March 11, 2000
The Communards' Morris Returns With U.S. Debut On Irma
By Raqiyah Mays
New York—Sarah Jane Morris' U.S. debut, "Fallen Angel," marks her return to the music world after a 10-year absence.
Coming April 4 from the independent Irma Records, the album is a turning point in Morris' 20-year-career. "I feel like everything I've done to date has been a great journey to get to a start of my career. I think I'm just coming into my time," says England-native Morris, 40, whose 1986 hit single as a member of the Communards, "Don't Leave Me This Way," was a worldwide chart-topper.
"The 80's were a part of me being a young person on the scene. Now I'm a full-fledged musician. I'm starting to tap into interesting areas," she says.
Morris fell into music "accidentally." In 1980, while attending drama school, the once-aspiring actress took up singing in hopes of getting her equity card. After she crooned a few Billie Holiday songs taught to her by a friend, Morris' talent was noticed, and she was swiftly asked to become part of a band called the Republic. This brief stint ended when Communard member Jimmy Somerville asked Morris to join the pop band.
From 1986 to 1987, she toured with the Communards before joining the Jazz Renegades.
Ultimately, Morris wanted to do her own thing. In 1989, she issued a solo project on Jive Records, "She's Leaving Home." It wasn't long, however, before the U.K. press caught wind of the album's single "Me And Mrs. Jones," a controversial, lesbian-conscious interpretation of the Billy Paul Classic. The cut resulted in the album's well-chronicled banning in the U.K. It didn't stop her from proceeding to record several more albums, including 1992's soul-influenced "Heaven" (Virgin) and 1995's "Blue Valentine" (JazzHouse).
Morris notes that the road has not been an easy one. "Three of my past managers went bankrupt. So I managed myself for three or four years," says Morris, who's currently managed by Ross Fitzimmons. "I regulated my career. Everyone wanted me to have big pop band success. But I didn't want to go that route again."
In 1995, following her work on JazzHouse, Morris was approached by indie Italian label Irma Records—which has a U.S. branch in New York handling domestic releases—about licensing her albums. She's been working with Irma ever since.
"Although I'd love to have the budget of the bigger label, I prefer working with a small label, because it feels like an extended family. What Irma lacks in finance they make up for in loving music," says Morris. "None of the other labels would have allowed me to dare try and co-produce 'Fallen Angel.' The didn't hear anything beforehand. They just gave me a budget, and I delivered."
Even though marketing dollars are limited, Irma is confident in the potential U.S. success of Morris. "The marketing plan is her voice," says Irma's stateside general manager, Fabrizio Carrer. "Her voice is the most important instrument she has. She can go from jazz to soul, R&B, and rock."
In January 1999, through a distribution deal with the Universal Music Group, "Fallen Angel" was released in Europe with a modest pressing of 5,000 units. "Usually, we distribute and press everything," Carrer explains. "Since Sarah Jane was established and we're working with Universal, it's a different game. We wanted to play it safe." Carrer adds that orders beyond the initial 5,000 have been placed.
Although "Dream On Baby" is the first U.S. single from the album, Irma is also aiming to draw attention to the videoclip for the European single "Ever Gonna Make It." Directed by Claudio Sinatti, the clip had been serviced to MTV, VH1, and BET, as well as stores such as Virgin, Tower, and HMV for promotional in-store play.
All of this sits well with Morris. "I'm pleased with the way it's going, because it's a career move that makes sense. It's not one that's quick and rash," she says. "Apart from the Communards, I'm a newcomer in America. And at this age, that's kind of exciting to me.