 on the singles chart in the summer of 1992. With its prominent acoustic guitar, it’s not a million miles removed from The Isley Brothers’ Harvest for the World, complete with its message of empowerment: “You can see my darker skin / doesn’t frighten me to win.” It was a big record, radio favourite, and ubiquitous as part of the London-centric soul scene. The beautiful Beware was the other single, which scraped into the top 75.
Don’t Push Me to My Limit was co-written by ex-Cliff Richard guitarist Terry Britten, very much the go-to writer in the 80s and 90s after penning What’s Love Got to Do With It for Tina Turner. The track’s burnished sheen was clearly directed towards UK and US radio programmers.
Mckone’s theatrical training never leaves her, as several songs sound as if they come from non-existent musicals. Mckone’s music is more about converted loft dwelling than an illegal party in the warehouse below; this is opulent and upwardly-mobile fare.
After a live album, and an EP, Mckone all but disappeared into acting and occasional live work. Today, her music is well under the radar – which is a shame, because this album deserves to be heard again. It is full of optimistic, beautiful, straight-ahead soul music.