Don-e

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

“I always used to like the tune Quincy Jones did called “Secret Garden,” with Barry White and Al B Sure; James Ingram etc. And I thought we should do something like that for the UK. And like I said, this album was about paying homage to the old UK Soul that I grew up on. So I wrote this song called ‘Spiritual’ …” – Don-e

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

They say that a man who makes £1 million and loses it all has a very strong chance of becoming a millionaire again because he has the know-how. Well having had mega chart success in the early 90s with tracks such as “Love Makes the World Go Round” and the evergreen “Unbreakable,” and subsequently disappearing into a musical abyss, Donald McClean a.k.a. Don-e definitely has lost none of his creative ingenuity or productivity. His 2013 eargasmic 12 track collection entitled “Little Star” is proof positive that quality never dies; it just gets better with time like fine wine.

After initially meeting up with Don-e in 2011, Michael J Edwards was keen to discuss with the singer-songwriter/producer and multi-instrumentalist about the outcome of the fledgling beats and rhymes he was working on in his studio at the time, which has culminated in “Little Star” his critically and publicly acclaimed fifth album.

At the time of our interview “Little Star” was sitting proudly on top of the UK Top 30 Soul Chart. Naturally, Michael J Edwards started proceedings by asking how satisfying it was for Don-e to see his latest venture perched neatly on top of the pile after all the hard work he had put in during the interim period, or the wilderness years.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: So, I believe congratulations are in order? Your new album “Little Star” is Number One in the UK Top 30 Soul Chart! How does it feel?

Don-e: Yeah! It’s a great feeling! And I believe it went to the top of the tree at of the beginning of this week!

Michael J Edwards: Give us the lowdown as to why you chose that particular title for the album?

Don-e: It’s basically about me wondering when I’m going to get put back on (a record label) – you know when is my little light going to shine again! I had like wilderness years. It’s been a hard four years… It’s been a nightmare man. In that period I was wondering if it is going to happen, if it was going to come good. Because before that I had people saying, “That you should give music up; forget about it; it’s not getting you anywhere!” So I had to deal with all those sort of things. Plus I was on tour.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

In between that I was trying to record this album but I could never quite finish it. It’s kind of self explanatory because the lyrics are, “I wonder when my little star is going to shine again.” It’s like a metaphor. And the reason why it’s the title is because the album was going to be called “Incompatible.” I was in this long arse relationship for like 12 years and stuff and we split. We were incompatible. The album was about me just mending.

I mentioned it to one of my friends (Ron Tom) who created “All Saints….” He came in one night and said, “You know what I’m going to name them after the street (All Saints Road)…” Then he did the same again, we were working with these other three individual girls and he put them on all in one night in the studio, and he said, “You know what D, I’m going to call them “The Sugababes!” He said, “Can’t you hear it man! The Sugababes!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Anyway, I went round to his studio about four months ago and he was like, “What are you up to?!” And I was like, “I’m doing this new album called ‘Incompatible’.” And he (Ron Tom) goes, “What! ‘Incompatible!’ It’s a bit of a downer isn’t it; it’s a bit slitsey-wristsey!” So he goes, “What’s the name of the songs?” So we were going through the songs like “Slave to the Rhythm,” “Hot like The Summer,” “Little Star.” And he was like, “What was that?! Little What! That’s it! Little Star, because you’re little! You’re short! You’re a little star! That’s it – perfect! So because he’s been good with names and stuff, I thought you know what, let me just go with your suggestion.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The way that album is compiled is Ron Tom’s vision of how it should be put together. Because he compiled my first album, “Unbreakable”

Michael J Edwards: The coincidence is, you were going through relationship challenges when recording “Unbreakable.”

Don-e: At the same time, I’ve got to thank my ex for helping me write the best album (Little Star) I have ever written in my life!

Michael J Edwards: The album reflects how you’ve matured.

Don-e: Well, you’ve got to grow up sometime.

Michael J Edwards: Also, you could only write it at this stage of your life because you’ve had the experiences.

Don-e: Yeah! I’ve had the experiences. Before, I was saying to someone that I have been loved-up for years, so all my songs have been lovely-dovey. I mean, I’ve been having a good time for years! You know what I mean – all of the songs have been sweet, none of the subject matter has been really like tear your heart out kinda stuff. So this album is me trying to vent in a nice way.

Because at first, you know when you first break up – you should have heard THOSE songs – Pheweeee! I was effing and blinding and everything… So I had to kind of chill it out a bit and make it palatable for the masses. But there are more people out of love than in love. If you really think about it, in this world most people are going through hard times, so I thought let me just write what I’m feeling, because I know there are billions going through the same thing.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: The album has been embraced from street level right through to radio land. “Hold on” seems to embody the essence of what this album is about. How did that tune come to fruition and how long ago was it written.

Don-e: I wrote that about two years ago actually. I was listening to a rare groove tape that Ron Tom made for me and there was this little intro to a Leroy Hutson song. And I was like, “Yo man I love this song, but I can hear a new tune over this.”

Michael J Edwards: What’s the name of the tune?

Don-e: “Love the Feeling” I don’t know anybody that’s done a song over that little piece. Maybe some rappers have. I was listening to it when I was going to school. Ron Tom used to be on LWR playing it.

Carl Hyde (photographer): Proper rare groove!

Don-e: Yeah! Proper rare groove man! Proper! Proper! Proper! So I was like, “Yo! We need to bring that back man!” And I kinda did it again with another track on the album, “Home,” I used a bit of “Mr Fix-it” by Jeffree

Carl Hyde (photographer): Yes, Jeffree. It’s on a cute little 7 inch.

Don-e: There you go! He’s not a cameraman, he’s a Soul man! (Laughs)

Carl Hyde (photographer): I’m both! (Laughs)

Don-e: And that’s been sampled by a lot of hip-hop acts as well in the past, but I just fancied doing a summer vibe and ragga’d up the baseline so the baseline is really dirty – Just a bit more London-ish.

Michael J Edwards: That urban tinge – Roughing up the edges slightly.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Don-e: Inner-city world.

Michael J Edwards: During our previous meeting, you talked about collaborations and who you planned to work with on the next album. Two of the names you mentioned were Ty and Don Blackman. Now, as predicted you linked up with your good friend Ty on the track BS, but unfortunately father time caught up with Mr Blackman and you never got to work with him -Your thoughts please?

Don-e: He (Don) passed man, yeah! Because I was thinking about reaching out to him…I spoke to him and I told him that I wanted to do “Holding You, Loving You” and I wanted him to replay the solo. I told him, “Your solo, I’m never going to be able to play that! But if you could come and replay that solo on my tune, that would be the nuts.” But it never happened! I’m glad we met and he spoke; we’ve got pictures together – he’s a cool guy and I hope he rises in peace man.

Michael J Edwards: Respect. You will have to do a nod to him, maybe in a future album.

Don-e: Yeah, definitely!

Michael J Edwards: Okay, let’s talk about Ty. Do you and Ty go a long way back?

Don-e: I’ve known Ty for my hip-hop days, because like I said I’m a hip-hop junkie myself still…I always used to be inside little hip hop joints dancing in my Goose and my Gazelles!

Michael J Edwards: And the Sergio Tacchini tracksuits! Break-dancing etc!

Don-e: Yeah! So I’ve known Ty from way back and I’ve worked with Rodney P; I’ve worked with Black Twang in the past. So I’ve always liked to big up my UK rap. Americans do it all the time and we’re like, “Yeah! It’s great!” And then we’re all in our little corner over here just doing our own thing. And I’m like if we all just come together, this shit would be dope! Let’s do it! Why not!

So I just said, “Ty, what do you reckon?” I told him I had done this track and that I wanted something that was Michael Jackson sounding but kinda effing and blinding a little bit. If Michael Jackson was to F and blind on a tune, what would he say? And I said, “He would just about be able to say bullshit!” (laughs) He couldn’t say anything worse.

So I played it to Ty and he liked the vibe. I played him two actually – I played him a track called “Going In,” which I think was a bit too explicit for him -Too sexually explicit. But the track, “Bullshit” had a bit of a twist to it.

Michael J Edwards: A play on words?

Don-e: It worked for Ty, and he brought his verse to it.

Michael J Edwards: You just left the track with him to do his thing?

Don-e: Yeah! I said just do your verse man and he just done his verse and that was brilliant. It was a brilliant collab! I’m happy about that!

Michael J Edwards: Moving onto the inspired “Spiritual,” featuring nuff UK Soul talent (The Collective); let me take you back to our 2011 interview again. Here’s what you said at the time:- “…What I want to do is a track with everybody on it! I want to get me, Omar, Noel (Mckoy), Roachford etc, all of us. That would be good, just a UK guys tune.” (Don-e UK Vibe 2011 interview)

The track you mentioned went on to become “Spiritual” featuring a host of the U.K Soul’s finest male vocal talent. The list reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of everyone’s favourite Soul artists: Don McClean, Carl McIntosh, Noel Mckoy, Omar Lye-fook, Junior Giscombe, Leee John, Rick Clarke, Paul Johnson.

I noticed you mentioned Roachford in our initial interview – he didn’t make the final cut. So what happened?

Don-e: I could have kept going (adding names), but what it was was that the label said no, we need the album in two weeks bro. And I was like grrrrrr!

Michael J Edwards: And how did you get everyone together logistically?

Don-e: …We were at Carl McIntosh’s birthday party and all of us were sitting around this table; we were all alive and we haven’t made a song together! All of us realised we hadn’t made a song together and we’re still alive! I mean really!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: People often wonder what if great artists who are now gone had made a song together! What a super group that would be? It’s the ‘what if?’

Don-e: I always used to like the tune Quincy Jones did called “Secret Garden,” with Barry White and Al B Sure; James Ingram etc. And I thought we should do something like that for the UK. And like I said this album was about paying homage to the old UK Soul that I grew up on. So I wrote this song called “Spiritual” because I was thinking I need some heat! I need to bring everybody’s eyes to this album! How am I my going to bring everybody to this album?!

So I rang Junior (Giscombe) and I said, “Junior, remember when we were talking about doing this song where everybody is on it? I wrote this song called “Spiritual.” Do you want to come down?” He goes, “Yeah man!” So he came down and he said, “What do you want me to sing?!” When he came down, I was like, “This is rare!” because Junior came to my school when I was 13; to my primary school. And he sung “Mama Used To Say.” And he gave us this big speech about how he had made his way up out of the ghetto.

And we’re like “Wow Junior! You’re brilliant!” And then after assembly I went up to him… And I said, “My name is Don.” I was called Donny G then. So I said, “My name is Donny G and I’m making music, and I’m going to catch you up one day.” And he went, “Alright then!” So years later, when I was doing “Love Makes The World Go Round,” he was there; and I said “Do you remember going to this school and doing a talk?” He Said, “Yeah!”I said, “Do remember there was a little boy that came up to?!” And he went, “No! It’s not you!”

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

So it was really weird having him in the studio asking me if the vocals were alright! He’s going to me, “Is it alright?! Shall I do it again?! Are you sure you’ve got enough?!” And I was like, “Wow! This is nuts!” So, he rang up Carl really excited and he said, “Carl man, you need to be on this “Spiritual” song!” So about two weeks later Carl came down, and when he arrived, Junior rang Leee John – because we all talk to each other. So I also sent Leee a message, and he said, “Yeah! I’m down; I’m just in Europe… As soon as I get back in i’ll come down.”

Then I rang up Omar, and I said, “’O’ man, I’m doing this tune bruv, do you want to spit on it?” He was like, “Yeah man! Just send it to me!” He said, “What’s this song about?” I said, “Well, we’re singing about music, but talking about music like it’s a woman. So then he came back with his little section for it. I kinda gave him what the words were and then he kinda reinterpreted it in his own way. And then I called Paul Johnson; Noel McKoy and Rick Clarke when he got back from Barbados. I told them you’ve got to be on this tune because all of you have played a part.

Michael J Edwards: Was that track recorded in the same place as the rest of the album?

Don-e: Yeah! The whole album was recorded in Fulham -The new studio, next door to Jesse J’s studio.

Michael J Edwards: Over what period of time was the album recorded?

Don-e: I’ve been making this album for about four or five years. “Spiritual” was the last song I did for the album. It was one of the last songs I did, because I was like, I’ve done the album; I can hear the body of the work, but I just need that one song. You know after you’ve been doing it for years, you kind of know what you need. And also, I spent the last two years being a DJ – a radio DJ not a club DJ. I was doing like little shows on the Internet. So my ears are attuned to what a DJ can play now and what a DJ can’t play…There’s even some songs of mine that I won’t play. It’s good, but I can’t play it on the show.

Michael J Edwards: What’s the station called?

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Don-e: Right Now I’m on Spreaker Radio, which is an app you can get for your iPhone (smartphone). You can do a show and then broadcast it to twitter and Facebook. I was on Guess Radio as well.​

Michael J Edwards: So that must’ve been a relief when you locked that one down and put a cap on it?

Don-e: When Leee John turned up, then I realised I was onto something, because he was really hard to get. I could hear him on the intro when i wrote the song (Don-e sings the opening bars of ‘Spiritual’) “So high on her loving …” I could just hear Leee. I was like “Junior; that is Leee!” He was like, “No! You sing it!” I said, “No! It’s Leee John – we’ve got to have Leee John sing it!”

Michael J Edwards: Did any egos kick in during the recording process?

Don-e: Egos started to kick in afterwards.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Concerns like, can you bring my vocals up a bit more?

Don-e: There were a couple of people like that. Like Rick was going, “Where am I on there?!” Because Rick sang all the way down the song – He came in from Barbados one-day and he was jetlagged and he just sang all the way down the tune… And his voice is really loud and a lot of it got distorted. So when he left and I checked out his track, he had done some good stuff but a lot of it got distorted.

And because the song was already practically done; Carl was on it already, Junior – everyone was in their place, so I got Rick to just vibes down the whole song. And I could only use him in certain places. But near the end of the song he does say perfect lady. I said Rick you’re the only one that mentions your own song from back in the day! You actually say she’s the Perfect Lady man! C’mon man! And he’s got an Adlib early in the second chorus. So he’s in there. And Noel McKoy, he’s right near the end doing his little thing… But it was good! Later on people might start saying something, but that’s human nature.

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Are we going to see some live dates from The Collective following on from this single?

Don-e: Well, right now The Collective is doing an album. Junior and Carl have been in the studio recording some stuff. I’ve been in with Lee and Junior. Omar is going to send in two (tracks); Noel McKoy is sending in some; Paul Johnson’s got some. So there’s going to be some sort of album – because to me, part of doing it as well was because I’ve been to all these shows where it says” Reggae Legends” etc. And you’ve got all the 90s legends and then bringing everybody from America over here. And I’m like, “We’ve got loads of legends over here! Like English ones!” That’s a wicked night out! Three songs from Junior; three songs from Imagination’s, Leee John etc…

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: And all on one ticket!

Don-e: And one ticket! It’s a no-brainer isn’t it?! But I think it’s all about timing.

Michael J Edwards: Your audience has grown up and now has disposable income.

Don-e: It makes sense to them. And there’s the nostalgia as well. So basically I’m just trying to do in the UK what Quincy (Jones) did in the US.

Michael J Edwards: So there will be an album, and some gigs on the back of that?

Don-e: Definitely! We’re trying to do the 02 Brixton or 02 Indigo.

Michael J Edwards: You mentioned “Incompatible” earlier. Would I be right in my observation that “Incompatible” is Don-e’s nod to the mini Maestro, Prince?

Don-e: Yeah! Definitely! I’m definitely a big Prince fan, I love Prince… I would say that it is a cross between Prince and D’Angelo’s, “How Does It Feel.” It has that vibe – you know what I mean. D’Angelo is coming from Prince and Prince is kinda Al Green on crack!

Michael J Edwards: And what’s the background to the track “This Is It?”

Don-e: With ‘This is it’ I was paying homage to my hip-hop roots – because I love “A Tribe Called Quest” and that whole kinda Q-Tip vibe.

Michael J Edwards: Feel good hip-hop?

Don-e: Yeah! Feel good hip-hop. That was me going into that chamber there

Michael J Edwards: And “Hot like The Summer?”

Don-e: I love Cash Flow; The Fatback Band and “I Found Loving.” All of that.”
Listening to Steve Walsh on the radio – that’s the joint man! You can do your little two-step dance to it. Luckily we had a very hot summer also, it was perfect. And I was like wow! It was like I predicted the weather.

And the video was filmed in Barbados. I went on a summer holiday with Missus and I thought let’s do some filming.

Michael J Edwards: What inspired you to give a Don-e twist to the Grace Jones classic “Slave to the Rhythm?”

Don-e: I just thought I’d never heard the cover of that song before. It started when I was on the tour bus, hanging out on tour bus (Grace Jones’ Tour). We were listening to her stuff, because some of the guys were just re-capping their parts. And I thought it would be dread if we sped this up man! So I sped it up and I played it to her son. And he was like “You should play this to my Mum man! She’d like this! You should play this to Mum!”

So I’m like, “Grace, I’ve got something to play you? Listen to this!” And she said, “Oh! Turn it up! This is alright innit?!” I said, “Do you like it?” She said, “Yes!”

So I did a video for it and put it on you tube. 30,000 hits it received! I was like, “I’ve got to sing on this myself!” (Laughs) So I took her vocal off and replayed all the music, then put me on it. And then I played it to her again and she really liked it. Then one night in Australia she was throwing a party in her penthouse suite. Everybody was invited, all the staff etc. Then Toots and the Maytals came into this party; and it happened to be my birthday as well!

They said, “Don-e?! Play that song there! Play that tune! Play it!” So I played it. Then they said, “Rewind it! Rewind it!” So I put it on a loop for a good half an hour, maybe 45 mins – that one “Slave to the Rhythm” track! She was going, “Yeah! Play it again! Play it again!” And Toots was rocking to it. And I was like if I get a chance to do an album it’s going on there, because it would be a waste if I don’t. And I’ve never heard anybody cover that song, because it’s such a weird song… It’s kinda Grace’s song innit.

Michael J Edwards: I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of the Grace Jones stare/glare?

Don-e: Grace don’t play man! She’s nice as well, she’s nice!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Michael J Edwards: Staying with the cover versions, tell us about your take on Dennis Brown’s “Love Has Found Its Way”

Don-e: I’ve always liked that track and I’ve always thought that reggae artists take Soul songs and do them in reggae; so I thought why not take a reggae song in do it in Soul. So that’s basically what it is really, just flipping it on its head for the 21st-century.

Michael J Edwards: It rounds the album out nicely, because you seem to cover all bases – slow jams; mid-tempo; up-tempo etc.

Don-e: I love Louie Vega and all that as well. I love Masters at work. So the last track, “It Just Don’t Stop” has that same sort of vibe – like Josh Milan and Blaze. You know that Soulful House/New York House sort of vibe. I love that! So I’m kind of paying homage to all the different kinds of Soul that have inspired me over the years.

Michael J Edwards: Wonderful!

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Don-e: And, “He Ain’t Got My Style” is touching on the Al B Sure kind of vibe.

Michael J Edwards: So I see Dome Records have still got your back?

Don-e: Yeah! Yeah! That’s one thing about Pete (Robinson, CEO Dome Recs), he knows a good tune when he hears it man. I’ve never seen him this excited! When he was listening to my album he was really excited! Because you can tell with A&R men, because of their feet! I just watch their feet – Once their feet start tapping, you’ve got them!

Michael J Edwards: It’s a done deal!

Don-e: And his feet wouldn’t stop tapping. He was like, “Play me something else! Play me something else!”

Michael J Edwards: Any more videos in the pipeline to support forth-coming releases?

Don-e: Yeah! I’m going to get into the whole video thing. I want to do a video with Ty! I want to get one if I can with The Collective for “Spiritual.” That would be the joint! Because it’s so hard to get everyone in one place man! So yeah, there’s going to be some more visuals and a lot more shows. I’m going to be doing a lot of acoustic vibes, broken down/stripped down. Let’s get out there, let’s do it!

Michael J Edwards: And gig dates?

Don-e: 14th of September at the Jazz Cafe. I think Omar is coming, Junior and maybe Noel McKoy. I’m just gonna bring as many of The Collective as I can. At Christmas there will be a lot more tours. The remix for “Hold On” just came back from Amsterdam last night, so I might do a video for that. I’ve got a video idea for the ballad, “Step In My Room.” So we’re working on that as well. So there’s definitely going to be more visuals. They may or may not come altogether. I’m not sure how we’re doing it, but I’m talking to a few video directors.

Michael J Edwards: Are there any other future projects we should look out for?

Don-e: Well, The Collective is the one to look out for right now. Hopefully we’ll have a Christmas single rolling out… We’ve got an Eddie Kendrick cover on there. Some nice things are going to be on that Collective album. So look out for that!

Michael J Edwards

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Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Essential Album:
Little Star (Dome Records, 2013)

Essential Singles:
Spiritual (The Remixes EP) (Dome Records, 2013)
Hot Like The Summer (Dome Records, 2013)

Essential Websites:
http://www.don-emusic.com/
http://www.domerecords.co.uk/

Essential Radio:
http://www.spreaker.com/
http://www.guessradio.co.uk/

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