Tasmin Archer (Catalogue)
Tasmin Archer (Catalogue)
It's been a time since we heard from Tasmin Archer, although it comes as something of a shock when you do the math and realise it's ten long years since her last album. Now she's back with 'On' , a stunning collection that proves yet again that wise old maxim that the best things in life are indeed worth the wait. As you would expect, it's a record of hugely atmospheric songs, rich with potent melodies and intelligent lyrics informed by her own unusual experience - and the result is a comeback that is as triumphant as it is welcome. To explain what she's been doing since we last heard from her, it's necessary to put her long-awaited return in the context of Tasmin's earlier success. When she shot to the top of the charts in 1992 with 'Sleeping Satellite', it was a popular misconception that she had come from nowhere to become an overnight sensation. Yet although it was her debut single, she had already spent years playing in local bands in Bradford, writing songs in her bedroom and doing sessionsin a local studio. It was there that she met John Hughes and John Beck. They began working together in Hughes' back kitchen, wrote some songs, recorded some demos, sent them to various publishing and record companies and received the usual rejections - including one from EMI, who later changed their minds and offered her a contract. Even then, it was another two years before Sleeping Satellite and her aptly-titled debut album Great Expectations, were released. So much for the overnight success theory. That Tasmin was very different from your average pop wanabee was obvious from the outset. In Sleeping Satellite she seemed to question our human priorities and arrogant attitude towards the planet we inhabit. In Your Care, the follow-up single, was about child abuse. Clearly, here was a singer-songwriter not afraid to speak her mind and tackle serious subjects. She also believed in action to back her words and donated the royalties from In Your Care to the Childline charity. Further evidence that she wasn't very interested in the fame game came shortly after she had won a BRIT as Best Newcomer. Asked where she kept her award, she claimed it was in the back of a kitchen cupboard and came in very handy for cracking nuts and tenderising steak. The story wasn't strictly accurate in the detail. Yet the joke was indicative of her no-frills, no-nonsense approach to the music business. ''It isn't actually in the kitchen, but I'd certainly never dream of having it on display,'' she says today. Her second album Bloom appeared in 1996. Among its many fine songs was Breaking My Back, about her ambivalent attitude towards being famous. ''I suppose I'm living my dream, though at times it seems a bit like a nightmare,'' she told an interviewer around the same time. When her contract with EMI expired in 1997, she was in no hurry to sign with another label and decided a period of reflection was called for. ''You can so easily feel that you've lost control of what you're doing,'' she explains. ''I wasn't unreasonable. It was just that the record company's suggestions didn't seem to fit with what I wanted to do.'' While she was contemplating everything that had happened and what to do next, writer's block set in. It can happen to the very best and Bob Dylan memorably describes how he suffered from it in the mid-80s in his recent autobiography. To Tasmin it came as a surprise. But she responded in typically practical fashion. ''It had never happened to me before, so I decided the best way to work through it was by just getting on with my life". She spent her time watching football and painting and modelling clay. ''I had to do something creative that had an end result,'' she says. Happily, by 2000 she was writing again. Before long she had more than enough songs for a new record and began working on them with her old partner John Hughes. ''Before I'd been spoilt with producers and engineers, but we went back to how we started out , doing it ourselves in the back bedroom,'' she notes. In addition to co-writing, Hughes also produced and engineered and played on the album. The only other person on the record is Bruce Thomas from the Attractions. The DIY approach has been a steep learning curve, albeit a rewarding one. ''We've done everything ourselves, '' she says proudly. ''It's hard work but fun and it shows that you can make the music you want and remain true to yourself if you're determined enough.'' The title almost chose itself. ''I was off for a while. Now it's back on,'' she says in matter-of-fact fashion. ''The songs are basically about people and how they live their lives. An emotion can trigger a song and I can't deny threre are a few messages, although I try not to ram them down people's throats. And I'm still as driven by melodies as I always have been.'' She admits to a mixture of excitement and nerves about her return: ''I feel I've got back to why I started doing this in the first place but that I've also learned from everything that's happened along the way.'' Ironically, after the long lay-off she's already thinking about the next album, which makes the old joke about waiting for a bus come to mind. ''There are so many songs because we were still writing fresh ones while recording On,'' she enthuses. ''You've got to keep the momentum going.'' And this time, now she's doing things in her own way and on her own terms, you feel sure that she will.