'I'm from the old generation... I pick up new CDs when I'm in Sainsbury's doing shopping'
Gabrielle is back with her first record in more than 10 years. She tells Chris Selman why it took her so long and how meeting Nelson Mandela was one of her career highlights
Gabrielle fans have been waiting for 11 years for new music from the British soul legend and it's only now that she feels ready to give it to them. The 48-year-old is on fine form as she talks through her new album Under My Skin, along with what she has in store for 2018.
"I've been touring on and off and I have been writing material towards an album, but it's never been quite cohesive," she explains. "People wanted the old Gabrielle for a long time, not the new one who'd veered off to do a bit of country here or some indie vibes there.
"It took for me to be paired with Steve Chrisanthou who did Corinne Bailey Rae, Ian Barter who did Paloma Faith and Amy Winehouse and that was it - I'm ready now. I felt it was time for my audience to get new stuff from me."
Under My Skin is about being in love, she says, "finding that person after you've been in bad relationships and you're looking for that commitment. Because right now you're feeling so good about yourself, but I want you to show me, is this real?"
It explores the dialogue between two people in a relationship, mixed messages and the feeling you get when your heart wants one thing, but your head is telling you something else. Suffice to say, it's a personal record.
"My writing is about life, relationships, situations that you go through, positive and negative," she says. "I was inspired by my own real life events and people that I know as well. There's one song, 'Every Step', I wrote that for a close friend of mine who's going through a bad time in their relationship.
"Another one called 'Stronger' is about being there for friends, when they're losing confidence in themselves, because they've gone to this dark corner of their mind where they shut everybody out. And I think that's when you present yourself - that show of strength and unity. That song is about being there for someone through thick and thin."
In terms of the vibe of the new album, it's a blend of old and new, she says, aware that fans still long for the sound of albums like her self-titled 1993's Find Your Way which featured the number one single 'Dreams' or follow-up albums Gabrielle and Rise, which went platinum and quadruple platinum in the UK.
"It's definitely classic Gabrielle," she confirms of the new album. "There are songs like 'Breathe', 'Every Step', they're slightly different… and there's songs like 'Signs' which are very retro sounding. I think you'll hear things on this album and you'll be like, yes that's Gabrielle and yes that's really cool."
She's not wrong - much of the new material will send fans on a trip down memory lane, especially current single 'Show Me', which could have been lifted from one of her classic 1990s albums. But there are contemporary nods, too - 'Every Step' is an epic ballad with radio hit written all over it, while 'Shine' is heavier, with a more modern groove.
Gabrielle is a fan of modern pop, R&B and hip hop herself: "We're talking Jay-Z 4:44, Taylor Swift because I love her, and then we've got Adele and Ed Sheeran. Those are old but in the sense that they're new, with lasting albums. Then there's Pink, I'm a big pop fan.
"There's so much stuff and it's not even downloaded stuff. I'm from the old generation and pick up CDs with my shopping when I go to Sainsbury's - they've got a good selection! I've been known to go into my old iPod, bit of Nirvana, Beatles, I love it; I can't just listen to one genre of music. I was a 1980s pop tart, I loved Madonna and listened to my mum's Marvin Gaye. When I do music I'm not restricted."
An upcoming appearance at this year's Brighton Pride is "not my normal gig, but I'm going to have fun". She loves the audience and the response to her performance, she says. "I'm happy to be a part of it. Britney's going to be there, I hope we're on the same day as I flipping love Britney."
The new album coincides with the 25th anniversary of Dreams, which she can't quite believe, she says with a laugh. It's wonderful to know that her fans still love the album and prompts her to reflect on highlights from the 1990s.
"There are so many things!" she says. "To get a Brit award in 1994 - watching the awards year after year and then getting one yourself. Being catapulted from my normal life to being on Top of the Pops - I felt like I had made it.
"I was able to sing for Nelson Mandela at the Brighton Providence Centre, I think for the Labour Party. I'm not into politics but I was like… Nelson Mandela's going to be there? I bit their hands off. It was amazing meeting him, he was like 'oh my God I wanted to come and sing and dance with you!' But there's just so many things I did. I got to do that song with East 17, that was 1996. I've always loved them. They're probably due a 25th anniversary tour too!"
The music industry has changed a lot over the last 25 years, but Gabrielle has never changed the way she makes music, calling it "pretty much freestyle", where she gets in the studio, gets the mic running and hits "record".
"It's the way that when you interact with your audience, social media, Twitter, it's more instant and the streaming… I love the physical thing of having a CD or a record," she says. "My daughter's into vinyl, they've made their way back but they're very expensive now. So it's just the way we listen to music."
Having been working in the industry for so many years, does she still feel the pressure to succeed?
"In the olden days it was all about chart positions but it's very different now. Unless you're Ed Sheeran and you immediately get to number one… for someone like me, the singles, the tours, the album, it's more about making people aware I've got them out.
"I like that more people can hear your stuff, who wouldn't listen to it on a normal day but now, at the click of a button you can hear something, it's much more accessible."
Her song 'Out of Reach' was famously used on Bridget Jones's Diary soundtrack, but currently she has no plans to record anything else for the big screen.
"When I was approached to do it, I was given the book by my then A&R man before I went on holiday - I loved it. He asked, how would you like to write the ballad for the movie that they're bringing out... based on this book? So that was amazing. But since then I haven't been approached; every now and then a track of mine might be used in a movie, but I'd love to write again. Not ruling it out."
Right now though, she's focusing on her new music, with the single, then the album release in August, then touring for 2019 - plus festivals and other summer events this year.
"I get to go out on the road and showcase the new songs to the audience who probably wouldn't necessarily listen to my stuff," she smiles. "Hopefully I can bowl them over!"
Gabrielle's new single Show Me is out now. Under My Skin is out on August 17
Gabrielle is back with her first record in more than 10 years. She tells Chris Selman why it took her so long and how meeting Nelson Mandela was one of
her career highlights