When you come across a singer who has performed with some of the greatest groups of all time—and continues to tour, produce albums and to push herself in new creative directions— you want to ask: where do you get all your energy? Can you put it in a bottle and give it to me?
Ruby Turner’s career is amazingly multifaceted. Not only has she collaborated with Culture Club, Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, UB40 and currently with Jools Holland, but she’s also been on stage in London’s West End, had numerous television appearances and was a part of the hit film “Love Actually”. Ruby shares the most powerful concepts guiding her vocal career in an exclusive VoiceCouncil interview.
Ruby, what is it about your success that can apply to other vocalists?
In one way, there’s nothing I can say to others about a vocal career; it’s all so unpredictable. When things happen, they happen. On the other hand, there are two qualities that make all the difference: Perseverance and Passion. If you have these, then you stand a chance of surviving this race.
Does it really come down to this?
You have to know what you want out of a vocal career. A lot of people go into it for the fame and fortune. You may achieve this goal but I’ve noticed that the vocalists who stay the course, who have a long and accomplished career, succeed because of their drive and their passion.
Passion, drive, belief and love, all rolled into one, is what sustains an artist. You have to stay centered and grounded in the game. Things don’t always go according to plan—it’s a bit of race and you’re not guaranteed to win.
You could spend the rest of your life feeling bad about things and how life has dealt you a bad hand (we’re only human after all, so you can feel that way) but the key is to not to let disappointments engulf you. The music world is a very competitive place and you have to make sure you don’t stay stuck in your disappointments for too long. Face it, deal with it and go seek your passion.
How do you get from disappointment back to Passion?
You have to pull back and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? What is it all about?” Once you understand those answers, your motivation should sustain you. Be honest about things, be honest with yourself and if you have the passion and the drive, you will survive.
Passion—do you ever need to protect it?
Look at a child. Watch how they play with a toy, their desire to know, to feel, to touch and experience! See how intensely their eyes dart around to see it, to find it. Legs and tiny arms move to grip that toy and how they cry in frustration if it’s taken away! All the emotions come into play to satisfy the need. I have found music to have the same effect—it’s satisfying and I don’t want it taken away!
It is clear that you connect this passion to your audience.
This need for my music helps me to convey what is in my head and my heart. This music helps me to cope. You realize that sometimes others need the same thing and that’s when you share that passion and make the connection. It’s something you can’t touch; it’s deeper than that. It’s electricity—or a charge. Not everyone gets it.
Do you make career choices out of this passion?
If you try to analyze everything, then where is the magic? But people are inquisitive because you need to be and at the same time there are mysteries unfolding. The half has never been told; I like that fact because it keeps one wanting and desiring to learn. From that a passion may sometimes develop…but not for everyone.
Would you have said passion was your key before your big success in the 80s?
Culture Club is touted as my big break. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great break—the tours in the US, playing in Madison Square Garden, the hit singles, etc. but I have to say that all of it was merely part of the journey. Actually, when I think about getting started in my career I think of an afternoon many years ago, at home doing the chores with BBC Radio 1 on in the background. Suddenly I heard Alexis Korner, the Godfather of the Blues in the UK, reading out my biog and playing a single we had sent to him. This incident led to a rich and deep connection with this amazing and wonderful man. When he died, it broke my heart but he left me with something that helped to keep me going. You could call it passion.
It seems you are saying that passion precedes success.
Yes. I could go back even earlier: singing in the church, in the theatre, hanging out with people who loved the blues. The Blues was new to me then because my background was Gospel, Reggae and Jamaican artists. Suddenly, aged 16, I was listening to everything from Muddy Waters to Howling Wolf and Van Morrison. I was experiencing a whole new music genre and I loved it. One of my friends felt so passionately that I could and should sing this music that he re-mortgaged his house to help me get out my first EP.
Having seen you in performance I have no doubt that you connect passionately with your audience…
You see acts go out and do “loud” but doing loud does not always mean that you’re going to connect. I’m constantly reading and sensing the vibes from the audience; I want to make that connection and deliver the goods. You want to find the zone where you’re touching the audience and conveying the power of the music.
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