New improved Yazz

The club queen who sang 'The Only Way Is Up', then completely disappeared, is back. Gone are the disco whites and peroxide crop. In is a new sound and a radically new hair-do.

I wasn't looking forward to meeting her. The club queen who sang the mega dance hit, "The Only Way Is Up". The tall rangy black girl with the half-inch peroxide crop who looked like she specialised in Attitude. If Mel C is supposed to be "Scary Spice", then Yazz, a full nine years earlier, and a better dancer, must have induced utter terror. An interviewer at the time told her that she "scared the pants off most men", not to mention most women. As I said, I wasn't looking forward to meeting her.

After a six-year abscence, Yazz is back in the public eye to promote her new single, "Never Can Say Goodbye", previously a big hit for Gloria Gaynor. A new album, Natural Life, follows in April. The album was produced by Ali Campbell of UB40, and the style is very different from the old Yazz. It's a collection of classic reggae tracks from the early Seventies, reshaped and reinterpreted. The influence of UB40 is discernible throughout the album, which has wonderful melodic depth and versatility, and the trademark springing rhythm. But it is Yazz's voice and power of interpretation which ensure that Natural Life is not just another easy option, another cover of some great old songs that everyone has forgotten about. She sounds wonderful, the voice able to carry a weight of emotion that gives the tired old words the poignancy and strength of their original meaning. You want to dance and you want to listen. It's going to be a huge success. Not bad for a comeback kid. Yazz's new artistic direction is also reflected in more personal upheavals and changes. "Oh yes," explains her spokeswoman. "She's totally different now. She's got long red hair."

Even in rock 'n' roll, an industry not noted for its profundity, a hairstyle does not equal a lifestyle. But although the long red hair is truly there, and totally changes her appearance, she has also noticeably altered in other, more serious, ways.

She is not spiky, nor is she pretentious or grand. Gone are the Duran Duran disco whites, in their place is the chic uniform of the Nineties thirtysomething: plain roll-neck sweater, and a Seventies-cut dark-wool jacket.There is considerably less make-up and the long red hair seems perfectly natural, in a way that the peroxide crop never did. In fact, on reflection, much of her previous incarnation now looks completely constructed. A browse through her old publicity shots is like a tour through all our wardrobes of a decade ago. A sartorial and spiritual nightmare, from which, thankfully, she and we have recovered.

Yazz is philosophical about her early career, suggesting that her old record company, Cold Cuts, failed to properly guide and protect her through those vulnerable years. After the initial success of her first album, a second album came out in 1993 and virtually disappeared without trace. "It was classic second album syndrome," Yazz says. "I was unhappy with it, and didn't really believe in it, and I felt the record company were very lukewarm about the promotional side of things." They subsequently parted company, she signed to East West records and then went through what she describes as "a reflective period". She says that there was a long period where she was very unsure if she wanted to remain in the music business, she even looked up the details of teacher training courses, a possible career choice that was wisely abandoned. Eventually her creative confidence returned, and she began working on the project that would become Natural Life.

During her six-year absence, three monumental things happened which ensured that Natural Life would be profoundly different from anything she had done before. In 1990, she gave birth to her daughter, Rio. Three years later her father, "my rock", died of cancer, and then somewhere around 1994 she bumped into an old friend. "She was the very last person you would have thought of, but she told me she had started going to a church, and that they had a really good pastor there, and that I should come."

Yazz went down to her friend's Baptist church and felt she had finally arrived at her destination after a journey that began 10 years ago. "I'd looked at Buddhism, bought copies of the Koran, books on New Age self- development, but none of it had really connected. Of course, the one thing I didn't look at was Christianity, which I'd always thought of as this old-fashioned, middle-class thing. Now I believe totally in God."

This belief has made it easier to cope with the loss of her father. There is an older sister, Jacky, and Peter the middle brother. As the baby of the family, she was especially close to her father, and he in turn was enormously supportive and proud of her. Girls should be close to their fathers she says. "He gave me a great male role model, which is so important. He taught me to expect that the man in my life should love and cherish me, and that's no bad thing."

Formerly an influential man in the Jamaican Labour Party, Yazz's father also passed on his political viewpoints. She just admired everything he did - "He was such a wonderful man" - and his loss was a blow that sent her reeling. "Three years on, it's better," she says. "I can think of him now without pain."

She still cries for him, but not everyday, and she remains very close to her mother and the rest of the family. She also has other reasons for getting out of bed and going on with life. Her daughter, Rio, now six years old, is the centre of her life, and Yazz quite clearly adores her.

She asks me if I would like to see a photograph, and passes me a family snap taken this Christmas. Rio is standing in front of her mother, smiling at the camera. She is wearing her new white and floaty Disney Princess dress, and a pair of gold slippers. "When I had a daughter," says Yazz, "I thought she would be like me, into wearing Dr Martens and a real tomboy." Instead, all Rio wants to do is dress up in pretty frocks and play at being a fairy princess. "I think it has brought out the woman in me keeping up with her."

"Woman" and "womanly" are words she uses a lot. Those who recall the crop-haired, linear and androgynous figure, who bounced and jumped across the stage, will barely recognise the new Yazz. In the video for "Never Can Say Goodbye", she plays a broken-hearted Seventies' soul diva. All satin dress, heels and curves, with clouds of hair and heavy lipgloss. "I wanted to do 'Never Can Say Goodbye'," she says, "because it's a real woman's song. Goodbye is a word that most men don't seem to have too much trouble with. They seem to find walking out particularly easy, in fact."

She recorded the album with the UB40 gang in Bob Marley's old studio, Firefly, in Jamaica. Sugar Minott wandered in halfway through the recording and asked if she'd like him to do some backing on his old hit "Good Thing Going". Yazz's eyes widen at the memory. "It was a fantastic place. I would just stand there sometimes and think, 'Did Bob Marley walk through here? Is this where he played?' Also it's really beautiful. One side of the studio is just a big glass wall, and I'd be standing there with the headphones on putting down a track, and through the glass I could see these incredible tropical storms sweeping across the Caribbean."

Yazz took her daughter with her, and the demands of motherhood, not to mention her new faith, were sometimes too much for the boys from UB40. "I wouldn't let them use bad language," which they found pretty difficult, it seems, "and because I had a child, I wanted to work normal, regular hours. They were used to working when and as they felt like it. If they wanted to go to the studio at 3am, well, fine, but I just couldn't work like that." She says that the relationship survived intact. "Although there were a few fights."

As the interview ends, a call comes through from her agent, she's been asked to appear on Noel's House Party. Strangely, Yazz is thrilled. How the serious heartbreak of her new songs will go down at Crinkly Bottom is anyone's guess, but it's pretty likely that a star is reborn n

Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette

film
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

    Will Gore: Outside Edge

    The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz