Once upon a time, actress and musician Heather Peace, was performing at her local pub to a handful of friends, who spent more money at the bar than she was paid for each gig.
Over the next twelve months, she drove around the country with her guitar and piano in the back of a mini, attracting more and more fans with beautiful, theatrical pop songs, hilarious banter and a mesmerising stage presence. Her social media following rose into the thousands as word began to spread that Heather Peace was doing something very special on stage.
Heather’s love of music began by attending church as a small girl in Bradford every Sunday. She became a cantor, leading the church in the “Hallelujahs” and “Psalms”. Says Heather: “I loved going to church and singing in front of the congregation. I started singing constantly and became obsessed with Gospel, Motown and Jazz. It was the church bulletin that advertised free piano lessons from a lady called Ireleen Cockroft. She taught about 20 kids in her council flat who couldn’t have otherwise afforded to learn. She took me through all my classical grades. An amazing lady.”
Aged 18, Heather moved to Manchester when she was accepted to drama school, paying her way through the three year Stanislavski based course with a Jazz residency at a bar on Canal Street. On graduating, she landed a few roles in musical theatre, allowing her to combine her acting and singing skills, before winning a major TV role as the female lead in London’s Burning.
For the next ten years, acting in some of the UK’s biggest shows - Ultimate Force, The Chase, Emmerdale - took to the forefront and her music became a hobby.
“I was still playing and always writing, but it became the thing I did to relax when I got home from filming,” says Heather, “Then after about ten years of constant TV work, there were no offers coming in that were interesting. It was a tricky, quite dark time, coinciding with my relationship breaking down. I didn’t know what to do with myself – and I’m really not good if I’m not working or being creative. So I just wrote song after song, and thought, ‘Maybe I should let some people hear these and see if they like them?’ I started gigging properly then for the first time.”
And people did like them – very much. By April 2011, she sold out a two week UK tour, followed by sell out gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe, the Glee Clubs and London’s Union Chapel in the autumn. By Christmas, she had sold thousands of copies of her acoustic demo and a tour DVD through her website. All of this was achieved with zero marketing and a whole lot of fan power, which was increased further by the massive success of Heather’s new role as DS Sam Murray in BBC3’s Lip Service.
The next step was to use her tour revenue to make the album, so Heather called upon the bat-like ears of her old friend, the Oscar-nominated Nigel Wright (Barbara Streisand, Madonna). The pair had bonded fifteen years earlier over a love of big female vocalists and musical theatre when Heather was briefly signed by Simon Cowell to release a cover version of The Rose (produced by Nigel) while she was in London’s Burning.
As an opinionated Northerner with big dreams, the BMG experience of miming on TV shows and being told what to wear and do, wasn’t one that Heather enjoyed and she soon parted ways with the label, but remained in close contact with Nigel.
Says Heather: “I always knew when I made a record I wanted to do it with Nigel. I just knew I didn’t want to approach him until I had the right material and mindset. I either had an acting job or I just didn’t really feel like I had the words yet. When he came to the final show of the tour last April in London he said ‘This Is what you’ve always dreamed of. Your own sell-out concerts.’ That’s when I knew I should ask him to produce the album and without hesitation he agreed.”
There was a short gap as Heather filmed a new series of Lip Service, followed by a new role as the Head of English, teacher Nicki Boston, in BBC1’s Waterloo Road. She spent her days off completing the writing for the album before recording began in London with Nigel and his team in December 2011.
The resulting album is Fairytales, a mix of lush string-laden piano melodies and laid back guitar riffs alongside Heather’s soaring, dramatic vocals. The twelve songs share beautiful, honest stories of crap relationships, sabotaging good ones and the trouble with believing in fairytales.
“You can hear a little bit of the music I’ve always liked in the album, it’s quite theatrical, with a jazzy feel and I had to have a gospel choir. There are quite a lot of dark songs on there, so the title Fairytales might be misleading – but then my favourite Fairytales were always the Grimm’s Brother versions. I just think everyone writes better songs when they’re a bit miserable.” laughs Heather “When you’re happy you’re with your friends in the pub aren’t you?”
Set for release on her independent label Kaleidoscope Records on May 21st, the album will follow debut single Better Than You on April 30th. Heather partnered with Pledgemusic to raise the funds for manufacturing, distribution and marketing costs – and met her target in just ten hours, showing the massive level of excitement and anticipation for this release.
Says Heather: “I have the most amazing fans; they’ve been with me every step of the way waiting for this album so I hope they like it. Nigel and I always talked about doing this and now it’s happened. Everything has fallen into place all these years later. ”