Interview: ‘Neasden Queen of Soul’ Mari Wilson on her fan-funded covers album Cover Stories

07:39 29 March 2012

Mari Wilson Photo: Jeff King

Mari Wilson Photo: Jeff King

Archant

1980s popstar Mari Wilson sold dresses, posters and rare recordings to fund her new record Cover Stories

»Mari Wilson’s latest album is definitely all about the fans.

For a start, the inspiration for Cover Stories was the fans themselves, who would approach Wilson after gigs to ask which album her version of a well-known song – maybe by The Beach Boys or the Bee Gees – was on.

The answer, quite simply, was none.

“My last album was not at all representative of what they had just seen me doing,” she explains. “My albums are original songs with maybe one or two covers.”

So Wilson, a Crouch End resident of 26 years, went into the studio to create Cover Stories.

It is a very different offering from what people might expect of the singer, who first shot to fame in the early Eighties with Just What I Always Wanted.

Dubbed the “Neasden Queen of Soul”, she was known for her beehive hair and – in her own words – “quite camp” performances.

All of this could not be further away from the chilled style of Cover Stories.

It is much more focused on the voice rather than the production which surrounds it. Wilson explains: “I’ve recorded this album almost the way I’m doing gigs.”

But people expecting to hear Wilson simply mimicking hits such as Don’t Get Me Wrong or Kirsty McColl’s They Don’t Know will be disappointed.

“I have got no idea why anyone would want to cover a song in exactly the same way,” she says. “I would be so unsatisfied.”

It seems to have worked: Wilson’s versions of the songs have gone down well with the fans, some of whom have already received pre-release copies of Cover Stories.

Which brings us back to why this is an album that is all about the fans, as it is the fans who paid for it to be made.

Wilson’s last two albums, released on her own label, were self-funded. Without the backing of a major label, it is an expensive way to do things – which is why she turned to PledgeMusic for Cover Stories.

The website allows fans to bid for items from their favourite singer – in Wilson’s case, the items included dresses, posters and rarely heard recordings.

“I realised I had an attic full of memorabilia that was valuable,” she says.

But it wasn’t just about the memorabilia. Wilson has also welcomed fans into her home for afternoon tea and performed in a Brighton living room.

It is those who have pledged who have already received the album and the response, Wilson says, has been amazing.

“I think I am at my peak as a singer at the moment,” she says.

There is only one downside for local fans – a lack of venues in north London for performers like Wilson.

This means “the kind of place where you can eat, have a glass of wine”, she explains. “It’s a shame because, when you think about it, the audience are people with money who would like to do that.”

n Cover Stories is released on Monday.

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