Ruby Turner, a British Jamaican soul singer, songwriter and actress, chats with Kevin Cooper about her friendship with Jools Holland, her perfect Christmas, her new album Love Was Here to be released next year and the current tour with Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

Ruby Turner MBE is a British Jamaican soul singer, songwriter and actress. Having previously worked as a backing singer with the likes of Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger and UB40, she has also written songs that have been covered by artists that include Lulu, Yazz, and Maxi Priest.

Achieving a rare feat for a British singer, Turner reached number one on the US R & B chart with It’s Gonna Be Alright in 1990. Between 1986 and 1995 eight of her singles charted with I’d Rather Go Blind being the most successful.

In 1987 she sang on the Ferry Aid single, Let It Be, and around this time she also released The Motown Song Book, an album which saw her perform with The Four Tops, The Temptations, Junior Walker and Jimmy Ruffin.

Turner first met Jools Holland over twenty five years ago when he was looking for singers to join his big band. Her incredible voice matched her big personality and the two soon became dear friends, with her singing at his wedding. They have gone on to write and record music together and have travelled the world with tours alongside the much loved Rhythm & Blues Orchestra.

In 2016 Turner was awarded the MBE for services to music.

Whilst currently touring the UK, Ruby Turner took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.

Ruby; good morning, how are you?

I’m very good thank you, how are you today Kevin?

All is good thanks, and before we move on, let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s a pleasure, no problem whatsoever.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

You know, it’s alright; we are doing alright. We are hanging on in there (laughter). I am currently taking on all of the bumps and all of the bruises, but I am continuing to shine through (laughter).

You are currently out on tour once again with Jools Holland and His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, so I have to ask, how are things going?

I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that things are going great. We played two sell-out shows at The Royal Albert Hall in London and what can I say except that we all had a marvellous time. It is such a fabulous venue. Sometimes you just have to take a step back because the whole place is just so overwhelming. After the show, you simply step off the stage and think ‘that was awesome, it really was’. For me, it is such a privilege to be allowed to perform there.

When you look around the place and think of all of the previous performers, does it hinder you or does it inspire you?

It can do both because, as time goes on, you become more confident and you feel more at home. What you also must remember is that it is not the first time that we have played on that stage, and so it is beautiful. Because we are on tour anyway, we went into those two shows quite seasoned, so when you do walk out onto that stage, you have to make sure that you take the fear out of the equation and get yourself into gig mode. Once you go into gig mode, then you are performing. It is at that point that the opulence, the beauty, the heritage and all those kinds of things, you know that it’s there, but it must not get in the way of what it is that you must do.

At the end of the day, you want to ask yourself ‘why is your performance worth any more than it is when you are playing at a lesser known venue, where people have paid to come and see you just the same’. Everything must be equal. That is how I look at these things. Having said all of that, The Royal Albert Hall really is a marvellous venue and whenever we get to perform there then we know that we have arrived (laughter).

You currently have a certain Eddi Reader with you performing as a Special Guest. How is she sounding?

What can I say except that Eddi Reader really is gorgeous. Please don’t get me wrong, she is a wonderful lady but as mad as a hatter (laughter). I love her, she is a darling; she really is. Why she has never performed with us before I really don’t know. Whenever we play up there in Scotland, Eddi is always popping in and doing a spot with Jools (Holland) even if it is just the one song. That is what used to happen years ago but for us to have her with us for at least part of the current tour really is lovely. I don’t know how to best describe our friendship; I suppose that it is just one of those mutual appreciation societies that you form without realising (laughter).

We have both been in the industry for so very long now; we have so much to talk about, we both love the same things, and hey, we are just performers. We are both wandering minstrels who are making a noise, it’s great.

What, in your opinion, makes Jools Holland so special?

Goodness me, what makes Jools Holland or anybody special? We were all made by God in his own image. It just so happens that Jools has been blessed by a certain something that he gives to be in this industry. It’s not for all the nonsense that seems to surround you; putting you in the limelight doing all that kind of stuff, and being appreciated, that’s not what he was put here for. Jools was put here to uplift and to introduce music. And what can I say; he does it so very well. That’s what makes him so very special. Jools, like myself, dare I say it, we serve the music, we don’t serve ourselves. I think that once you learn to do that, then you know your purpose.

And once you know your purpose, then nobody can knock you off course. That is so easily done in this industry; where it is so full of stuff that I can’t even bear to go into it. It is so full of stuff and you are so easily knocked off course. I am currently putting an album together myself, which will be my twentieth album, and it will be released in January 2020 and when I look back over my career that will be my twentieth album in a forty-three-year period. But, in all of that time I have stayed the course. I managed to stay under the radar, and I got on with the job. And I guess that Mr Holland has done exactly the same.

How did you and Jools originally get together?

It all came about simply because Jools and I had the same agent. My agent has been with me since before I even had a deal; some thirty odd years ago now. He was just my agent back then and nothing whatsoever to do with Jools. As time went on, he began doing some work for Jools, and that was the introduction. It was at the time that Jools was forming the band. He would go out and play a few shows, and he would always be having guest artists and singers on the shows. Eventually, as Jools and I were on the same agency books, my agent introduced me to Jools’ management. I did a couple of guest spots with Jools, and we became great friends. Years later, I was at one point a special guest at The Royal Albert Hall, and now I’m in the band (laughter).

What a wonderful transformation. That is how things were for a long time; I would guest with Jools on a few shows, and as time went on, I was appearing in the theatre, and Jools’ manager asked me if I would like to commit to doing a year’s tour with Jools and The Band. However, I had to give the offer careful consideration because I had my own band. I was in theatre at that time; I was at The Young Vic in Simply Heavenly, and I had been asked the question but all the time I had to think ‘what does this mean for me’. It meant that I would have to step out from my arena of theatre work and take this on for a whole year. Anyway, as it happened it turned out fine, and I think it is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

I have now been performing with Jools for over twenty-four years. Throughout our lives we make decisions, some good some not so good, and I have to tell you that I believe that this is one of my good ones (laughter). It has allowed me to buy my own house. It was the best decision that I have ever made, to step in and do this thing for a year. Then I was offered the following year, and what that really meant was that I was able to relax as an artist, because I wasn’t carrying the load anymore. I will still do my own shows, I will still be dipping in and out because there are times when Jools stops working, but I will go off and do my own shows. I sat down and looked at it in a professional manner, and, guess what, it worked (laughter). Jools and I made it work and like I have said, it is one of the best decisions that I have made.

It has allowed me to play venues that I would never play myself. I have toured the world, something that I would not have been able to do on my own or with my band really, and to be honest, even if I say so myself, everything has worked out quite wonderfully for me.

I will be coming along to the show on Wednesday at The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham because I feel that it sets you up for the run-in to Christmas. It has now become an annual event.

This is what is quite remarkable about Jools, all of the shows are like an event for everyone, it really is. You hear them, they look forward to it, and it has now become a part of their annual setup. It is like Christmas has come early for them. It really is wonderful. How many bands do you know that are able to do this, or even have that sort of following, where you have become a part of people’s lives in a way. I think that is really the best way to put it, Jools really has become a part of people’s lives. He has become an event in their diary. He is like friend to everybody; it is very wonderful, quite remarkable.

I interviewed Jools last year and I asked him what make Ruby Turner special. He said that you “simply deliver this thing that comes from another place” and I think he’s right. Whenever you are performing on stage you are transported to different place.

(Laughter) God bless that man and in answer to your question, yes, I am, that’s what music does to you. Like I say, you serve the music and not yourself. When you take on that thing whatever it is, because I certainly do not know what it is, you open up, the words come through, and more importantly the meaning which underpins that piece of music. That’s it, the truth, it is a feeling, an emotion, it is spiritual, it’s cathartic, in fact it is all of those things.

Every time that I have seen you performing live, you always sing Peace In The Valley, which really is a hairs on the back of the neck moment. Why is that song so special to Ruby Turner?

Because it is Gospel music and I think that is my purpose. In fact, I don’t think so, I know so. I think that where Gospel music is concerned, it is a serious business. Having said that we are always swapping the set around and this year, Peace In The Valley is missing. Hopefully it will be back this time next year, but we really did have to pull it as we have been doing it for years (laughter).

The song has been covered many, many times so do you have a favourite version of the song?

I don’t know really, I think that the version that I like is the one that we do. Everybody knows the Elvis (Presley) version, which is completely different from what we do. But I love the version that we do because I know just where I have to go with it. Does that make sense?

As you have said, there are many versions of the song, but the secret is that you must try and make the song your own. It has to be yours; that is what makes you an artist. You must try and put your stamp on whatever it is that you are singing because you must live in the moment, now. You simply must stay in your corner, stay in your lane and do your thing. Don’t deviate and don’t panic (laughter). You must believe in yourself and believe that whatever you do is right for you.

I’m an old soulie at heart and I have to say that I love Sam Cooke’s version of the song.

Really, I haven’t heard Sam’s version, I really must look it up and check it out.

A word of warning be careful when you are looking for Sam Cooke’s version as you just might stumble across a version by a certain Kevin Costner (laughter).

(Laughter) really. Well, you know what, I want everyone to sing Gospel music. I want everyone to feel wonderful. I love the late Johnny Cash because Johnny did Gospel too so hey (laughter).

You mention living in the moment, you recently released your That’s My Desire EP. Just how did those five tracks finally see the light of day?

It’s simple, they got found (laughter). Eighteen years ago, I was in Andy Hay’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Bristol Old Vic. Andy was looking for some incidental music which could be played during scene changes, during the blackouts, and he really wanedt some music that could be played as it was in New Orleans in the French Quarter where you would hear music coming out of the Juke Joints and the bars. He was looking for a New Orleans vibe, and so he got me to sing five songs which were recorded. So, I would be singing these five songs off stage during the interim period, until I walked out onto the stage to play the role of Eunice Hubbell, the woman upstairs from the apartment.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, our musical director John O’Hara recorded the five tracks and had kept them on a shelf at his house. Many years later, I bumped into John at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre where we just so happened to be sitting together to see a production of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s One Love. John said to me “I have found these tapes and they are really great” (laughter). So I asked him if he would email them over to me which he did and I thought ‘wow, these really are great’ and I just decided ‘you know what, as an EP these songs really work well together so I am going to put this out as an EP, as Ruby does and no one really knows about’ (laughter).

I haven’t heard myself sing like that in over eighteen years, so I put the EP out and I think that it’s great. It means now that when I start to retire and sit on a stool, in my gold lame headband, with a drink of Scotch on the side, I will be doing those songs (laughter). Can you visualise it love; can you see it?

I can, in fact I’m there, I am in the moment (laughter).

Well there you go; let’s just hope that one of us makes it there. I’ll make this stretch (laughter).

I have been collecting records now for over forty-five years and taking you back to 1988, one of the most played albums in my collection is The Motown Songbook. How was it working with those guys?

It was a proud moment, a very proud moment. Throughout my whole life in music I have always felt like a child whenever I hear music, and recording with those guys really was like being a child in a sweetshop. Whenever I would hear Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison or Aretha Franklin, I would feel like a child and that is how I was when I was recording that album. The funny thing was that Jive Records were being very smart and were a forward-thinking label. In fact, I think that they were the very first label to come up with concept albums. They asked me if I would like to do a Motown Concept Album to which I said that it was a wonderful idea because at that time The Four Tops, The Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin and Junior Walker were all still out there doing this.

I wasn’t going to go out there and copy what they were doing, unless the label got them to do it with me and low and behold the label went out there and did it. They were able to pull it together and I really was surprised. It made no sense to me to try to do this on my own whilst the original artists were still out there doing it on their own. It was another one of those bizarre ideas that someone came up with, and it worked (laughter). I have to say that it really was tremendous. I had previously worked with Jimmy Ruffin because he was residing here in the UK, so I was able to be in the studio with him whilst we sang the soundtrack together.

However, the other songs with The Four Tops and The Temptations, were done differently. The tracks were flown over to America, and at that time The Four Tops were doing something in Las Vegas, and they had a studio booked. So, they went in and recorded their vocals on their track. They then sent the track back over to the UK where I put my vocals on top and that is how that album came about which really was quite wonderful. I was fortunate to work with The Four Tops again; it was at the time that they had released their Indestructible album. On that album there is a track that they did with Aretha called If Ever A Love There Was and at that time Aretha wasn’t flying, because she had developed a fear of flying.

The Four Tops were touring the UK and they were playing a gig at The Hammersmith Apollo. Because they knew of me because of The Motown Song Book, they thought who they could get to sing the duet here in the UK; well no other than moi (laughter). I, at the time was doing a residency at Ronnie Scott’s whilst they were over at the Hammersmith Apollo so midway through my set, I got a taxi over there, got on the stage, did the duet with Levi Stubbs, came straight back to Ronnie Scott’s and got on with my gig (laughter). So, I really did have the privilege of working with The Four Tops (laughter). Some wonderful things have happened to me in this life, really wonderful things.

Do you still enjoy touring or is it a necessary evil?

Well, that really is a funny one because if I am in my house for longer than two weeks, I start to go stir crazy, so let me turn it around that way (laughter). I start to panic (laughter). It’s strange because when you are on the road you are tired, but there is also something quite wonderful about it too. I am in the most envied job, and in that circumstance, you are never bored. Every night, or every other night, you find yourself in another different city, another new place to explore. It’s great for me to be hanging around Kensington High Street, something that I wouldn’t normally be doing (laughter). Buying things that I can’t afford and wishing that I hadn’t (laughter). We played at Cheltenham the other week, and I spent even more money. Then we moved onto beautiful Bath and I spent even more money which I shouldn’t have been spending, but it’s wonderful (laughter).

You get to see the UK, and it is really great. Sometimes when you arrive at a venue you are so tired that all that you want to do is go to the hotel, get your head down and rest the voice but generally, I will try to get out and have a walk around the town or city and see things. Jools is wonderful; he will be looking for castles, he loves medieval things, the museums, he loves everything historical. There is a hell of a lot to see if you can bother to be interested. But as you know, in no time at all, these things change, that’s life. What I have been noticing is as you go back to these venues, changes have already taken place, and that can really be a little bit concerning.

Well I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the Nottingham Castle is currently closed as it is undergoing a £29.4 million redevelopment.

(Laughter) oh well, there you go. Maybe next year.

But the good news is that there is a rather nice pub underneath.

(Laughter) that will do nicely, thank you very much.

You have briefly mention touring on your own with The Ruby Turner Band. Will we be seeing more of you next year?

Yes, you will. As I said there will be a new album out in January 2020 which has just gone to the press. I know that we are living in a digital age, but one is raging against it in a funny kind of way because like you, I am an old school person; I like to pick up an album, I like to read the credits, and I want to see exactly what is going on, (laughter). Everything is on my iPhone, you look it up, you press it and it plays. You don’t see anything, you don’t read anything, its shuffling and it shuffles itself off and you don’t know where you are (laughter). I like to go out and buy my albums, and I like to sit down and look at them; get them back home and play them. Do you remember those days? I love all of that. I am from that school. For me to make an album nowadays it is really hard.

They all keep telling me to forget the vinyl and make the album a digital download. So, Rudy being Rudy, I am going to be releasing my album on vinyl and CD (laughter). We have taken an age with the artwork because I feel that it is important. It’s called documenting (laughter). What you have to remember is that when the internet crashes, then it’s all gone (laugher). Like I said I am making this new album called Love Was Here. It will be released on Friday 24th January and on there you may be surprised to hear that there is also a movie soundtrack which I co-wrote, and the movie will be released worldwide on 17th January.

So, I am going to be busy co-ordinating all of that and then I will be playing six nights at Ronnie Scott’s. So yes, you will be seeing me with my band out on the road. By then, Jools will have put the band to bed for a while and then, Ruby will wake up the world (laughter).

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

Oh, my goodness me. Now here’s the thing; in my forty-two years within the music industry, I think that every moment that I have experienced has been a highlight. Everything has simply taken my breath away. When I travelled across the world with Jools and we played The Sydney Opera House down there in Australia that was special. We played in Argentina and I loved it. In my own time when I was doing my own work, with my own band, back in the day, when I went to play in New Zealand and I had to play two shows in one night because it sold out so fast, that was at the Aotea Centre in Auckland, that really was incredible.

When I was asked to sing for the All Blacks at Mt Eden in Auckland, before they played against Samoa was also very special. I had to learn the words on the flight over (laughter). I’m telling you, when I sang for the Queen on her Jubilee and she was looking down on the square, oh my goodness me. The moment when I sang at the 1999 Millennium celebrations and the O2 Dome were also memorable highlights. There have been moments throughout my career, so what moment would you like me to pick (laughter). Tell me about my highlights (laughter).

I can throw one out there can’t I; 2016 when you were appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE).

More highlights (laughter). The highlight for me was watching my mum going up the stairs (laughter). Bless her, we were going up to the Investiture Room, she had to go left whilst I had to go right to the top of the stairs. Jools was there supporting me, and he carried my mum up the stairs because she was starting to get a bit worried, because I had to go off to the right (laughter). Jools led her into the main room, whilst I went off to the holding quarters, waiting to be called in. For me, just looking at my mum down the stairs, in Buckingham Palace, I just thought ‘wow’. And then meeting the wonderful Prince William; we had a whisper to one another when I asked him “how are the children” to which he replied, “they’re great thanks Ruby” (laughter). I quickly stepped back, bowed and walked out (laughter). So, highlights, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention (laughter). There are no regrets baby.

You have mentioned the fact that acting used to be your chosen profession. Is it now something that you would pursue or is it a case of let’s wait and see what comes along?

As you correctly point out, acting is where I started. And I think that if I am really honest with you, acting is where my heart lay for a very long time. When I first started out, there were very few parts for people of colour; those parts were so thin on the ground. If I had made acting my career, then I think that I would have most probably starved to death. I would never have been able to pay the mortgage at that rate. You can still hear people talking about that. There is a lot more resting going on than working. I was fortunate in the fact that I had a singing career as well. It was the theatre that I loved, and it was through theatre that this voice was born. So, it was through the theatre that I learnt that I could sing. So, stepping out of the theatre, in order for me to sing was a whole different experience for me, but it was great. What it did, in all honesty, it saved my life because it gave me two arrows to my bow. It is then down to where you shoot them and where they land. But yes, I did a lot of theatre work, but those parts don’t last. As you know, they have a run, they run their course, and then you just have to sit and wait. But then, the mortgage man isn’t going to wait, Abbey National were not going to wait (laughter).

When the interest rate went up to fifteen percent, that was something else that simply wasn’t going to wait. So, I had to find other means of working and earning as a lot of actors do. They find themselves doing other jobs and I was fortunate that I had the singing career together with my band. So, I went out onto the road and I kept both things running for a very long time. I was a very busy bee (laughter).

Back in 1985 you and Jonathan Butler covered The Staples Singers If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me). Now I know that you are very good friends with Mavis Staples; has she ever given you any feedback?

My lovely Mavis, she once told me that she loves our version and I have to say that I really do love her. Just how much do I love that woman; she really does light up my life. She really is such a wonderful lady. I have worked with Mavis several times now and we have done the Hootenanny with Jools together. Mavis and I were sat together and, oh my days, George McCrae came up to me and said, “oh hello” (laughter). George thought that he was looking mighty fine, but he wasn’t (laughter). George had eyes elsewhere and Mavis and I were howling with laughter (laughter). Men, oh my days but Mavis is a darling. I grew up listening to The Staples Singers, and let me tell you, that is gospel. They were proper artists playing proper stuff.

What was the first record that you bought?

That was Moon River by John Holt. Oh, my days, have you ever heard John’s version?

Yes, I have but I have a soft spot for Andy Williams’ version.

Of course, I love Andy’s version too but what you have to remember is that I am of Jamaican heritage (laughter). How smooth is that, especially when you are in love. To me, that song was everything about love. You know that the groove has already got me; you know that I am locked in already (laughter). I love John’s velvety, smooth voice together with that effortless delivery that he does. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andy Williams too.

Who did you first see performing live?

That was The Jackson 5 at the now defunct Bingley Hall in Stafford. It was when they were wearing those incredible, colourful suits. Their dance routines were absolutely fantastic.

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

To tell you the truth I am quite an emotional individual, so I am always trying to hold it down. I think that the last time that I cried was recently, and it was when I went to see the movie about the life of Aretha Franklin called Amazing Grace. I went to a small arts theatre in Birmingham and just as the movie opened up, Aretha started to sing and at that moment there were tears rolling down my face. It’s so sad that we lost her. Amazing Grace was one of Aretha’s albums that I had when I was a youngster, and this is one of my heroes that I was watching on the screen. There are lots of small pieces of film that they have successfully patched together.

Also, Aretha was from the same denomination of church as my own; we are both from the Pentecostal church. It really did make me cry. What also makes me cry is whenever I hear Mahalia Jackson singing. I just weep whenever I hear her; she had such a remarkable voice.

We are rapidly coming up to that time of year so I will ask you, what would be Ruby Turners perfect Christmas?

Oh, my love, it’s a funny old world and I really don’t think that there is such a thing anymore. I don’t think that perfection exists. I personally feel that you have to make these things; you have to make things wonderful because they cannot be so without our help. In a perfect world, I would be with my dad. My dad is currently in New York, he is frail, and I am booking a flight out to him as soon as I come back from off the road. The tour finishes on 23rd December and I am flying out to see my dad on 28th. I want to be with my dad for the New Year, but I will be with my mum for Christmas. All being well, my mum is seventy-nine and my dad is eighty-five. What a perfect Christmas that is going to be, being with them. Time is of the essence and so for me, that will be my perfect Christmas. Time waits for no man, I cannot delay, and I’ve got to go.

On that note Ruby, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been absolutely delightful.

Bless you Kevin, you take care and I will see you in Nottingham on Wednesday. Bye for now.