In the 1980s, as house music was exploding in Chicago under the watchful eye of DJs like the late Frankie Knuckles, across the pond Lisa Stansfield was fast becoming a European dance queen with a mix of groovy soul, R&B and Brit pop that would lead to 20 million albums sold and recognition among Billboard’s top 50 most successful dance artists of all time.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21
Where: The Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield
“Everybody started playing our B-side in the clubs in London; it was massive on the underground scene,” she recalls of her first efforts with the pop-leaning, blue-eyed soul group Blue Zone in the mid-‘80s that consisted of Stansfield plus Ian Devaney on guitar, keyboards and trumpet and Andy Morris on trumpet, flugelhorn and more keyboards. The trio eventually fissured by 1988 as they banded together to focus on Stansfield’s solo career, which was a wise choice —before artists like Amy Winehouse and Adele, the British soul pop canon was honed in on Stansfield and her contemporary Sade.
Stansfield’s 1989 solo debut “Affection” produced a global hit with the appropriately named single “All Around the World,” and resulted in Grammy nominations, duets with the monolithic George Michael and the Band Aid legacy and even a foray into acting and movie soundtracks.
While Morris eventually moved on (“he went off the radar, we don’t really know where he is,” says Stansfield when asked about a potential Blue Zone reunion in the future), Stansfield and Devaney continued their partnership, personally and professionally. The couple eventually married and Devaney continues to produce Stansfield’s music, including her latest album, “Deeper,” released in April. It’s her eighth studio release, and includes Stansfield’s tenth Top 10 hit on the Billboard Dance Club Songs Chart with the single “Never Ever.” Which could also be the theme of her latest tour in America, something that many fans thought they might never ever see again after a long two-decade absence.
“Things are going so well over here in Europe, and we’ve had such a massive response to the single over in America so we thought, why not bite the bullet? If we’re going to do it, let’s do it now and see what happens, and I think we’ve got a lot of people on our side,” says Stansfield, who promises a robust set list including her immortalized singles like “People Hold On” and “What Did I Do To You,” among others. “I think it’s not really fair to go on stage and perform just all your new album, it’s very selfish. So for the people that don’t know the new stuff, they’ll still have a good time.”
Though her new album is nothing to scoff at. In addition to the reverent disco throwback on the title track “Deeper” (an ode to her relationship with Devaney), there’s “Hercules,” a song that includes a writing credit from horror master John Carpenter. “We always wanted to use that bass line from [the score of] ‘Assault on Precinct 13,’ it’s such a cool line and also a really good film,” says Stansfield. “So we asked John and he said yes. And it’s just so cool to have a writing credit with him.”
Stansfield’s other career, of course, was acting, starting with an appearance in the 1999 English film “Swing” and then continuing most recently with a role in the 2014 music biopic “Northern Soul,” though she also had a chance to read for Demi Moore’s role in “Indecent Proposal” and was almost cast in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” in the ‘90s.
“I love acting, but I’ve always prioritized my music,” Stansfield says, finding a niche in her songs being placed in more than 32 movie soundtracks. “I’ve had such great experiences on screen and would love to do more.”
Stansfield also famously got her start on the small screen on a now-defunct televised talent competition called “Search for a Star,” and while thankful for the opportunity, she is no fan of the ongoing obsession with shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”
“A lot of those shows now have run their course. Haven’t we had enough of them? I have. I don’t watch them. I really think there could be other things taking up that space,” she says. Stansfield also takes issue with pop stars being seen solely as vessels for other’s songwriting, preferring to write and co-write all of her material. On “Deeper,” she says she was inspired by the feeling she used to have going out on Friday nights.
“It’s sort of like when I used to pop my makeup on and would get my record player or cassette machine and put my favorite music on to get ready to go out,” she recalls. “Your makeup was like war paint; you’re a warrior going out into the night and who knows what can happen. In any town, in any country, all across the world. You work all week and then you go out and all your hopes and dreams are on that one night and it can change your life. I feel that songs on this album are like that, and hopefully the tour too, full of hope and positivity for the future.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.