x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

R&B artist Gabrielle is still singing her song

In the R&B singer's 17-year career, which she will showcase at the Yas Hotel during the F1 weekend, the "diva attitude" often expected of artists seems to have escaped her.

Deciding how to address performers with single-word stage names can be a dangerous business. Uttering something like "Mr Sting" is guaranteed to get the interview off to an awkward start, while calling Morrissey by his first name, Stephen, would probably bring it to an immediate end.

With Gabrielle - real name Louisa Gabrielle Bobb - the British R&B artist behind the huge singles Dreams and Rise, I thought it best to begin by asking what the singer likes to be called.

"I've got so many names, I don't know where to start!" laughs the London-born star, 40, who will perform at the Yas Hotel during the F1 weekend. "I'm Gabs, Gabby or Lou."

As we settle on "Gabs", it quickly becomes clear that the "diva attitude" often expected of R&B artists, has escaped the singer. And it's a good thing too; her 17-year career has had as many ups as it has had downs.

Gabrielle's debut single, 1993's Dreams, was an international chart hit thanks to her warm, soulful voice and the song's perfectly honed pop production. After taking the number one spot in the UK, the track helped earn the singer her first Brit Award and kicked off a recording career that would see her shift millions of albums.

"I just liked to make songs that people would remember and have fun singing," she says.

But not long after her initial success, the star's personal life was splashed across British tabloids when the father of her newborn son was convicted of a shocking murder. Gabrielle has also had to contend with a ptosis (the drooping of one eyelid), which she has concealed by wearing sunglasses, a heavy fringe, or even an eye-patch throughout her career.

Seven years after the release of Dreams, she scored her second UK number one with the tearjerking ballad, Rise. The singer received rare permission from Bob Dylan to use a sample of his classic, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, on the track - helping her to sell millions more albums.

"When we got his permission everybody was so surprised because he doesn't often do that," she says. "I saw it as a real honour."

Although continuing to release albums over the past decade, the star has achieved only modest commercial success, but Gabrielle sounds like she couldn't be happier.

"You do go through periods when there's a lull and you don't have a hit for a long time, but that just goes with the times," she admits. "I'm a mum of two and I can dip in and out of the musical thing when I feel like it."

Gabrielle is currently writing material for the follow-up to her 2007 album Always, which she plans to release late next year.

"I love music, but I've never had someone telling me I need to bring out a new album every year; I wouldn't be happy doing that, I don't think I'd be capable," she says.

Despite no longer being a major chart contender, Gabrielle has never disappeared from the public consciousness. Perhaps that's due to her memorable image.

"When I did my first interview I decided not to wear glasses because that would make me look like someone who's full of herself," she says. So I wore an eye-patch to get good eye contact with the interviewer.

"People pretty much knew after that it wasn't a gimmick but it worked for me and I'm still proud of it."

The star is currently sporting a fringe that covers her eye, but in the age of Rhianna, with asymmetric hairstyles all the rage - "so many people are doing that style at the moment ... they don't necessarily realise I'm Gabrielle."

 

The singer will play a late-night acoustic set on November 12, followed the next day by girl-group Sugababes and recent Mercury Prize nominee Corinne Bailey Rae on November 14. Go to www.thinkflash.ae for tickets.

For more coverage of the 2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, go to http://thenational.ae/abudhabigrandprix2010.