In this episode we cover Melanie C (AKA Sporty Spice) first foray into Musical Theatre (Blood Brothers and Jesus Christ Superstar), motherhood (with baby Scarlet), a nasty break up with her long term partner and 4…… yes FOUR….. more albums.
So, we pick up in 2007 – Spice Girls have announced the reunion tour and Mel C, as Mel C loves to do… is releasing a solo album. Forever 2.0 isn’t it.
In her defence, I believe she probably wasn’t planning on doing the reunion and was convinced last minute. As recent as 2 months before she’d said in interview she wouldn’t and was focussed on the album. This seems like a smart move for her.
She releases two songs simultaneously. In Europe she releases the very Mel C ballad – For this moment; the UK we get her cover version of “I want candy”. Featured on the soundtrack of film of same name.
I remember at the time this feeling like a very odd move. Bizarre. She’d always been the credible one and this seemed like a bit of a PR exercise. Which was surprising because she is on her own now – running her own label, Red Girl Records. I guess, they’re figuring things out. Trying to be commercial…… And the Spice Girls were known for cheesy covers. Their live shows were always filled with 80s disco hits like “We are family” and “Ain’t no stopping us”.
It charted at 24, spent 2 weeks on the chart. This would be one of the last times we would see Mel C in the top 40. The charting days of the Spice Girls are behind us by 2008.
Cute Fact – The video, a little raunchier than usual for Melanie. A leather catsuit – Hello, Victoria – and she’s surrounded by half naked oil men in a pink room – Hello, Geri - The song did debut at the top of the YouTube video chart. With 200,000 views in its first day…. Now, this is just a reflection of how much YouTube has grown. 200,000 views. Most watched. In 2018, Thank U Next was released as the first YouTube premier – encouraging live streams – in its first 24hours was viewed 55.4million times.
The album followed the next month – This Time – to a mixed critical reception. They felt it was a bit meh. She’d teamed up with some of the old favbourites: Guy Chambers, Cathy Dennis, Steve Mac – it was praised for the vocal maturity. It reached 57 in the charts. And went on to sell 300,000 worldwide. Her previous effort had sold a million.
I think this is the last we see of angry, not fitting it, fighting the industry “Sporty Spice”. The mellow Melanie that we see now really starts to ascend from the ashes of the 2007 reunion. Particularly, after the birth of her daughter.
At this point Melanie becomes the last Spice Girls to get pregnant. With her only child, Scarlett, born in February 2009. By this point she had been with her long term partner, Thomas Starr, for 7 years. This is where we see a change in direction from Melanie, and she signs on to play Mrs Johnstone in a new production of Willy Russels, Blood Brothers, in her West End debut. (Oct 2009). This seems like such a natural fit for her; it’s a Liverpool rooted play. Contemporary. Big singing vocals.
At the time she said how she had been invited to do musicals and movies in the past, but it had never felt like the right time – but, with having a baby, she wanted to stay close to home and have more routine. She’d genuinely contemplated never working again. That surprised me. So. God bless little Scarlett.
Because it was very successful for her. Reviews were very quickly glowing. London evening standard called her the “Galvanising factor” saying they’d never seen a set of reviewers rise so quick to standing ovation. The Independent said she rightly followed in the footsteps of previous actresses Carole King and Barbara Dickson with her singing abilities and luminous stage presence in a role she was born for.
She was nominated for an Oliver Award for best actress. Only the third actress to be nominated in the role in its 25 year run. Pretty impressive as she is nominated just months into her first professional acting role – well, Spiceworld aside. I don’t think this is shouted about enough. Nominated and respected by a panel of industry peers as exceptional in the field.
Victoria lent her two gowns for the awards! One for perfoming, one for the ceremony.
She plays the role for a little over a year. Because she had already started on new music! She releases “Rock Me” in Germany only, as the official single for FIFA world cup. Hi, remember me, Sporty Spice. But single proper was September 2011s, Think About It. This saw her make a return to Dance-pop – a more common territory for a Spice Girl, with a greater focus on radio-friendly beats than her previous singer-songwriter work. She worked with the Cutfather team, to provide a fresh edge to her newly stage developed vocals. It’s a popping track. Banger.
Under radar, under rated. I’d be surprised if many casual fans knew it existed. It didn’t get a lot of press attention. It did manage to chart in the UK. Just. At 95. Had somewhat better success in Europe. Reached 30 in Switzerland.
She was an Indie artist at this point. On her own label. So the album isn’t dragged away from us. Which is really nice. When Mel C says she has a new album coming out – You get an album. This isn’t Geri taunting us for years. Sporty can deliver. Its not a cause of trialling a single, she if the public engages. She creates something then puts it out. Bit like this podcast!!
So the album is released. The Sea. It has a bit more variety about it than her previous efforts. There are radio-friendly bops, stirring ballads, beat led tracks, a range of emotions. It still has a pop element but she worked with a lot of new people to create a diverse collection. My favourite thing about it; it lasts the length of a full gym session. 35 minute – what am I meant to do on the ab track. Whistle?!
Regarding the concept of The Sea, Chisholm said in a video interview on YouTube that, the album is cohesively experimental mixing many different genres/styles of music into one unified pop album with electronic undertones, therefore naming it The Sea, which ecomphases the many species who inhabit beneath the oceans surface.
It was also conveniently the title of the first track on the album.
It got fairly good reviews, Ok Magazine said it was her most ambitious album yet. If only sales had been so good: The album made it number 45 on the UK chart. Better on the digital and independent charts – 29 and 6, respectively. She did follow it with a 17 date European tour. I think Mel has really nailed that 10,000 fans theory.
My last two albums didn't perform that well in the UK. Would I be devastated if this one didn't do well? No, I'd live. But I'd keep plugging away. All it takes is one song. And this one has a touch of my debut solo album, Northern Star, about it. – Interview with the Guardian in 2011
Remember, that album was a slow climber. It obviously debuted higher but its most successful tracks came late in the campaign and its huge sales were due to it remaining in the charts for the best part of a year.
So, she tries to replicate this with her second official single – Weak. A big contrast to the dance-pop of Think about it. Which is a rousing ballad. I love it. I think it has the musical feelings to it – as its telling a very clear story, and evoking an emotion.
It got a bigger kick promo wise. Made it onto Radio 2 A list. Which helped it reach the top 60 most played songs on UK radio….. but it didn’t sell enough to make the top 200 of the singles chart.
She has described it as a disappointment – as she felt the quality was better than the reality of the sales it enjoyed.
She told the Evening Standard in 2016, it was the most catastrophic thing she experienced.
She has openly talked in interviews how this period saw a return of her depression - which is important to acknowledge. would binge eat, stay up all night crying and sit alone in her house for days.
She says "Sometimes you can do all the right things but they dont work enough". Its refreshing to hear some accomplished recognise that these things do recurr.
She also talked about the fear of post-natal depression as well, during her pregnancy. And i think, actually, these days - parenting explains a lot of the reasons she refuses reunions. She doesn't want to be too far from her daughter and needs more control of her work schedule. When she goes back into the Spice machine it is just carnage.
So there were a few rumours at the times. Hints of infidelity, but nothing with any weight. There was the rumblings that she had been working too hard and neglecting her womanly duties. Apparently, she wasn't going out and much and not even talking to protect her vocal cords.
For her part, she displayed the classic Mel C media training in speaking about it: deflecting to concentrating on parenting and not being drawn on any elements of blame.
She is very busy at this time. So after the album and its tour wrapped she signed on for Andrew Lloyd Webbers, Jesus Christ Superstar, in the role of Mary Magdalene. Alongside, Chris Moyles and Tim Minchin.... but before she does; their is a TV talent contest to find the next Jesus.
Melanie was a judge on the panel, alongside Dawn French, Jason Donovan and of course Andrew Lloyd Webber himself.
So following the show, they enter a national arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar. Which is unusual as it was obviously in theatres previously. ALW had said as a rock concert, this is exactly how he had envisioned it. In proscneium stages it feels shoe-horned in.
Reviews were devisive.
The Guardian did not love it. They gave it a 1 star review. Particularly the arena format. They suggested perhaps ALW should have been crucified as opposed to the titular character. Mel C is a strangely laid-back Mary Magdalene, relaxed to the point of blankness. the large cast crowd scenes appear to have been directed on the premise that if Jesus is coming, it's best to look busy
But the Telegraph loved it - Melanie Chisholm, a lovely relaxed Mary Magdalene, proves again that she was too good for the Spice Girls. TOO good. TOO GOOD. There is no such thing!
She did win a whatsonstage award for best musical actress.
And its this that would go on to inspire her sixth studio album. The aptly titled "Stages", a collection of emotional musical and film covers. Its all happening at the same time. So this is 2012 - a big year for Melanie - July - Superstar airs/along with the first single "I dont know how to love him). August - Olympic performance - September the album is released, which is the same month the tour began for Jesus Christ Superstar - December the Viva Forever musical launches.
Anyway, this album. Melanie said they are show tunes that have been important to her at different stages in her life. First single - I don't know how to love him. - Which everyone knows is from the musical (I googled it). She sang it on the live final accompanied by ALW on the piano. I mean, as much as promoting the album - this is really about promoting the ALW tour. Adelaide Entertainment Centrestated: "Melanie C absolutely blitzes her big number 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' bringing a more raw rock edge to the bridge before hitting the final big notes right out of the arena.
The second release from the album is a little more special...... Its a duet, from the musical Chess: I know him so well. With someone she knows very well. A certain Ms Emma Bunton.
It did not chart so favourably.... reaching 153 in the UK. We did get a lovely video of the two, meeting at a piano and goofing around. They also did a lot of live promo together, interviews on the TV circuit and singing live together. They switched on the Christmas lights in Oxford and sung 2 Become 1.......
The album sort of dithered in terms of chart. It topped the Itunes chart for a minute..... you see that a lot with strong fanbases. Went to No. 50 for 1 week on official charts. But as I said, this won't have been about chart performances - it will have been about additional merch to have while on tour. Business Spice. Record Label Spice.
So that sort of wraps up a pretty intense 2012! We do get here featuring in the Justice Collective - charity single "He aint heavy hes my brother" - a collaboration of musicians including Robbie Williams, Paul McCartney, Beverley Knight and many others. It was raising money for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster - which obviously, still resonates... especially for people with Liverpudlian heritage, which she very much has.
That was a very successful venture actually, went to number one in Christmas 2012. Beating X Factor contestant James Arthur. Another number one for Mel.
She did come into some hot water later on, actually, regarding the Hillsborough Disaster. So the city of Liverpool have managed to maintain an extremely powerful campaign refusing to buy, stock or sell the Sun Newspaper after strongly disparaging remarks were made about the Liverpool supporters just days after 96 were unlawfully killed in the tragic incident.
Whilst promoting an album - I believe Version of Me, she did some work with The Sun, and I think she was pictured touring on a big red Sun bus.... and this was at a similar time to the court trial exposing the Police cover up and lies around the incident; which sought to blame they players. Some negative press there. BUT, that is later on. 2012 - gooooooood.
2013 she starts still on tour with Jesus Christ Superstar in early 2013 - visiting Australia. Racking up the stamps on little Scarlets passport. Leading to a deservedly quieter 2013.
We get a couple of musical moments. In the summer, she releases a sexy duet with X Factor alumni, Matt Cardle, called "Loving You". They had met at the Isle of Wight festival.... said he was looking for a great voice (VB, obviously unavailable). The video gets quite steamy.... so its a similar premise: both of them seen in seperate rooms of a house, missing each other. Then in the final shots.... we get a steamy kiss!
There were a lot of rumours flying around that they might be dating. Especially when they went on a promotional trip for the record, in Germany and Poland. I think that's a snatch. Well done Mel. She was single and fun. Be single and make a single.
It managed to chart at number 14 - her highest chart position in 8 years, and impressive for 2 artists on independent labels. Only released on digital downloads as well so.
Then at the end of the year, we get two of my fave Melanie C performances. So in the December she releases her first live album - Live from Shepherds Bush (done DVDs before but not a live tour album). I think she had been doing some work with Jools Holland around this time, guesting on a number of his live tour dates.
Its just a short little 7 tracker, with mostly singles and a couple of more recent album tracks but it was nice if you didn't care for stages. There is a great mix of Turn to you, and it actually made me like "Next best superstar".
But I fell in love with it after watching "Sporty turns 40". So, Melanie turns 40 in the January and to celebrate she throws a big concert party at the Shepheds Bush Empire singing all her hits, with a few exciting guests. So, its in full on YouTube. (Thank you Mel C fans brazil). She looks incredible. She has her hair in a pony. She is wearing a black leather vest jacket. She is glowing and buzzing and really having fun. Obviously she sounds great. Its a star studded crowd of 90s popstars. She duets with Nicole Appleton, Emma comes on. One of the guys from Starsailor..... its great to have on in the background. We'll listen over dinner or something; I can't believe I haven't showed you actually.
This is a nice little bit of business, do you know which Little Mix video she makes an appearance in?
Word Up - of course. The Children In Need charity single. Passing on the torch from their own CiN single. She was very complimentary about the girls at the time, who isn't. Would later get quoted saying she had banned her daughter from watching the girls in case she saw inappropriate content:
'They are getting more provocative. To me, they were kind of the closest thing to the Spice Girls we've seen.
'They are all gorgeous and great singers. But they weren't sexy and it's got more and more that way. I love them – but I just say, "Stay you".
'All young women want to look sexy and hot so I understand it's hard. But I think it's such a shame. We live in a narcissistic age – it's 100 per cent worse than when I was in the Spice Girls. It was a more innocent time.'
She would later go on to clarify her comments saying: Why do young girls want to be portrayed in that way? 'In my experience, I wore tracksuits. I never felt that us girls as Spice Girls were never put under any pressure to be sexy.
- I mean, it is arguable the Spice Girls were extremely sexualised. Victoria wore a catsuit or a bikini and skirt. Geris skirts never went much past her navel. Emma was made to look younger...... it didn't feel smutty though. Maybe because of the range, and personality.
- Little Mix are often portrayed as wearing less than they are. A leotard is not an inappropirate stage outfit, no matter how high cut. Its actually very smart. Noone can get in and nothing can get out. Twat guard.
- I think its the dance moves that are maybe more contentious. But these are young women. That are good dancers and singers and make good music. Why shouldn't they dance? And yes, sometimes writhing around on the floor isn't necessary in a heartbreak song.... but sometimes it feels good.
In 2015, we get a somewhat surprising move from Melanie – if you were a big fan of her “Beautiful Intentions” album. She is confirmed as a judge on TV talent show – Asias got talent. It was the first time the show was launching in that territory – maybe she thought we wouldn’t notice. Trying to break it down from the inside, perhaps.
It was done in multiple languages, so there was always translators on hand. First of its kind within the “Got Talent” brand.
Melanie gave her golden buzzer to an acrobatic act, Gao Lin and Lui Xin.
She only did one season, but it’s a nice little paid holiday. Experience a bit of culture properly. I think we have seen that in recent years from her – Global Spice – spending a bit of time. Because when they were Spice Girls they would have visited all of these places but not be there for more than a day or two. Can’t experience it. Get the passport stamped but no memories.
After this, we get back to music. Proper music. She features as vocalist – rather unexpected – collaboration with Sons of Sonix a British production duo who pride themselves on creating timeless, unboxed music. (I took that from their official website, could you tell). It’s a stark departure from her earlier work. They’ve worked with Ty Dollar Sign, Wretch 32, Stormzy. So, something a little more urban.
The track was called “Numb”. Digitalspy described it as a “massive tropical banger”. Its much more electronic…. Which is a big departure away from the guitars and string instruments Sporty likes.
Which made for a good interlude for her first single proper from the new album, Anymore. Also produced by SOS, as was much of the album.
I remember being stunned when this came out. If you thought numb was a massive banger. This is “Turn to you” 2point0. Its uptempo electro. It premiered on BBC Radio 2 with Chris Evans. I remember watching the video in the office and I turned to my friend Jo like, pause everything – Mel C has hit the dancefloor!
It got to number 1…… on the radio airplay chart. And it got to number 1…… on the UK physical singles chart! But a number 1 is a number 1!
The album, Version of me, followed in October. It took her two years to create. Started in 2014 but with all the other projects since then meant she couldn’t focus on the album solely…. Which she credits. Said it stopped the album getting stale and meant she could use real life scenaries to inspire the work.
She describes this as her first fully electronic album. She’d dabbled in the past but this was the first time she became an electro-synth artist. And it suits her. We get the same Melanie C themes…. It break ups and heartaches.
The bloggers loved it. We’re past the point when many main streams review but the Express said: When the producers calm down and her huskily powerful but always slightly vulnerable voice is allowed to soar, as on the closing quartet of tracks, the results are superb
The Independent called it her most accomplished solo outing to date. Gave it 3 stars. Same as it Gave Lady Gagas Joanne.
The Sydney Herald described it as - Melanie C's version of Beyonce's Lemonade, taking on her very own "Becky with the good hair" and alluding to her relationship breakdown with partner of 10 years and the father of Scarlett, Thomas Starr, whom she split from in 2012.
A brave move into Electro led dance-pop – which finally paid off. It was easily her most successful album in over a decade. It CHARTED. Yes, at number 25. Much higher if you only look at physical sales.
Melanie C was out doing the promo for this. She did GAY appearances, talk shows, she did a prioper tour and into Europe. I got to see her at Hoopla; as you will remember from the last episode.
We’d get another 3 singles from this era – none of which chart, but do get a fair bit or radio – “Dear life” which is more of a ballad. A bit more akin to her earlier work but still with this new found dance edge. “Hold on” A collaboration with Alex Francis. And “Room for love” which gets a video made up of fan clips. Which is a lovely nod.
We should discuss one track. The title track Version of Me…… This is not your playground, I'm not here for you to shoot me down
Praying on my weakness, even when you're not around
Nothing lasts forever but you're wrapped around my DNA
And I'm hiding in the corner, the wounded kid I was
Like it was yesterday, like nothing's changed
All that you've done, you see
Ever so quietly comes creeping back up on me
Haunting me, goading me, why can't you let go of me?
I don't have the patience anymore
Version of me:
"Unfortunately, being bullied can really damage people and even when you are stronger and over it, it can still be in the background – undermining you. I hope people will Identify with that track," she told Attitude.
She continued: "It's been addressed, they were aware of what they'd done. They apologised."
This is a good era for her. Making music that she likes; it soundsa fresh and exciting again. Couldn’t be more pleased. I had time for it. Still do. Good for at the gym; or cycling a commute.
Then the final thing Melanie adds before the reunion – is she becomes DJ Spice. Doing sets at retro nights.
There probably won't come a time when I'm not asked about the Spice Girls. Do I mind? It depends what mood I'm in. People want to know about our relationships now. When we first split, I went two years without speaking to some of the girls, but we're closer now than we've ever been. – Interview with the Guardian, 2011.
Maybe Melanie is Live Spice…. Her mic is rarely switched off. She’s released 3 live concert albums. She’s toured every album. She’s also done more musical than anyone else. She is a singer much more than she is a celebrity – which goes beyond what any of the other girls have done.