It is strange to think that there are people in the world whose work you adore, but you may not even realise you are a fan of them. Tessa Niles is an incredible artist, with a rich and exciting background in the music industry, she has worked with some of the biggest names in recent history and has recorded countless albums and performed at a staggering amount of concerts. Tessa is a session singer, in fact she is regarded as one of the best out there and Backtrack is her story.
The book is filled, no crammed with rock stars and pop stars, Tessa has worked with so many amazing artists we couldn’t list them all, but a few of them are Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and many more besides. The book gives a fantastic insight into the world in which Tesa lives and just how much hard work and dedication she has put in to her outstanding career.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Tessa and find out a little bit more about her and about Backtrack.
Your book Backtrack is all about the journey you took to become one of the most respected session singers around. When did you decide this was what you wanted to do and why?
I knew from the age of 11 that the way to be truly happy in my life was to make music. Along with encouragement, mentoring, a good dose of luck and extremely understanding parents I worked hard to achieve my goals.
I’d attempted a solo career but realised that I was better suited to the supporting role. A session vocalist was actually the perfect career choice for me. I could be involved in the glamour and success but never felt the full glare of the spotlight upon me. In a celebrity obsessed age where many are willing to sell their own mothers for a shot at fame, I realise that sidestepping the spotlight might seem a strange choice. It worked for me.
You have worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, is there anyone that you haven’t had a chance to work with yet, but would love to?
I’d like the chance to work with Stevie Wonder again as the only time we worked together was with The Eurythmics and I was utterly starstruck.
Do you have a favourite memory from your time as a singer?
I’ve so many it’s hard to pin it down to one but working with Robbie Williams was fabulous. He’s talented, funny and of course achingly handsome. Live Aid with David Bowie was definitely my stand out, live performance memory. One third of humanity watched Live Aid that day. So yeah, that one’s hard to beat.
Where is the strangest place you have performed? Why was it odd?
It wasn’t so much the place but what I was wearing. The year, 1983. The event, a stadium on The Synchronicity Tour with The Police. The singers were dressed from head to toe in voluminous black shrouds. At one particularly windy outdoor gig I almost took off. Dangerous and not sexy!
Your book details many of the people you have worked with, one of which was the late David Bowie when you performed at Live Aid. Can you tell us a bit about working with him and being a part of Live Aid.
Live Aid was extraordinary in so many ways. Who knew at the time that musicians coming together for a common cause would became such a powerful force. Bowie was above all else, generous. He had the ability to make every one around him feel valued and every aspect of the performance was important to him. Bowie knew that the caliber of musicians working for him was such that he didn’t need to give too much musical instruction. He wanted to know what the singers would be wearing and described his now famous powder blue suit so we could find something complementary. He looked at me in rehearsals with those extraordinary eyes and asked me for a song suggestion. I remember being so excited, I practically screamed the name of my favourite tune, Rebel Rebel. No one at the time realised that Live Aid would earn it’s place in music history.
What made you decide to write Backtrack?
Over the years people had often commented that I should document my career in music. It was always flattering to hear but whilst I was busy moving forward I didn’t really have the mindset or the time required to reflect. Though I clearly understood the appetite for stories connected to the well known stars I’d worked with I was not yet ready to roll the tape back. Moving to South Africa from the U.K in 2006 afforded me the opportunity to begin collating aspects of my 30 year career. Strangely It began whilst decorating my house. During a conversation with my interior designer, Anne Turner, she began to ask questions relating to my personal history in an attempt to understand my style. I began to explain about my life and to illustrate I opened long since sealed boxes full of memorabilia. Back stage passes from stage shows and tours. Song lyrics and set lists. Photographs, personal gifts and notes from artistes I’d worked with. Mementos of a fabulous and wild life in rock n roll. The designer’s mouth fell open as she asked me why these things were in boxes and not displayed on the walls? I understood at that moment that these things should not be hidden away but proudly displayed. And so it was with my memoir…I finally reached the point where I was ready to dust off and polish the stories.
What was the last book you read?
Carly Simon’s memoir ‘Boys In The Trees’. Phew…what a ride!
Do you have a favourite musician/band?
I love Steely Dan. I still find things in their music that are new every time I listen. Their musicianship is a thing of beauty.
What three things can you not live without when you are tour?
- My personal inner ear monitors, as without them I sound like someone else. They also help protect my voice as voice strain is an occupational hazard. Without them there is a tendency to over sing because you can’t hear yourself well enough. So they’re crucial.
- Throat Coat Tea. It’s made from something called Slippery Elm. Mmmmm, sounds good right? Essential for soothing a tired voice and it does what it says on the tin.
- Killer heels but with lots of padding inside to mitigate sore feet. I once had a long convo with Tina Turner about bunions. Now there’s a lady who knows a thing or two about life in stiletto’s!
What are you currently working on?
Apart from doing relentless promotion for Backtrack, I’m a founding partner in a bespoke music company called Starsongs . Our team of experienced songwriters writers will create a stunning piece of music for any life event using your inspiration.. From that first wedding song to telling your partner they’re loved, Starsongs will create the soundtrack to your life. Im also organising the first awards show for British Vocalists in 2016. The celebration of vocalists is long overdue and will be a night of recognition for singers who have contributed to hit records over the past 40 years. Am also working on a documentary heralding the role of the backing vocalist in British recording. I’m also doing a gig at the Pizza Express in Dean St, Soho with my pal Bill Sharpe from Shakatak. Come on down, love to see you.
Why do you think people should pick up a copy of your book and give it a read?
Reading Backtrack is like having an exclusive backstage pass into a world very few people get to see. I was fortunate to have been involved in the recording of many hit records and live shows and have lived and worked closely with some of the greatest stars in music history. If you’re a lover of 80’s and 90’s music I think you’ll enjoy Backtrack.