Sunday, April 18

Gabrielle: how we made Dreams | Pop and rock

Gabrielle, singer-songwriter

When I was 12 years old, I woke up in the school lunchroom and sang a song I had written called Teenage Love. A few years later when I got out of school, everyone said, “I hope we see you on Top of the Pops, ha ha!” As if that will ever happen. A woman was not allowed to look imperfect on television, and I had a lazy eyelid. People said, “Stop winking at me.” The Top of the Pops singers had long hair and beautiful clothes. I did not do it. I sang with my brother’s suits because I didn’t have the figure or the clothes.

One night, after I had sung versions of Luther Vandross at a London club called Moonlighting, a woman told me, “This is as good as it will get.” I was so discouraged that I went home and wrote the first few lines of Dreams in my diary: “Come one step closer / You know I love you.” This was my way of saying that every time I got closer to my dream of being a singer, someone would pull the rug from under my feet.

Shortly after that, I went to a recording studio in Byfleet, Surrey, with a singer named Jackie King, whom I knew from Moonlighting. Our boyfriends had paid us to make a record. The producer, Tim Laws, told my boyfriend, “We really like your voice. Can you come back later on your own? “I felt like I had to seize the opportunity, so I sang Dreams lyrics over Tim’s music. They seemed to fit, but it was just my little poem. I never imagined it would become a hit.

The first version worked very well in nightclubs. The Underground DJs played it and sold a few thousand copies, so I signed with Go! Defeat. However, the first version used a small sample of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, which we could not clarify. Then another producer, Richie Fermie, re-recorded a version without the sample. It sounded great.

After that, everything went crazy. It went straight to No. 2, the highest-scoring debut single in history. Then it went to number 1. I couldn’t understand that someone like me could have a number one record, but that song is my story. Today, I love being who I am and I enjoy my blemishes. It is good to be different and stand out from the crowd. When I sing “Dreams Can Come True”, I am a testament to it.

Tim Laws, composer, original producer

I lived with my parents, making happy house / rave music in a studio my father had set up in his potting shed. I wasn’t making any money, so for the beer money I would record demos with other people. As soon as Gabrielle started singing, I thought, “Wait, it sounds pretty good.” He had several snippets of music and starting points for the tracks, so I asked him to sing over a backing track that I had. I used a Korg M1 synth for most parts (piano, bass, string line) with an Akai S900 firing drum loops and hits. And that was it. Everything was recorded and programmed on an Atari computer in the potting shed.

I don’t think Gabs would have been in a studio before and I’m pretty sure Dreams was just his second recorded voice, after the duet he did earlier with the other girl. I didn’t have a lot of experience with singers then, but Gabs was amazing. He sang Dreams twice. I took the best parts and that was it. It didn’t need fancy production techniques. She had the voice.

Gabs was very shy at the time and was unaware of her talent. When we were recording in the shed, I never thought of Dreams as a hit record. I just kept going and then completely forgot about it. Eighteen months later, I got a call from Ferdy Unger-Hamilton on Go! Beat and basically said, “We’ve signed Gabrielle and your song is heading to number 1.” My version eventually came out later as a B-side without the sample. I’m glad you saw the light of day. I still think voice is better.

• Gabrielle’s new album, Do It Again, is released on March 5. She postponed Rise Again Tour begins in Lowry, Salford, on November 7.

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