How do you recognise a musical behemoth?
Well, Steve ‘Papa’ Edwards may be such an individual. His fingerprints can be found on a hardly fathomable portion of recent popular music. From collaborating with acts such as Basement Jaxx and Richard Hawley – the latter of which christened him ‘Papa’ – to receiving two Grammy nominations and a World Music Award, he has some serious credentials.
Edwards’ Rock ‘n’ Roll family tree is nothing to be shirked at either, listing the late reggae legend Peter Tosh and UK soul singer Jimmy James amongst his more revered relations. He’s all the better for remaining a thoroughly grounded individual, however, even using his teenage daughter’s design for his iconic ‘Papa Head’ image on his merchandise. Now he’s breaking out on his own, with a new album due later this year… and we’re feeling a little bit star-struck.
You’re releasing a new album – Northern Black – this year. What can people expect?
I’d like to see it on people’s iTunes list next to Michael Kiwanuka, maybe Elvis Costello.
So we can expect it to be something quite deep and soulful?
Pretty much, yeah, but there’s some stuff that’s more like electronica on there as well. Someone said one of the new ones sounds like TV on the Radio. But it will be quite different to a lot of what is being made in Sheffield at the moment.
How are you finding making music on your own?
More liberating. Though it is different having to do things by yourself. Modern life is a bit like Pandora’s box – once you’ve opened it you can do anything – but what are you gonna do? There’s no brief, no parameters, but I like it. I’ve got the freedom to find my own style… my mojo!
You seem to harbour a lot of positivity in your music, would you agree?
Well, my glass is always half full, that’s the kind of person I am. My wife says I’m complex, but I think I’m pretty straightforward. People do smile to the music – melodically it can sound quite positive. But the lyrics don’t always match that. Music I listen to, like The Specials, for example, it’s political but also made to be danced to. But most of my lyrics are personal – I’ve seen a lot. They’re my perspective on things, not just as a man who’s Black-British, but Black-Northern.
Is that an important distinction?
Yeah, because things can be very London-centric but things are very different here. My parents are Jamaican, but my father was a miner – there’s the two cultures there. And the album is autobiographical; it’s full of strong images – even just the title. There’s a lyric in the song Northern Black: “I’m a black man full of pride, born and raised by a coal-miner”. But that message is universal – whether you’re Irish or Jewish, from another land, you can relate to that.
So, I’m guessing you feel it’s important that musicians have a strong message in their lyrics?
It’s important. My heart is where my mouth is, and I sing the truth – I don’t bullshit. And I’m a songwriter and I like other songwriters; I’m talking about Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye but also I grew up listening to a lot of new-wave – Talking Heads and the like. And hopefully that diversity has improved my writing and helped me do something more interesting than just paying a guitar in a smokey club being a miserable twat! You should use your music to move people, everybody is moved by music. Or, if you’re not, then you’re made of stone. Actually, I’ve called my band the Big Strong Love…
And why’s that?
I’d had the term in my head for a while, but I didn’t know what it meant. Then I realised, it could mean anything. It tells you to remember that you have heart, you have soul, you have hot blood coursing through your veins. You have the Big Strong Love.