Tasmin Archer: Stop The World, I Want To Get Off

Your very first record has just gone to Number 1. Tonight you’re on Top Of The Pops for the third time in a month. The world and his wife needs to speak to you, urgently. What was it like for Tasmin Archer the week her dreams came true? “A bloody nightmare,” she tells Mark Cooper.

ON SUNDAY, her debut single, ‘Sleeping Satellite’, completed its six-week journey to Number 1. On Monday, she and her band completed a support slot with Curtis Stigers at London’s Dominion. On Wednesday, she made her third appearance on Top Of The Pops in four weeks. Today, however, is Thursday and Thursday’s child is full of woe. Forget the glam and the glitter, Tasmin Archer wants nothing more than to get the train back home to Yorkshire and do some housework.

Sitting in the bar of a London hotel staring disconsolately at a glass of Guinness, the normally irrepressible Ms Archer appears in urgent need of counselling. Sudden fame and a rigorous promotional schedule have given this 29-year-old Bradford lass a distinct case of the heebie-jeebies and sent her cigarette intake spiralling. No matter that she’s wanted to be a singer and a songwriter all her life, right now, pop stardom strikes Ms Archer as “a bloody nightmare”.

“Everybody’s got a schedule for me and now. I can’t run away from it. Or I can, but what’s the point? What else can I do?” Archer opines in a Yorkshire accent that is as broad as it is wide. “I don’t like being surrounded by people and suddenly thinking that I don’t know any of them. People smile at me all the time. If I have a tantrum or something, they all forgive me. Then I ask myself, why are they forgiving me? Is it because it’s ‘Tasmin Archer’ or is it because it’s me? Then I start analysing everything and that’s when I get really paranoid. In fact, I’m sorry Doctor, but can I have an injection or something?”

At this moment, a waiter, approaches the table with a huge display of flowers from EMI’s A&R department. Ms Archer is about the same size as Kylie Minogue and the flowers almost dwarf her. Success, after all, has its consolations.

‘SLEEPING SATELLITE’ may have shot to Number 1 as if from nowhere but it is, in fact, the result of five years’ hard work with her co-writer and band members, John Beck and John Hughes and a particularly bullish promotional campaign from her record label. Archer’s success is anything but predictable given the fact that she cites songwriters like Elvis Costello, Squeeze and Andrew Gold as major influences. On the surface, Archer appears out of step with both current musical fashion and her so-called roots but the lady herself has little time for such assumptions. The previous evening she and the two Johns had popped down to Hammersmith Odeon to catch the hard rock act Thunder whom they’d recently met in Germany. Once inside, Archer soon realised that hers was virtually the only black face in the building. Yet it was the intolerance of the black security guard who came over to ask her why she was listening to “such crap music” that still rankles. “I can’t stand stereotypes,” she snorts, “particularly black ones.”

The fourth and last child of West Indian parents who arrived in Yorkshire in the late ’40s, Archer always dreaded that her father might actually return to the Jamaica she has never seen. At school, she always felt that she “stuck out like a sore thumb” despite her constant striving to be one of the crowd. At home, the family stereos must have almost drowned each other out. “One brother would be playing Public Image, Morrissey and The Velvet Underground, the other had Abba on. Downstairs, my mum would be listening to Brook Benton or Jim Reeves and I’d be playing The Carpenters in my room. I grew up with a lot of music.”

Archer left school at 16 and was soon singing in a variety of cover bands while working in a factory and then as a clerk. She was singing back-up vocals, cleaning toilets and making tea at Bradford’s Flexible Response Studios, since converted into an Asian radio station, when the owner introduced her to Hughes and Beck. The trio started writing together with Archer (who doesn’t play an instrument and isn’t yet happy with her lyric writing) acting as editor and catalyst. According to Archer, their early compositions were “absolute shit” but they stuck to it until they began to find a voice.

‘Sleeping Satellite’ was written four years ago but Number 1 hits, it seems, are not made in a day. The initial response to the tapes they sent to record companies and publishers was lukewarm, perhaps because they started out calling themselves The Archers. After a seemingly endless string of showcases, the trio eventually signed first to Virgin Publishing and then to EMI. They started recording their debut album just over two years ago, rejecting their first producer after a couple of tracks and then settling down with Julian Mendelsohn, McCartney sidekick Paul “Wix” Wickens and Peter Key.

The album was completed almost a year ago but EMI waited until Archer had formed and road-tested her band. In the meantime, Clive Black, the man who had signed Archer became Head of A&R and Jean-Francois Cecillon was appointed MD of EMI UK. Cecillon determined that breaking an “album artist” like Archer should be his first priority and put his money where his mouth is by sending the trio out on an exhaustive meet-and-greet tour on which they played for record dealers and company reps all over Britain. When he followed this up by spending some £40,000 on radio ads for ‘Sleeping Satellite’ at Capital and other regional radio stations, the music media began to mutter “hype”. Nothing melts accusations of hype faster than success, however, and Cecillon must now be a very happy man.

YET IT was Archer and not Cecillon who chose to title the album album Great Expectations, and Archer who must now live with her new-found success. She may dress like the Artful Dodger in her men’s suits, waistcoats and long-sleeved white shirts but it’s that other Dickens urchin, Pip, whose story gave the album its title.

Great Expectations is a rags-to-riches tale. Pip gets left a lot of money. He wants to become educated and mix with upper-class people but on the way, he doesn’t realise that he’s become ashamed of the people he’s grown up with and who really care for him. Sometimes I get carried away by all this but I’ve always been able to correct myself so why stop now? The challenge is to keep going upwards but to stay happy with my own conscience. My soul matters to me. It might not matter to anyone else but it matters to me.”

© Mark CooperQ, December 1992

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