Tony Momrelle is a versatile and emotive soul singer, whose work with jazz-funk outfit Incognito and a host of renowned artists from across the world, has equipped him for the big time as a solo artist. Ahead of his first solo headline performance at Band on the Wall on 29th June, we spoke to the London native about his introduction to the music world and exposing the voice.
You’ve performed with Incognito for several years now, a gig which has taken you around the world. How does performing with the group compare to performing solo and is there an energy or dynamic present in that group that you were keen to recapture with your own touring band?
Incognito is an incredible band, period! When being on the stage it commands a certain energy from all of its members and that is something I have carried with me ever since I joined the band. I love performing and working with Incognito; it’s a family affair and you can see that when watching the band live. I’ve taken those key ingredients and integrated that within my own band. Performing solo is very different however; it’s something I’ve always wanted [to do] so I’m embracing every moment and I love it!
Your performance on Later…with Jools Holland, featuring just yourself and Jools on piano, perhaps best exemplifies your vocal talent. Many of the all-time great vocalists made their name by captivating listeners, accompanied solely by a pianist; is it a special feeling performing a track with just the piano and does it require you to use your voice differently?
Brilliant question! When you’re on stage with a band there are so many elements that create such a big sound, which is not just down to vocals but all the instrumentation plus energy mix with stage presence – performing solo with a single instrument is much harder and the main focus is on me but it’s something I really like because it’s the core of who I am and it’s me being exposed which allows me to go someplace else vocally with more emotion.
One of your early career roles when you were coming up was singing background; a job that’s been given greater attention in recent years with films like 20 Feet from Stardom. Given that you’re often singing harmony, it presumably requires you to be at the top of your game. What can you tell us about your time singing background, the people you met through it and what it taught you as a vocalist?
Being a background singer was a great experience for me because it wasn’t just about singing harmonies, but more the experience to learn and take notes from the artist I was working with. My mission was always to do my own thing so I made it a point to take as much information in regarding the business as well as what it took to create a show. I guess my personality shone through back then and I became the go to guy. My first backing vocal experience was with Gloria Estefan recording vocals for a song she’d done for the Olympics (I can’t remember the year). From there I did quite a bit of promo performance with her. From there, I worked with the likes of Elton John, Gary Barlow, Celine Dion, Sade, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan…way too many to remember, haha, but I’m grateful.
How do you keep your voice in perfect condition, any tricks and tips for aspiring singers?
I’m always singing which is something I think is really important for all singers, it doesn’t have to be screaming from the roof tops singing but you have to sing; doing this keeps the vocal chords warm which has always worked for me.
Your recently did a fantastic cover of ‘My Girl’ for a session at Cheltenham Jazz festival. Do any other classics creep into your set?
Haha, that was a funny situation. I was in full rehearsals with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Guy Baker Big Band for Friday Night Is Music Night and just as we finished, I was about to head off to my hotel to get ready for the show when the festival director asked if it was possible for me to do a live unplugged performance for one of the sponsors! This time around I didn’t have my band with me so it was quite hard to make it happen. One of my team started asking around for a pianist as there were many bands performing at the festival, by a stroke of luck someone was available…we only had 10 mins to work out a song as it was about to be filmed live then in the last minute “My Girl” came about!
Regarding my set, there are a couple classics I perform but I won’t mention which ones as I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Catch Mr. Momrelle at Band on the Wall later this month, tickets available here.