Interview by whatsonlive 

Ruby Turner talks ahead of Coventry show

When What’s On phones Ruby Turner at home, between gigs, the famed singer is far from idle, using her fleeting downtime to cram in all the things she doesn’t get a chance to do when she’s on the road.

“I’m governed by the diary, so when I’m back home, I’m speaking to the phone people, getting an MoT arranged, I have to check when the car tax is due… It’s exhausting dealing with life!” she laughs.

In recent years, Ruby has arguably become best known for lending her powerful vocals to Jools Holland’s Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, regularly touring the UK (and internationally) with them. She also appears on the musician & TV presenter’s annual televised New Year’s Eve Hootenanny. However, between excursions with Jools, the Birmingham-based songstress still finds time for her own solo appearances. Her latest tour stops off at such prestigious venues as London’s Ronnie Scott’s before concluding on Wednesday 6 March at Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre.

“The solo shows I keep very separate. Solo, you can show your versatility. When you work with Jools, you’re working with a mighty orchestra – you have that power behind you. With my guys, you can cruise in at a three or four; with Jools you’re at a seven. But with both, you feel so alive.”

With a set list that can often span her entire career – from such hits as If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) and I’d Rather Go Blind, to highlights from 2020’s Love Was Here collection – Ruby’s solo gigs see her focus on very different material to the concerts she performs with Jools… although they do occasionally share a tune.

“There are a couple of songs I’ve done that Jools has put in his set. There’s Blow Top Blues, which was on an EP I did back when I was doing theatre. I was in A Streetcar Named Desire and they asked me to do some incidental music between scene changes. I sang them live and they were recorded, which I didn’t know. The musical director played them to me about 10 years later, and I knew I had to put them out as an EP, because they sounded great. So I include Blow Top Blues in my set – and now you can also hear it with a big band. That’s the only real crossover.”

Now in her mid-60s, Ruby was born in Jamaica but moved to Handsworth in Birmingham aged nine. Although she impressed audiences (and critics) at the Crescent Theatre as a fresh-faced 16-year-old aspiring actress, she shifted her attention to music, gaining a reputation in the city at the same time as local bands Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Duran Duran and UB40 were also emerging.

Spotted by Culture Club, she joined Boy George’s pop band for live shows and recordings, which led directly to her own record deal and success in both the UK and US. But when her music career began to stall, she returned to the stage, appearing in such productions as Carmen Jones, Fame, Blues Brothers, Soul Sisters, One Love and the aforementioned A Streetcar Named Desire.

Music, however, was never far away, and in the early 90s she was introduced to Jools Holland in Birmingham. Sharing a love for ‘classic’ R&B, blues, jazz and gospel, the two hit it off and the former Squeeze keyboard player asked her to join him on stage.

“[Later] I got invited to do a year with Jools, then the diary turned up for another year… and I’m still touring with Jools! I’m such a lucky kid!”

Despite the lure of the US and London, Ruby – who was awarded an MBE in 2016 for her services to music – remains very much a West Midlands lass, residing on the south side of the city, which she reckons is the ideal spot.

“It’s perfect for me to get to the airport, I can get to the M40 or M42 in minutes, so it works out really nice for me. And my family are all still here in the Midlands – so I never wanted to be anywhere else. It’s been wonderful.”

After her solo dates and some time spent touring with Jools (which includes a return to Warwick Arts Centre on Wednesday 22 May), Ruby hopes to start working on a new album of her own.

“I met a woman at a gig. I sign albums and meet people, and I asked if she wanted any of them signing, and she said ‘I have all those! I’m waiting for the new one!’

“It’s nice when people ask for it. Rather than just putting out a new record every year, you just wait for the moment.”

Ruby Turner plays Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry on Wednesday 6 March.