Remember Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day in 2000? Interview with Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards

Skye Edwards of Morcheeba by Desherinka, CC BY-SA 3.0 ©️

Skye Edwards of Morcheeba by Desherinka CC BY-SA 3.0©️

The warm and heart-touching voice of Shirley Klaris Yonavieve Edwards, known as Skye Edwards, made the English electronic band Morcheeba famous in 2000 through the single Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day which entered charts all over Europe.
Right from there, the band has been prolific for all the years to come; Morcheeba was originally started in 1995 by lead vocalist Skye Edwards and the Godfrey brothers Paul and Ross, and released several studio albums with two of them reaching the top 10 UK charts.

After the band split in 2003, Skye went on to produce two solo records. She rejoined Morcheeba seven years later – a few things changed on the way and Paul eventually resigned from the trio, but, as of today, Skye is still Morcheeba’s lead singer and has one of the most soulful voices in the UK electronic music industry.

In addition to her main act, Skye is involved in a variety of solo works and collaborations, including Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls, a CD released in 2020 to celebrate extraordinary women in music which features an all-female artist lineup of 19 singers including Anastacia, Alicia Keys, Carole King, and offered the opportunity to arrange this interview with Shirley.

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Shirley, how do you feel when you hear the adage Rome wasn’t built in a day?

I always smile when I hear that phrase. The funny thing is that in Italy they don’t really use this saying so much. Instead, they say All Roads Lead To Rome. Still, Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day was a very popular song and was one of our biggest hits, top ten in ten countries, so I’m told. Unfortunately, it upset a lot of fans when it was released, they thought it was too uptempo and too far from the cool chill-out Morcheeba sound. I felt that way too, at the time. But ain’t that the way? Bands loathing their biggest hits. I heard that Michael Stipe of R.E.M. hates Shiny Happy People and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd regrets Another Brick In The Wall. I appreciate Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day now, it’s so much fun to sing and always gets the biggest cheer when we play it live!

Which one of your songs are you most attached to?

I have a soft spot for The Sea from our Big Calm album. It’s one of my favourite songs to sing when we play live. It wasn’t officially released as a single, we didn’t make a music video of it but it has made its way into a lot of hearts. Another song called For The Day, on my fourth solo album, is very personal to me. I wrote it for a friend who went through a divorce and was estranged from her son for a year and a half.  She said she would have conversations with him in her dreams, it was a difficult time for them both and they really missed each other. Eventually, they were able to put their differences aside. When I played her the song and the video, she cried. A couple of years later I went through a similar heartbreaking experience with a family member, and that song became even more poignant and dear to me.

What do you think of today’s music?

There are a lot of sensational artists out there writing beautiful songs and creative music. You just don’t hear them enough on the major radio stations. Instead, you’ll have the same singer with three songs in the top 10 on repeat day after day. I think if the stations played more diverse music, and not just the obscure tune at 02.00 AM in the night, listeners would love it. In 2019, I was lucky enough to host a show called Chill for BBC Radio 2. They had a list of songs that they wanted me to play but I was able to introduce a few different artists that they wouldn’t normally have as part of their playlists like Rayvn Lenae and her great song Moon Shoes.

Who are your greatest musical influences?

I’m a big fan of Shirley Bassey, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. These are my go-to artists to sing along to when I’m getting ready for a show. Growing up I’d listen to my parents’ country music, artists like Glen Campbell and Bobbie Gentry. As a teenager, I started listening to music that my older sisters would play, like Toots and The Maytals and Gwen Guthrie. During my college years, I discovered Sade Adu and was introduced to artists like John Martyn and Nick Drake. My eldest kids are in their twenties, so I hear new stuff from them all the time. My daughter took me to see Kelela, Sampha and The XX. My son, who is Morcheeba’s drummer, introduced me to Khruangbin, Kutiman and Greentea Peng. He recently played the drums with Greentea Peng for her debut appearance on Later with Jools Holland, so this wasa proud mum moment!

Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with?

With so much time on my hands due to all our shows being cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, I decided I was going to learn how to play the cello. My husband bought me one for my birthday and I made a start with the help of Skype lessons and YouTube tutorials. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for many years but never had the time to try. Through my learning, I’ve discovered some incredible cellists like Paul Rucker and Sheku Kennah-Mason. Most recently, I came across a South African cellist called Abel Selaocoe. What I like about Abel is that he crosses genres, combining a virtuoso performance with improvisation, singing and body percussion. It would be incredible to do a collaboration with him.

What was your dream job as a child? Did you have a plan B?

I don’t remember ever thinking “One day I’d like to be this or that”. It wasn’t until my late teens that my mum suggested that I studied fashion, as she knew I liked sewing. I started evening classes in pattern cutting and life drawing to build up my portfolio, this helped me get into the London Redbridge Technical College where I did a foundation course. I then studied Fashion Design, Textiles and Embroidery at the London College of Fashion – that was around the age of 20 and I had hopes of becoming a fashion designer. After leaving college I worked at a company that made gowns for ballroom dancing. A year later I left that job and bought my first guitar and guitar chord book so that I could put melodies to the poems that I used to write. So I guess singing became my plan B!

What do you think of talent shows like The X Factor?

I think the problem with the TV shows like The X Factor is that it’s often more about wanting to be famous than being a singer or a performer. Plus, I don’t like it when the show brings on someone that hasn’t got any talent. They’re there just to be mocked and laughed at. I don’t find that entertaining and think it’s quite mean.

How did you get involved in Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls?

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of Rebel Girls before, so when I was asked to be part of it I immediately looked them up. I’m a mother of four – two are daughters -, and I love the positive inspirational message of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, so I was of course very excited to be part of the Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls. When it came to choosing which song to cover, I thought about the first record I bought on vinyl in the 1980s, The Only Way Is Up, by Yazz. It was my 12-year-old son’s school music teacher who suggested recording it acoustically, he started a blog for his pupils called Mr Scullin’s Music Room and was interviewing my husband and I about Morcheeba and life as a musician. We got talking about Rebel Girls and that’s how it came about. He ended up playing the guitar on the track! You know, it’s a lovely feeling to be involved in a lullabies project. I’ve been told in the past that my voice is soothing and has helped bring babies into the world and get them off to sleep. So to record a song for bedtime seems like the perfect fit. I once wrote a lullaby for my daughter when she was a baby. She’s now in her twenties with a daughter of her own. I’d like to make a whole album of bedtime lullabies for babies and young children someday. I often fall asleep listening to music whilst wearing my Sleepphones, they’re flat headphones in a soft wireless headband. My last solo album, In A Low Light, was made exactly for listening to before bed. In a couple of the songs, I incorporated Binaural Beats which are sound waves that can help induce a relaxing, meditative state of mind.

What have you been up to with Morcheeba? 

A Morcheeba album titled Blackest Blue was released in 2021. There are songs about breaking up, falling apart and holding it together. It’s not all doom and gloom but it delves pretty deep. We had two wonderful collaborations, one with Canadian singer Brad Barr from the Barr Brothers, and another with singer and multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood whom I’d describe as a “diamond geezer”. Aside from Morcheeba, I recorded two songs with drummer and music producer Dan Joeright and his band called Earth Moon Earth. They are friends of ours and opened for us for some of our US shows. I also worked with a film composer based in Los Angeles called Will Bates. He asked me to sing the theme song for the movie Bliss starring Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson.

Do you believe a band could potentially never split? What does it take to stick together?

When you look at a band like U2, for example, with the same four members for over 40 years, it is possible not to split, but I couldn’t tell you what the secret to keeping together is. Ego is usually a huge downfall, followed by the usual “creative differences” and uneven money splits. Morcheeba is just Ross and me now, his brother Paul is no longer part of the band. It’s a long story with all the same old clichés, but the outcome is that Ross and I are happy and work very well together as a duo. We share the same hard-working ethic on the road and inspire each other in the studio.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

The trouble is anything that I’d tell myself back then would be pointless because I wouldn’t have the confidence to follow through with the advice. Anyhow, I’d tell myself not to be so shy in interviews and to speak up. I wasn’t used to talking to journalists in the early days and was embarrassed by my East End London accent as I felt that it made me sound unintelligent. I’m less shy and talk properly now! I’m much more confident in interviews and don’t worry about my accent. I like to think that I have neatened it up a bit but I always revert back to sounding cockney! As comedian Lee Mack once joked: I’m riddled with cockney!

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