Ask Michael Pickering how he would categorize M People and he laughs. "As far as I'm concerned there's only two categories of music: Music I like and music I don't like!" With his group M People and their Epic debut album ELEGANT SLUMMING Michael is making the music he loves: soulful, rich with grooves, and infused with an abundance of melody.
M People is Michael Pickering, Heather Small and Paul Heard, and together they create the new breed of dance music: classy, funky and real. M People have already taken the UK and Europe by storm with their sophisticated, song-oriented brand of R&B. With the stateside release of ELEGANT SLUMMING, party people across the USA will get the chance to experience M People for themselves. ELEGANT SLUMMING includes M People's Top Ten UK hits "How Can I Love You More," "Color My Life," "One Night In Heaven" and "Excited"; plus their stunning remake of Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further" and the current US club smash "Moving On Up."
The story of M People begins in Manchester, the gritty Northern English city which has given the world more than its fair share of vital music (The Fall, Simply Red, and Joy Division to name but three). As a DJ at the legendary nightclub Hacienda, Michael Pickering spun the latest and coolest records. When the Northern House scene began to bubble under, Michael was there, helping to usher in the revival and re-invention of classic soul music. "I'm an old Northern Soul boy," Michael remarks, "and I always thought that the Northern House scene was the modern equivalent of the old Northern Soul scene." Michael's skills weren't limited to the wheels of steel. He played sax with Factory Records' Quando Quango and with T-Coy, one of the first UK house outfits.
The seed for M People was planted three years ago, when Michael decided to put a studio project together. "I wanted to do sort of a Soul II Soul thing, " he says, "but mainly I wanted to explore the song aspect of dance music." It was a bold move for 1991, when the frenetic blur of rave was all the rage. "A classic song is the foundation of any kind of music," Pickering insists. "I felt like dance music needed to get back to that, like Motown, Stax or the Philly International era."
Michael began writing but soon realized that he needed a partner with more concrete musical training to help him translate his ideas into actual tunes. Enter Paul Heard, who had served as bassist for the UK groups Working Week and Orange Juice. One of the tracks they composed was written with one particular chanteuse in mind, Heather Small. Heather had gained a substantial following as the singer in Hot! House, a London-based soul band
Heather, Paul and Michael entered the studio and began to lay down the tracks that would eventually emerge as the group's debut Northern Soul. "It was obvious as we were recording that what we had musically was much more than just a one off thing," Michael says. "It had turned into something really coherent. It jelled. From then on we were M People."
Nineteen ninety-two saw the release of "Color My Life," M People's premier UK single. The chart success of the song along with that of "Excited" and "How Can I Love You More" (all of which originally appeared on Northern Soul and which are reprised on the American version of ELEGANT SLUMMING) once again proved that dance music, traditionally relegated to the clubs, could achieve pop and crossover acceptance. The respected British music magazine Echoes said of this lush and soulful sound: "M People treat the structure of the song with reverence...[T]ime and again they hit home--with the force of a juggernaut."
Northern Soul was acclaimed as one of the best dance records of 1992, and M People gathered a reputation as one of the UK's best live acts. In concert, M People's gang of three expands to a posse of ten, and the power to kick it live is crucial to the band's approach. "I got sick of all those dance bands with the model lip-synching, " Michael scoffs. "From the beginning, we knew that this was going to be a real band."
The success of Northern Soul and M People's potent live shows set the stage for the luxurious rhythmic persuasion of ELEGANT SLUMMING. The album's title is taken from Tom Wolfe's description of NYC night life. For Michael, who had spent time exploring club life both in NYC and England, the term struck a responsive chord: "Youth culture has always been England's greatest contribution to the world. 'Elegant slumming' seemed to sum it all up for me, that cross between the night life and the economic realities of England."
The first single from ELEGANT SLUMMING is the euphoric "Moving On Up," which Michael simply describes as "a song of hope." Pushed along by an insistent, disco-flavored beat and punctuated by Heather's throaty vocals, "Moving On Up" is dance music that aims for more than rump shaking. Likewise M People's faithful rendition of Dennis Edwards' "Don't Look Any Further." "That was always my last song of the set when I would DJ," Michael recalls. "It's one of those timeless, powerful tracks."
Ask Michael Pickering to describe the vibe behind M People, and he thinks for a bit. "Our music is there to inspire some hope and to pay respect to the power of soul." And what is soul? Simple, he answers. "Any music that you feel and that you deliver with emotion."