Riva Taylor, an English singer, songwriter and performer chats with Kevin Cooper about opening the British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park, performing with Michael Ball at the 2006 FA Cup Final, her involvement with This Woman’s Heart an online community which supports and connects women in the arts and the release of the first half of her album This Woman’s Heart .1

Riva Taylor is an English singer, songwriter and performer, who changed her name from her birth name of Rebecca Jane Grosvenor-Taylor. She is also famous for landing a recording contract with EMI when she was twelve years old under the name of Becky Jane Taylor, making her the youngest artist to have ever been signed to that label.

Her debut album, A Dream Come True, released in 2001, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios. The same year she sang at the Farm Aid Benefit Gala at the Royal Albert Hall, which was attended by Prince Charles, who praised the twelve year olds performance.

In 2006, she performed at the Millennium Stadium at the FA Cup Final where she sang Abide With Me. She has performed the Rugby World Cup Anthem World In Union at the Madjeski Stadium for the Aviva Premiership in 2010. She has also performed the national anthem at the Six Nations Rugby at Twickenham in 2012.

Over the years, Taylor has toured worldwide promoting her music. She has performed extensively alongside musicians including José Carreras, Russell Watson, André Rieu and Katie Melua. She has also toured with Alfie Boe.

Taking a break from music, Taylor graduated from the University of Durham after undertaking a three year degree in History. Returning to music she released her fourth studio album, The Creed, in 2014 under the name Riva Taylor.

She is now a supporter of The Rays Of Sunshine and The Children’s Wish Foundation charities and has performed at the annual gala dinners in aid of both causes. She is currently heavily involved with This Woman’s Heart, an online community which supports and connects women in the arts.

In March 2020 Taylor released the first half of her latest album, This Woman’s Heart .1 and whilst busy preparing for the release of the second half, she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Riva good morning, how are you?

Hi Kevin, I’m not bad thanks, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure, not a problem. So where are you based?

I am calling you from a very sunny and warm Nottingham; Robin Hood country.

Well let me tell you, I studied Robin Hood and his origins many years ago now.

Really, well in that case let me ask you, truth or myth (laughter).

To be totally honest with you I don’t think that there was ever an answer (laughter). There really are so many different theories, all of which were thrown at me. There was certainly a real character called Robin of Loxley and I think that the myth has evolved over time into what it is today.

And what about the constant fighting between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, who both stake a claim to his patronage. Can you shed any light on that?

(Laughter) this is bringing it all back to me now after ten years. I will have to dig out my books from university (laughter). What I will say is does it really matter which county he came from; it is just such a fantastic story.

I totally agree and I have to say that I think that is the best way to look at this. Why not just sit back and enjoy the many books, films and TV shows that have been made and written about the legend that is Robin Hood.

That all sounds totally wonderful.

I must ask you, just how are you managing to fill your time during lockdown?

I am writing as much as possible; I want to get the second part of the album ready for release sometime later in the year. As you know I am releasing the album in two halves, This Woman’s Heart .1 is already out, and the second half is due out in autumn. We all must find our own ways through this situation and mine just happens to be writing. I draw my inspirations from being out and about, by collaborating with other people, travelling through other countries and places, so that has been very interesting for me, doing Skype sessions and attempting to detach myself from what is currently going on and focus on the task in hand. Something good which has come out of all of this is that I have picked up art again. I have always enjoyed sketching and I have now moved into watercolour painting. I see that a lot of other people are doing that and posting their works on social media.

I am a firm believer in the arts and that art can be a healer and I have to say that it is working for me. So, in answer to your question, for me it is just a case of head down really (laughter). I have also enjoyed playing a few digital sessions which really is something that doesn’t come natural to me, but I have eased myself into it because that is the only option. If lockdown was to be lifted tomorrow and life was to return to normal, I would now have no qualms about doing that (laughter). It is a very strange feeling now because I very quickly came to grips with the fact that I won’t be touring for a very long time. That’s not just affecting me; there is nothing that anyone can do. We have all simply got to wait and see how this all pans out.

What was the rationale behind releasing your new work as two separate albums?

I realised that this album had taken a bit of time to get into place. It has taken me almost five years to get it to the stage that it is in now and obviously during that time I have changed and have been through different experiences. So, half of the album represents the darker half of my life, the ups, downs and difficulties together with the navigation of time of me becoming Riva Taylor from being Becky Taylor anymore. The second half of the album is all about a bright future and is more definitely optimistic in feel. I thought that tied in nicely with a beating heart and the fact that you sometimes do have two sides to yourself and your personality.

What has the reaction been like for This Woman’s Heart .1?

So far, I am pleased to say that the reaction has been quite positive. Obviously at this moment in time things are quite difficult but having said that the streaming figures are all quite positive. We released the single Jealous on the 27th March in order to launch this half of the album, and I have to say it is one of my favourite songs on the album. People have been listening, and it’s great to see that they have really taken to Jealous. Jealous was in fact the last addition to the album, which I wrote whilst I was in Stockholm last autumn. So yes, it has all been positive so far and I am pleased to say that people are wanting to hear more, and that means a lot.

Well I have to say that I have been playing the album for the past couple of weeks now and I absolutely love it.

Thank you very much, that is so nice to hear you say that.

My favourite track at the moment is Running At Walls; I think that it is brilliant.

Is it really, well I love it too.

Didn’t you work with James Milne Walsh of Starsailor on that track?

(Laughter) yes, I did. I have loved his voice and I have loved his writing for many years now and yes, James and I co-wrote Running At Walls together. Over the past few years James and I have become quite good friends. I must tell you, that song landed really fast, so I am really pleased to hear you say that really. Thank you.

Were you pleased with the end product or did you listen and think ‘perhaps I could have done that differently’?

No, actually (laughter). What I am bad at is being a perfectionist. People are always saying to me “leave it” as there always comes a point where you have just got to walk away and leave it alone. I can remember back in the day when a twelve-year-old Becky Taylor was sitting in the Abbey Road studios, whilst the Chief Executives of EMI Records were sitting around, listening to my newly recorded album. I was just sitting there picking it to death (laughter). I will always remember that they turned to me and said “you are always going to be critical of everything that you do” but the great thing is that I am not on the new album (laughter).

Perhaps I am now used to imperfections, for example if I hear a note that is not as perfect as it could be, who cares, it was in that moment. It will still mean something to the listener, perhaps more so than if it was perfect. So, in answer to your question I am really happy with the final product.

Now please don’t take this as anything other than a compliment but I think that the more you listen to the album the more you hear and during the last couple of weeks I have heard snippets of Celine Dion, Kate Bush, Enya, Barbara Streisand, Sharleen Spiteri and Marcella Detroit.

Wow, that is the first time that anyone has mentioned Marcella Detroit to me but let me tell you that I absolutely love Shakespears Sister. People have also very recently begun likening me to Sharleen Spiteri. How could I ever take it as anything other than a compliment; they are all wonderful female artists so thank you.

You have mentioned that This Woman’s Heart .2 is almost finished, and ready to go. Do you have a release date in mind?

No, not as yet. We certainly do not have a release date, but we do have a release month which at this moment in time is October. As you know these things always have to be a little bit fluid. Obviously, the situation then changed, and it is no longer that easy for me to get myself into the studio with a producer. So, we will simply have to take that as it comes, whilst trying to hit an October release date. As soon as the lockdown is lifted then I will be back in the studio polishing the album off with the producer.

How many tracks will the album have?

Like This Woman’s Heart .1 it will have seven tracks.

Will it be released purely as a download or will we be seeing a physical copy?

I would love to see a physical copy, and I think that for the future album we will be packaging it up as a physical thing. For me an album is a very important thing; I love an album. Whilst I know just how we consume music has all changed, I personally still believe in the album, and I still believe that you can listen to a body of work from start to finish, and that is very much what I want people to do with this. I would love to have a physical album for people very much like my parents who still love listening to an album (laughter). I am sure that there are still people out there who would love a physical copy of the album.

I have to say that making the first album has been a frustrating time for me because I had a prelude, which at the end of the day I still might include in the second album. I may record a small segway as a prelude to the album, but the record company are currently strongly arguing against me doing that. They are telling me that on all of the streaming platforms people no longer listen to segway’s or preludes, which I have to say makes sense. But a lot of my favourite albums have those moments, when I used to listen to them from start to finish so it all made sense. So, I personally think that it is a shame that people are not creating those beautiful moments like that anymore because of the way that we listen to music. However, when I finally release a physical album, I will be including them (laughter).

Does it not sadden you when you work so hard to ensure that an album runs in what you perceive as being the correct order, only to then have people cherry-pick one or two songs from the album to listen to?

Yes, it does, I would have to say yes. Obviously, it’s great if someone takes the one song and plays it over and over. However, I feel that it is a shame that people don’t invest in the artist like they used to. Having said that I must confess and say that I am sometimes guilty of that; I will put on a playlist and not dig any further into the artists than that. It is simply a different way in which we consume our music, but I still know the artists. Very often those artists are the older artists; I won’t call them heritage acts, but let’s just say that they are not recent artists who have emerged (laughter). I’m sure that you know what I mean when I say that (laughter).

You have recently launched This Woman’s Heart, an online community which supports and connects women in the arts. Why did that particular issue appeal to you?

I have a friend who I first met when I was away at university and her husband sadly passed away some eighteen months ago now. During that same year a very good friend of mine lost her mother, and I was talking to them both and I asked them how they were spending their time and how they were getting through this sad period in their lives. I was amazed when they both told me that they had taken up art once again. One had joined a choir and one had started sketching once again. They both told me that they loved it and just how therapeutic they found it. It was at that point that I thought ‘there really is something in that’; I have always truly believed that the arts can heal.

I know that for me personally, music really does help to raise my spirits. The sentiment of the song This Woman’s Heart is all about finding light in a dark place. It is all about the things and the people in our lives who help us to get through the darkest times. However, there is something more than that in the song; it is more than a song, it is support, it is art in general as a means to helping us all through the darkest times. So yes, I started the group earlier this year, and so far, together we have some good traction at the moment.

And in collaboration with This Woman’s Heart support group you were hoping to launch the first series of TWH exhibitions and events, but obviously due to the current situation they have for the time being had to be put on the back burner.

That’s right, whilst we were supposed to be holding actual physical seminars and lessons which we had already got booked in order to kick start a seminar series, we have been holding a few things online. I have started a thing called Creative Light where leading women across the arts come and speak about just how their art form, whether it be art, music or creative writing, has helped them or helped others. My latest interview was with a lovely lady called Haley (Sanderson), who just so happens to be the singer on Strictly Come Dancing. Hayley has collaborated with Women’s Aid and has taught several women to sing the song Stronger.

She has recorded it as a beautiful charity single for Women’s Aid. That very much captured what This Woman’s Heart is all about and I am so pleased to tell you that Hayley is going to become more involved and continue teaching women to sing, together with vocal coaches. It will be nice to see where it goes. It is currently still in its infancy, but as I said earlier, we are having some nice traction at the moment.

And obviously due to the current situation, the exhibitions are on hold?

Yes, they are. Now, I cannot see when the exhibitions will come to fruition, but we are currently working on an immersive music meets art exhibition, which was intended to be physical but obviously that is not so easy now. However, I honestly believe that it will happen at some point.

Taking you back to last summer, you opened the British Summer Time Festival in front of 65,000 people in London’s Hyde Park where you were supporting one of your favourite female artists Ms Barbara Streisand. How did that feel?

I have to say that was fantastic. That performance really did mean a lot because I had been waiting to do a performance like that for a while. It’s hard when you start you career on a major high; my debut performance was at the Royal Albert Hall, so where do you go from there (laughter). So for me to be back with my own music that I had written, after a bit of a break, after a bit of a journey, and feeling very vested in my music, being able to perform it and tell the story, like I had been able to for many years when I was performing other peoples music, really did mean a lot to me. I felt very comfortable and very excited at the same time to be there. The British Summer Time Festival is something that I have always wanted to be involved with.

You briefly mention that you took a ‘bit of a break’. Did your degree come at the right time for you?

Yes, it did, absolutely. For me, it was absolutely the right time. Having said that, whilst I was doing my degree there were moments when I had a wobble and thought ‘what the hell am I doing; I am meant to be singing’ (laughter). It was strange for me to just be focusing on academic work and it was also the first time that I hadn’t been working for as long as I could remember. You must remember that I was seven years old when I got my very first paid job as a singer and actress in the West End role as ‘Jondrette girl’ Eponine in the musical Les Misérables (laughter). So, as you can no doubt imagine, it was very strange for me to go back to being a student, plus I also tried to stay anonymous.

I didn’t really tell people what I had been doing, I didn’t tell them that I used to sing but inevitably a few did find out. But yes, it was absolutely the right time because at that time I didn’t know what I was as a musician or even who I was. What I did know was that I was an artist who was signed to a major label. They very much told me what songs I had to sing, other people were writing my music even though deep down I would always be writing poetry in my bedroom although none of that was ever bought out properly. So yes, I needed that time, and I needed to encounter some different experiences as well. So, I wouldn’t take it back at all.

You mention just how young you were when you started out in the music business, then at just 12 years old; you became the youngest person ever to sign to EMI Records. Did that bring with it any added pressure?

No, actually (laughter). It really is a funny thing because if you can remember back to being twelve you don’t know what life is really. It was just like the next step for me. As extravagant as it was, being signed, travelling all around the world and performing, I had been singing all my life, and I really had had one excitement after the other. I started out in Les Misérables, I went onto Blue Peter, I did a lot of other television stuff, and then I got a record contract at twelve, and I was like ‘okay, cool. This is life; this is what I am meant to do’ (laughter). It felt great to be achieving what I had set out to achieve from such an early age.

The most difficult thing for me to handle as a child artist, and I’m sure that this will resonate with a lot of child artists, was when it all dried up and it no longer happen for me. Then it’s a case of ‘oh hang on’ and then you very early realise that absolutely nothing is a given and you learn disappointment early. When someone tells you that they don’t want you, which really is a hard lesson for a youngster to have to deal with. So no, it never felt strange to me, it simply felt like life. I can remember being fourteen years old, just about the time that boys had come onto the scene, and there was a house party just down from where I lived.

I couldn’t go because I had to go and perform at the England Cricket Teams dinner the same evening. All I wanted to do was to go to that party with my friend and not sing (laughter). However, my dad said to me “well, you can do what you want but in a few years’ time you are going to learn that this is a very good job; you are earning a living by doing this thing tonight, plus it is an honour to be doing it”. So, as you can imagine, I performed at the dinner and it was absolutely great (laughter). But I think, looking back on it, there were definitely times where being a young artist was a very difficult thing because all that you want to do is be a child and you treat the music as a hobby (laughter). Don’t get me wrong, it was a wonderful hobby as it continues to be in my life, but you really do have to earn a living with these things. But I just wasn’t thinking of it like that back in the day.

Who has influenced you along the way musically?

To be honest there have been so many people. In fact, quite a few of the people that you referenced earlier. Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion were always playing in the house; my parents would always be listening to female singers, singers with powerful voices, people like Aretha Franklin. My dad was also a great lover of Kate Bush, Annie Lennox, and believe it or not Genesis (laughter). People often say to me that my music has a rather eighties feel to it and I must admit that I think that has been ingrained in me and that my dad is most probably guilty of that (laughter). I listened to almost everything, but I most certainly listened to those big, female, power vocalists. I was fascinated from a very early age as to exactly what they could all do with their voices and just how they could create those wonderful sounds.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?

Wow, where did that come from (laughter). Let me see, I loved performing alongside Michael Ball at the 2006 FA Cup Final. Whenever I think of that moment, I automatically think of the adrenalin pumping through my body together with the flames, the noise and the roar. It really did feel like such an honour for me to be there doing that. That must be a real highlight. Performing at the British Summer Time Festival, that was a real highlight as it really did feel like my first comeback performance. So, I would have to say those two plus my very first performance ever at the Royal Albert Hall.

On the subject of your very first performance at the Royal Albert Hall, correct me if I am wrong but wasn’t it a Farm Aid Benefit Gala and you caught the attention of a certain Royal?

(Laughter) that’s right that was my very first performance at the Royal Albert Hall, yes it was a benefit gala in aid of Farm Aid and a certain Prince Charles was there in attendance (laughter). I got to meet him after the show and he really was lovely. He told me that he would be watching my career with great interest. So hopefully at some point I will get to meet him again (laughter).

So that really was a Royal Seal of Approval (laughter).

I don’t know about that. If I did ever meet him again, he would most probably say “sorry but I meet so many people, who are you?” (laughter).

You have toured with the likes of Alfie Boe, Katie Melua, André Rieu, Russell Watson, and Jose Carreras to name but a few. Who did you enjoy singing with the most?

I must be totally honest with you and say that André Rieu was lovely. Me and my parents spent a whole weekend with him over there in Maastricht. We went to his house and he even invited me over to New York to perform a show with him there. We really did seem to hit it off, so I would have to say André Rieu simply because he is a charming guy. He lives in a beautiful German castle, which as soon as you see it you can’t help but say “oh my god” (laughter).

From one extreme to another, you have toured with a certain Alfie Boe, how did you find him because I have met him several times now and I always find him to be really naughty (laughter).

(Laughter) I totally agree with you, Alfie is a really naughty chap. Having said that, he is also absolutely lovely. We always have a very good time whenever we get to work together. It was before I went off to university, I did a few gigs with him and then when I came out the other side, his manager contacted me and asked me if I would like to go out on tour with Alfie and without having to think about it I said “yes, why not” (laughter). It was during Alfie’s Bring Him Home tour which was an amazing thing to be part of because it was just when Alfie was about to explode. His manager was so excited to see the response from the audiences. It was that moment of both seeing and witnessing an artist just really connecting with the audience.

I don’t think that Alfie had felt that in a while and so it was lovely to be a part of that. It was an interesting tour for me because it made me realise that whilst I loved doing it, I was actually singing the wrong material (laughter). I was no longer that artist who should probably be supporting Alfie Boe. After that I then went into the studio and it was at that point that I started to develop my change in direction.

Once things settle down and we all get back to some sort of normality, will you tour the two albums?

Yes, I will be touring as soon as we are allowed to do so, most definitely. Whilst I can’t say anything yet, there are some exciting developments on the live side of things which have surprised me as I thought that the live side of things would be the last place where people would be hot on signing new artists to their companies but we have got some good news on that side of things.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Man! I Feel Like A Woman! By Shania Twain. I can remember getting my pocket money, going out to Woolworths and buying that single for £3.99 (laughter). However, please don’t get me wrong, as it doesn’t mean that it is the song that I love the most, but it was just a moment in time when I was about ten years old (laughter).

Who did you first see performing live?

That’s easy. The first live gig that I went to was to see Justin Timberlake. It really was an incredible show. He is such an amazing performer, and he was sat on top of a crane going over the crowd at the Bristol Arena. I just kept thinking to myself ‘oh my god, this is amazing, that is what you want’ (laughter).

What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?

(Laughter) please don’t laugh at me but it was yesterday, and I was listening to the soundtrack to the movie Love Actually (laughter). Whenever I listen to a movie score, the beautiful melodies together with the orchestra gets me every time. I have always loved film music, which just always gets me in that state.

On that note Riva, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it really has been delightful.

Thank you so much Kevin. You stay safe and I hope to see you soon. Bye for now.