From Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day to singing lullabies: interview with Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards

Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, Morcheeba, , CD cover

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, Morcheeba CD cover

It feels like yesterday when you think about it.
There hadn’t been the September 11 attacks yet and you could pack as many liquids as you wanted in your hand luggage.
Take That had split and Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Prince and George Michael were still alive.
No Spotify, no Uber, no Zuckerberg.
You would wear a watch to actually keep track of the time and not just for the sake of fashion.
It was another universe.

But, as a matter of fact, twenty years have actually passed by since the biggest hit of English electronic band Morcheeba went out, in 2000.
Who doesn’t remember Skye Edwards’ warm and harmonic voice singing Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, and then the music video playing on repeat on MTV and in your head all summer long?
Right – actually, it would be sufficient for you to be 18 not to remember anything about that, but hey, what are you exactly doing here if you’re 18?
Go on Tik Tok and leave us alone.

Skye Edwards Morcheeba in 2018 © Jörgens.mi

Skye Edwards Morcheeba in 2018 by Jörgens.mi, CC BY-SA 4.0 ©

Although for me and for many people Morcheeba will still primarily relate to the delightful Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, the band has actually been very prolific for as many as 25 years now.
Morcheeba started in 1995 by lead vocalist Skye Edwards and the Godfrey brothers Paul and Ross, and released nine studio albums in total, with two of them reaching the top 10 UK charts.
After the band split in 2003, Skye went on producing two solo albums. She rejoined Morcheeba seven years later – a lot of things changed over the years and Paul eventually resigned from the trio, but, as of today, Skye is still Morcheeba lead singer, as well as one of the most soulful voices of the British electronic music landscape.

Goodnight Songs for Rebel Girls CD cover

Goodnight Songs for Rebel Girls

In addition to her Morcheeba job, Skye is involved in a variety of solo works and collaborations, including a CD released in 2020 to celebrate extraordinary women in music.
Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls features an all-female artist lineup of 19 singers including Anastacia, Alicia Keys, Carole King and many others; my lovely guest today, Skye Edwards – who is listed as SKYE in the CD booklet – has contributed to the project with an enchanting cover of The Only Way is Up by 80s British popstar Yazz.

The compilation has been created in partnership with Rebel Girls, the brand behind the world-famous book series titles Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 tales of extraordinary women, aimed at boosting positive role models for children through the real-life stories of 100 exceptional women, from Frida Kahlo to Serena Williams.

The story behind Rebel Girls is just astounding: initially funded through the online crowdfunding platform Kickstarter in 2016, the project broke all-time site fundraising records.
In the beginning, the two founders had a goal of making $40,000 to print their first 1,000 copies; they ended up raising over one million.
First issued in the States back then, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has eventually been published in over 85 countries worldwide and translated into nearly 50 languages, achieving sales of 3 million copies and counting.

It came as a shock to me to find out that behind this California-based children literature empire there are, once again, my people.
Rebel Girls founders Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli are both Italian, and they were not even 30 yet when they started it all.

Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli

None of them is from Rome or Milan; instead, they come from rather rural areas in the country – Elena is from the North and Francesca is from the South.
They both attended State-funded universities in Italy and have the kind of CV which is very typical of creative people who are not from any privileged upbringing.
The people I’m talking about don’t usually start their career at The Times aged 18 just to nonchalantly declare afterwards that they kind of fell into journalism by accident; instead, they work their butts off for years and years collecting university qualifications, language diplomas and merit scholarships and amassing internships, placements, traineeships, temporary contracts, side hustles, volunteering work and freelancing gigs just to try and get their foot into the door.
Gosh, I don’t know why I always end up like that.
I don’t know why even when I’m interviewing a singer from London taking part in a project from America I’m bumping into stories of Italians forced to leave the country to achieve extraordinary things abroad.
In the end, it must be that Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day simply because there was nobody around to build it.
Italians have always been too busy building cities somewhere else.

What does being in Good Night Songs for Rebel Girls mean to you? How was this collaboration born?

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 80s, The Only Way Is Up, by Yazz. It has been my 12-year-old son’s primary school music teacher that suggested recording it acoustically. He’s starting 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!

So how does it feel to think that rebel girls all around the world are going to bed listening to your voice?

It’s a lovely feeling. 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 22 with a daughter of her own. I’d like to make a whole album of bedtime lullabies for babies and young children. I often fall asleep listening to music whilst wearing my Sleephones, 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 was your dream job as a child? If you didn’t make it into the music industry, what was your plan B in terms of career?

I don’t remember ever thinking “one day I’d like to be…” 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 chord book so that I could put melodies to poems that I used to write. So I guess singing became my plan B!

Who are your main 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 and was introduced to artists like John Martyn and Nick Drake. My eldest kids are 25 and 22, 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 is a #ProudMumMoment!

Which 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 but it has made its way into a lot of hearts. Another song called For The Day, on my 4th 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 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 are your feelings when you hear the sentence 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.

Haha, that’s true. 

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 far removed 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. Michael Stipe hates Shiny Happy People. Dave Gilmore regrets 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!

Are there any artists you would particularly like to collaborate with, at this stage in your career?

Through lockdown, with so much time on my hands due to all our shows being cancelled, I decided I was going to learn how to play the cello.  My husband bought me one for my birthday and with the help of lessons via Skype and YouTube videos I made a start. 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 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 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 to mocked and laughed at. I don’t find that entertaining and think it’s quite mean.

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 2 am, listeners would love it. 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.

Your fans are expecting a new Morcheeba album now…

The new Morcheeba album, Blackest Blue, was out in Spring 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 have 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’ve 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’ve also been working with a film composer based in Los Angeles called Will Bates. He asked me to sing the theme tune to a movie called Bliss, starring Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson.

Do you believe a band could potentially never split? What would it take them 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 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 I 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. We’ve just finished writing and recording the new Morcheeba album which is absolutely stunning if I don’t say so myself. And that leads nicely into your next question…

I knew you were expecting that! So: if you could turn back to the 1990s, is there anything you would tell yourself regarding Morcheeba?

The trouble is, anything that I’d tell myself back then would be pointless because I wouldn’t have had 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 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!

★ If you are a fan of 1990s and 2000s music, you may also like our interviews with electronic music legend Moby, Lighthouse Family (remember High?), The Offspring, Hanson (remember MMMBop?), Tom Higgenson of Plain White T’s (remember Hey There Delilah?), Maxim of The Prodigy, Skunk Anansie’s Skin and The Brand New Heavies  

★ For more rants about Italy and the Italians, also check this, this and that

Skye Edwards Morcheeba singer by Michael Mavor

Skye Edwards by Michael Mavor – Kartel ©

About The Author

Founder of The Shortlisted Magazine

The one behind the wheel.