Celebrating the 35th anniversary

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Jaki first made her presence known to the public at large with the May, 1984 release of “What’s The Name Of Your Game,” an assertive dancer written and produced by Bramble. Her vibrant delivery of the take-no-prisoners lyrics and bright melodies made the track a bona fide floor-filler, particularly with an extended remix by Francois Kevorkian. But it was via the follow-up, the airy and therworldly “Heaven Knows,” that listeners started to pay closer attention. Here was a romantic groove-ballad bearing a joyous hook, angelic verses and seamless rhythm arrangement, which all captured the essence of classic soul while also bearing a sing-along quality that held appeal for young music fans appreciative of cutting-edge acts, such as Loose Ends and Imagination. Discussing his approach to writing such a gem, Derek offers, “There was no design to it. I’d started writing when I was in Heatwave. Rod Temperton [who was still writing for the group at the time of Derek’s departure in 1982] flew me to his house in Germany. We spent two weeks writing, and a couple of the songs went on Jaki’s record.” Of course, the inspiration of a standout vocalist didn’t hurt. “When I met Jaki, I fell madly in love with her. Not only was she a great singer but a great girl to be around. We hit it off straight away.”

The breaking of a new artist by a major label is often a process of trial and error. While “Heaven Knows” initially enjoyed a brief run on the charts (peaking at #80), the follow-up single, “Once More With The Feeling,” missed. Jaki is candid in reflecting on such matters. “A&R director Clive Black really believed in me; but his higher-ups didn’t get it. EMI was a very rock/pop-oriented label, and they didn’t really know what to do with me. But I started to make waves, and radio stations took me to heart.”

Indeed, 1985 would prove to be the year in which Jaki made her first big splash. During the spring, she joined forces with David Grant for the first of two duets that would resonate massively with the public. She recalls, “David told me that he had a dream in which we were doing a show and singing ‘Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.’ He put the idea to Brian Freshwater and everybody thought that it was a good idea. I had the Detroit Spinners album with that song on it at home. I loved it and wasn’t sure if we should touch it. But Derek gave us such a great version—which has really stood the test of time. Even now when I do shows, the way that it was recorded doesn’t date itself.” Derek says, “It almost cried out for Jaki and David to do a record together. And what Richard Niles did with the string arrangements on ‘Could It Be…’ was just magnificent.” Released by David’s label, Chrysalis, the sterling rendition spent a total of 12 weeks on the chart, peaking at #5. Its enduring popularity was undoubtedly buoyed by an endearing promo video showcasing the duo’s effortless stage chemistry.

With the momentum of “Could It Be…” still resounding, June marked the beginning of Jaki’s first solo ascent into the top 10 with the celestial “Round And Around.” An unforgettable uptempo number with a magical melodic make-up usually reserved for slow-jams, it came together almost as effortlessly as it sounds on the record, says Derek. “I was living at my girlfriend’s mother’s house at that time. I had a small, portable studio set-up, and I just started this track. Sometimes when you’re in the creative process, you’re not even there. It’s just kind of coming through your conduit from somewhere else, and it happens so quickly. I played it to Brian, and he said, ‘That’s it!’ There was no hesitation in his voice.”

During its 11-week run on the charts, “Round And Around” reached #9 and provided Jaki with her first proper solo video. She remembers that initially, only a short promo clip was made for airing during a segment of Top Of The Pops, which spotlighted singles that were bubbling under the Top 40. Once that was shown, the single took off quickly and a proper full-length version was filmed. Shortly thereafter, EMI decided to give “Heaven Knows” another shot, this time in conjunction with – at long last – the release of the full-length album of the same name. By the autumn, the single had surpassed its initial chart peak and the Heaven Knows LP climbed into the Top 50. With four of the singles and two Bsides in tow, four new tunes made their debut on the album. Displaying a similar versatility to the group of songs which had already endeared Jaki to fans, these premiere cuts ran the gamut from power popdance to down-home soul.

One of Heaven Knows’ standout new tracks was the ballad “Loving You,” on which Jaki duetted with Derek. Although he had played bass with Heatwave for four years prior to switching to the songwriter-producer path, vocals had truly been his first instrument. “I joined my first band when I was seven. It was a pop-reggae group in my hometown called the Groovatrons. Vocals were what I did first and foremost. But I’d watch the guitarist and bassist and be mesmerised. I started figuring stuff out. I’d pick up a guitar and know what to do, almost like osmosis.” By the time he got to Heatwave, he’d also added keyboards to the list. Still, it came as quite a surprise to the man himself when Brian Freshwater heard him singing the demo of “Loving You” and asked him to sing on what would become the released version. “Out of all the people that he could get hold of, I thought, ‘Really?’ But I did it, and I even performed it on stage with Jaki at her Hammersmith Odeon gigs once the record was out. DJ Tony Blackburn was there one night, and was gushing over our performance the next day. I had considered myself a bit of a back room boy after Heatwave, so the whole idea of someone making a big deal over my voice felt a little awkward to me. But what it told me most of all was that we were getting it right on the record.”

Equally noteworthy was the inclusion of “Stay The Way You Are,” a sprightly cover of the Q-Tips’ 1980 soft rock hit. “That was Brian’s idea,” recalls Derek. “He’s a song guy. I wanted to do it in a Muscle Shoals sort of fashion.” With a heartfelt a cappella intro and nostalgic, horn-laden arrangement, the rendition arguably gives the original a run for its money with spirited background vocals by the “North London Posse” and wailin’ sax runs courtesy of Phil Todd. Also evoking an old-time sensibility was the pensive original “I Fell For You” (co-written by Derek with Brother to Brother guitarist Billy Jones), while the driving “The Facts Of Love” once again displayed Jaki’s prowess as a dance diva with whom to be reckoned.

Looking back on the process of recording Heaven Knows, Jaki observes, “I was going with the flow. Derek was very focused in what he liked and how he wanted it to come out. He’d play melodies on the piano that I couldn’t dream of how they ended up. The way that he would play things or place vocals in certain places, it was a soul thing – but also with a certain edge. I was having a great time singing the songs.” Adds Derek, “Once I wrote the songs, Clive Black and [fellow A&R man] Nick Gatfield said, ‘Go get it!’ That was a license to thrill. Brian Freshwater was my sounding board to run ideas through but I didn’t have anybody over my shoulder saying that it had to be this or that. They just let us create!”

Written by Justin M. Kantor, May, 2015 – Taken from ‘Jaki Graham - The Studio Albums 1985-1998’

Justin M. Kantor is a contributing writer to SoulMusic.com, All-Music Guide, and Soul Tracks.