Londoner TONY MOMRELLE is acknowledged by business insiders as one of the UK’s finest soul singers. His voice will be familiar to many…he’s done sessions and live BVs for people like Elton John, Terry Callier, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Sade, Gary Barlow, Andrea Bocelli, Gwen Stefani, Gabrielle, and Robert Palmer. More importantly, though, is the fact that for some years he’s been one of the signature voices in Incognito.
Now with the launch of an acclaimed solo album ‘Keep Pushing’, maybe the time’s arrived when people will know not just the voice but also the name, Tony Momrelle. With solo success beckoning we met up with Tony and, as ever, began by wanting to know a little bit about his personal background….
I was born in London in the 70’s. My mother is Jamaican and my father is St Lucian. I grew up in South London, loved music from a very early age from going to church with my mother and my grandparents so music was always with me.
OK, so growing up, who were your heroes and musical influences?
Heroes? Well there are way too many to mention…. Jesus, Martin Luther King, my parents. Influences? Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder and Fred Hammond.
When then did you start singing professionally… what made you take up the business?
I started singing professionally around the age of 23 on and off as I had a full time job in marketing and sales so I guess it was more of a hobby back then. I decided to go full time after a few key recording sessions that opened my mind to the world of music.
Tell us about that break into the world of session work can you remember any notable sessions?
Well I knew a few friends of mine that were on the books of a few session agencies and I guess via word of mouth I got a few calls regarding me doing some sessions. Through doing a few my name got around on the scene to the point where I was getting booked for studio, TV and live work. You never forget your first major session though! I was at work one day and my direct line (not the insurance company!!!) called it was a friend of mine that had his own session agency with singers and gospel choirs. He was quick as he knew I was at work but asked if I could do a session for him. I cut him mid speech and said that’s not something I couldn’t do as I was in a full time demanding job at which he replied that he could move the session to a weekend. I had a good think about it but to be honest I didn’t think I was good enough at the time as I was still very green. But I eventually decided to go with it and went over to Olympic Studios in London where the session was being held. I went to Studio A and sitting on the sofa as I opened the door was Gloria Estefan!!! I thought I was in the wrong room…but she got up and said “Are you Tony?” cutting a long story short my friend who I thought was going to be there wasn’t at the session, I guess it was his way of letting me know that I was good enough, From that I went on to do a few TV performances with her.
You’ve also worked a lot with Bluey and Incognito… how did that happen and how does the relationship work?
Again this came about via word of mouth. A friend of mine who was in Incognito called me up asking if I was around for some session work. He explained that he was now in the band and that Bluey was looking for a singer to come in and help with the backing vocals as well as work on some arrangements. I met with Bluey the day of recording and he was so kind and welcoming, the session was going great then I remember that moment where he heard me sing on my own, He stopped the recording and came into the live room saying “Yes Yes Yes!!! This is the voice I have been looking for!!! He not only wanted me to work on the record but said he wanted me to be in the band!!
What have you learned from Mr Maunick?
Working with Bluey I’ve learnt so much and there are so many levels to him, Artist, composer, producer and the real person. Being with him in the studio has always been a learning curve. I like the way he works non-stop and always has new ideas. These ideas come from great experiences hence why his music covers many spectrums, I love learning what the meaning is behind each project. He’s totally dedicated to his gift and I’ve learned so much from him regarding that.
Then your solo career, I was first aware of your solo work with ‘Fly’ – had you had anything before that?
Wow yes!!! I’ve worked on various projects from being in a Hip Hop group when I was a young teen to working with Sade, Reel People, Incognito, a gospel project and I also did a couple of big band records which was part of a project in Salzburg, Austria.
Now the new album…. did you use the track ‘Keep Pushing’ as the title track because that’s what you feel you have to do?
Yes! At the time me and my label partner (Reel People) were going through name ideas and the first contender was ‘Different Street’ which I liked but wasn’t 100%. For me ‘Keep Pushing’ was the one, it had to be because it covered what I wanted to say plus each song has a reference regarding moving forward and keeping the momentum. I wanted an album that had a message of hope as well as something that was cool.
Why did you use rapper Talib Kweli on it?
Well when I wrote ‘Keep Pushing’ I wanted to get a Hip Hop artist who was a legend!!! Me and my label partner took some time to think about who to approach as it had to be the right voice and an artist that was also known for speaking about subjects like the song title. After a few days of speaking to various people a contact came back saying they were good friends with Talib. I didn’t think for a minute that he would be interested or even have the time as he’s a very busy guy, but you don’t get if you don’t ask!!! We reached out to him and he said he knew of me and was a fan which of course blew me away.
One of the album’s other big tunes is, of course, the cover of ‘Back Together Again’ –why did you chose that one and what do you think you’ve brought to it that’s new and different?
That song at first wasn’t going to be on my album, it was recorded for a Reel People compilation album called Soul Love. When the team heard the finished record we all agreed it had to go on my album! I’m glad it did because it fits so well with the other songs.
It is of course a Donny Hathaway song –I’m guessing you’re a big fan….
Huge!!!! You know, to be honest I got switched on to Donny quite late by Sade. She said to me that my tone and texture reminded her of Donny and that I should really check him out. I heard his songs years before but I guess sometimes we move so fast we miss things. I grew up listening to Stevie, Shalamar, Marvin Gaye and a mixture or music from Bob Marley to Jim Reeves (yes… Jim Reeves! which my mum would play him all the time!). My uncles, though, were really hip on the music scene so I had a lot of music passing through the house. Then my eyes and ears were opened to the sound and culture of the Hip Hop scene for many years. When Sade told me to re visit Donny I bought all his albums. Upon hearing his voice I was captivated. Then when I heard ‘For All We Know’ well, that was it!!!! Tears rolling down my face…. he hit me with his words and expression. Right there I knew this was what I wanted to be as an artist. So yeah he’s a huge influence!
Then of course may people say you sound like Donny… how do you feel about that… do you ever get fed up with comparisons?
I don’t get fed up at all…. in fact I embrace it. When you really think about it if you spend a lot of time with someone you pick up there mannerisms, Now that could be someone saying “you’re just like your Mum or dad” due to the way you act. These are all the same things for me. I spent many hours listening to Donny and others because I wanted to be the best that I could be. Growing up listening to certain Gospel artists and groups I developed my style of singing, then checking out who was the influence for many of these artists the roads mostly came back to Donny and Stevie which are also a part of me and my music DNA.
Then there’s that Stevie Wonder thing… some say (in places) you sound uncannily like Stevie….I noticed it on the track ‘A Million Ways’… what would you say to that?
Yep…. I’ve had that said to me a few times even by Stevie himself! Honest! I was in Tokyo on tour with Incognito and Maysa Leak, who also sang with the band, called me to her hotel room. I walked in and she passed me the phone…It was STEVIE!!! Maysa used to sing backing vocals for Stevie and he contacted her to get a hold of me. He said he was a fan of my voice and that I reminded him of his younger self.
What other album songs would you like to draw our attention to? Which one would you say is typically Tony Momrelle?
That’s a hard one really because they’re all me. I like to write and sing about things that will paint a picture in the listeners mind so with that said I would say ‘Different Street’, ‘Remember’, ‘A Million Ways’…The whole album! HAHAHA !
What are your hopes for the album?
Well my hopes for the album are that it can reach and uplift whoever, wherever. So far it’s getting a lot of attention from the soul scene as well as commercial with major BBC Radio 2 support which has allowed me to cross different platforms which is something I’ve always wanted to do.
I guess you have to “keep pushing”…. so what do you think of the TV Talent show wannabees who seem to get success handed to them on a plate? Have you ever been tempted to enter something like ‘The Voice’?
Yes, In everything I like to work hard and push forward. Regarding the TV talent shows I see it like this, It’s a part of the music business and because the industry has had so many downfalls with Cd sales, record stores going out of business, the power of the internet etc … they have had to come up with something else. Merging TV with music in the search for the next star. This isn’t a new thing just repackaged. So, yes, I understand it but personally that route isn’t for me. I know a lot of the guys behind the scenes on all of the TV talent shows we have and there’s so much politics the artist in me couldn’t stomach. Some just want to be famous and a very small few want to be anything more. Plus it’s all very short lived with most having maximum a year’s shelf life. So that’s not for me I’m on it for the long run.
OK that long run…. the future….. short term…. long term?
Well right now I’m about to start the second leg of my promo campaign, So I have quite a few interviews lined up on TV , radio and online. There’s a video to shoot for my second single ‘This Could Be Us’ – out on Feb 26th. Plus some promo concerts in Europe through Spring and a UK tour coming soon too!
… And how can we find out more?
Web: www.Tonymomrelle.comTwitter: @TonymomrelleFacebook: @Tonymomrelle