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Flipside Magazine Articles : Hal's Solo

Street vendors are hawking Spice Girls T-shirts on Oxford Street. Tucked away
behind the chain stores on a leafy square stands Home House, ex-Spice Girl Geri
Halliwell's favourite hideaway. High above the suits that crowd the private club's
dining room, Geri resides under the roof in a Swish suite that looks like a 19th
century bohemia's idea of a summer pavilion.

A recently published report on the 500 richest people in England estimated that GeriHalliwell is worth some 17 million. That's an awful lot of money for some dodgy pop records. What makes her tick? Why has she decided to try her luck as a solo artist when few would expect her to deliver more than a handful of shortlived pop-tunes?

"Pop music doesn't have to be crap," laughs Geri, a petite, wiry blonde who looks yearsyounger than her former incarnation as "Ginger Spice". With her flat shoes, black leggings,pink short-sleeved top and subtle make-up, she looks like the girl next-door and talks
music like a seasoned pro.

"Music should not be lazy," insists Geri. "It can be smart. Pop music should work on
different levels, like painting for instance." She turns her head and focuses on a dark and moody 18th century landscape. "I can glance at a painting and go 'that's pretty'. But I can also take a closer look and see emotions, misery or laughter - an element that moves me."

Her debut single 'Look at me', has been blaring out of every other radio since DJs around
the country [England] were sent a copy on April 16th. It will eventually hit the shops on May
10th. Does Geri herself think that 'Look at me' fits her definition of "Smart Pop"?

"The secret in writing a good pop song is to be smart - but don't try and be too clever," she
fires back. "Don't be too self-indulgent in your music. Be honest. Cry, show your fears...
and people will cry with you. Everybody feels pain but everyone wants to laugh, so do all
that, show it and don't be afraid to look uncool." She lowers her voice to a confidential
whisper and adds, "You know what? Nobody's that cool anyway. We all have that dippy,
uncool side to us."

So whom does Geri have in mind when she sits down to write or steps up to the mike to
sing her songs? "I want to reach Spice Girls fans and a more adult audience alike. I want to
reach adults who are in touch with what I've done because I've poured my heart into it. Pop
music should touch the postman when he's walking down the street," she muses. And it
should touch somebody when they're listening to it alone, quietly. I want to be connected
with many different people out there and I try to do it with my music."

A lot has been said and written about how 'Look at me' mirrors the collaboration between
Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads on 'History Repeating' with Geri's tour-de-force
vocal performance, the John Barry-style, brass arrangement and the big bouncy dance
beats. But whatever drawer you try to place it in, Geri's effort almost certainly plays havoc
with most people's expectations of what the Spice Girls renegade would sound like. "Things
is, I don't know what the expectations are out there," shrugs Geri. "Either way I had people
not expecting that I can sing. I had people telling me that I had no talent, that I cannot even
carry a song, whatever." Now that the first song associated with her name in big bold
letters is out for everybody to judge. Geri is visibly more relaxed than ever before, "I've
climbed my mountain," she sighs- "I've been honest about who I am, I put my heart on the
sleeve and somebody can stomp on it of they want. It's going to hurt a bit, but the flipside
of it is that it is equally going to be more rewarding if they do like it, because it is a real part
of me. That's a risk you sometimes just have to take in life. I'd rather try and fail than not
try at all."

How about the Shirley Bassey comparisons then? Did they creep up accidentally in the
media or is there more to it? "I grew up with the music of Shirley Bassey," admits Geri, "but
also with Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra. You see, my father was 50
when I was born, so we used to listen to these kind of old-fashioned entertainers a lot."
This fascination with the lush sounds of the 1950s and 1960s continued when Geri left
home. "When I worked as a cleaner," she reveals, "I used to stick Sinatra's records on all
the time while I'd be out there doing a job."

Apart from the music of that era, Geri also took in the movies her father adored - which
explains much about that certain filmic quality in both the arrangement of 'Look at me's
nine-piece brass section and the 60s references in the video (including Bond-style imagery
and Italian realism). "I am very much into old movies," confirms Geri, "If you watch the video
for 'Look at me' closely, you'll find that large parts of it are inspired by Frederico Fellini's La
Dolce Vita. Only we shot in Prague, not in Rome like Fellini did."

If you haven't seen it yet, there is a scene in the video, which is reminiscent of a New
Orleans style funeral and the flowers on the coffin read 'Ginger'. It is hardly a subtle
message: GingerSpice is dead - long live Geri Halliwell. But what caused that
much-speculated-about rift between Geri and the group?

Almost a year after her departure in May '98, Geri admits, "I left the group a couple of
months prematurely because I was losing my religion. I was losing my soul. Sometimes in
life, when you feel you are doing that, you need to get your feet back on the ground. I'd
like to say, though, that I wanted to leave the Spice Girls anyway and I had told them that. It
wasn't a surprise. I always talked about leaving after the end of the 1998 tour in
September." She pauses for a short while and adds; "this was one of the best decisions
I've ever made."

According to Geri, the straw that broke the camel's back was when the group's schedule
would have made it impossible for her to keep an obligation she had entered into as
spokeswoman for a breast cancer charity in the UK.

"Being a pop star is fantastic," she freely admits. "I love it, feel very comfortable doing this.
It's my niche. But it's not brain surgery and it is not saving any lives. We all have the power
to make a difference and I just felt I had to start making that difference."

The Spice Experience:
"I learned about producing records, I learned about the media and I learned about giving
yourself a direction. I always had a massive contribution to the songwriting process in the
group. That's no secret. Lyrics and top line melody - that's my thing. But the biggest lesson
I learned with the Girls is to trust my instincts."


Once out of the Spice Girls, Geri suddenly took on a whole new life, popping up in the
media whilst leading support to various charities. The one-time-self-confessed "evangelist
of Girl Power" became a campaigner for children- and women-related issues almost
overnight. She auctioned off her Spice Girls outfits for the benefit of Sargent Cancer Relief
for children, went to Uganda for Comic Relief, and was appointed Goodwill ambassador for
the UN Family Planning Association and the UN's Population Concern campaign.

Is this just an interim engagement or will she continue to be involved in charity activities
now that her pop career looks set to take off again? "Both my lives as a pop star and as a
charity campaigner are just as important to me," Geri answers. "Everybody leads double
lives. If I am appearing somewhere with my 'pop' hat on, I think that people are
subconsciously reminded of the causes I support, that there's a bell going off in their
heads that says 'breast cancer' - and that's good, I think that's very positive."

If push comes to shove, which would Geri up first - her pop career or her charity pursuits?
"At the end of the day, the UN is a lifelong project, it doesn't matter if I'm 26 or 50. I really
want to be part of that. A pop career I can't see myself juggling around when I am 50."

That sounds surprising for somebody as driven and energetic as Geri Halliwell. "Maybe, I'm
not saying I won't but I am quite realistic," she laughs, "Who knows? You can never say
never." She pauses before continuing. "I need to do lots of things because I need to keep
my feet on the ground and the UN does that for me. Whereas on the pop side of it, I love
being creative, I love writing songs, I love expressing myself and that does that for me."

She frowns, adding, "Being a pop star is about music, but it's also about imagination and
that takes a lot of energy. I take this pop career as it comes. One day at a time."

Talking about careers, Halliwell is the second high-profile breakaway from a major group to
sign with EMI Records for a solo career after ex-Take That Robbie Williams' move to EMI's
Chrysalis label in 1996. What makes the venerable home of the Beatles and current outlet
for Sir Cliff Richard's musical exploits such a hot ticket in the eyes of young guns with an
attitude?

"I am very demanding. I like space and I want attention," says Geri, listing the priorities she
set herself when she was shopping for a label. "I felt EMI would give me the attention that I
de..." she hastily catches herself before the word 'deserve' cab slip out and tones it down
to 'that I wanted'."

Did Robbie Williams' decision to go with Chrysalis and the way it turned out to be a
tremendous career boost for him, influence Geri at all? Did she feel that a company that
gave Robbie the space to develop his songwriting skills would see more in her than just an
ex-Spice Girl?

"I knew that EMI just had a taste of success with Robbie Williams," says Geri. "You see,
there is nothing quite like the hunger when you've just had a bit of success and you want
more. And there is something about enthusiasm - you cannot buy it. I knew that they would
focus on me. I would be their baby and [they would] give me the care and attention I
wanted. And they have, which is great.

What would happen if her recording or promotion schedules were to clash, once again,
with the worthwhile activities of her 'other' life? "I am very directional," she answers
cautiously. "I'm not dogmatic but I've got strong leadership qualities and I lead my record
company exactly where I want to be going. I think you personally can make your best
judgements. If I feel that something needs to be done, I will do it. At the end of the day EMI
do work for me. I truly believe that record companies should be artist-led. Nobody is going
to be able to explain myself or what my music is about. I believe I have a very good idea of
what I want to do and how my music should be sold."

These are strong words for an artist who still has to prove that she can do it on her own,
but Geri is adamant. "I actually believe that Robbie made himself a success; nobody else
did it for him. Nobody can sell yourself better than yourself." She adds, "A record company
can work their pants off but if the artist doesn't pull their weight, it just won't work, it's like
dressing up a smelly perfume and putting it in a bottle. When you open it, you're still going
to go 'Yuck!'. At the end of the day, has to be good."

It sounds as if Geri has spent her time with Spice Girls keeping a close watch on what
happened behind the scenes. "Too right," she grins. "I learned about producing records, I
learned about the media and I learned about giving yourself a direction. I always had a
massive contribution to the songwriting process in the group. That's no secret. Lyrics and
top line melody - that's my thing." She pauses. "But the biggest lesson I learned with the
Girls is to trust my instincts."

Another part of her Spice-y heritage is the Bristol-based production team, the Absolute
Boys, who worked on 'Look at me' and are currently putting finishing touches to Geri's
debut album, which is due to hit the racks on June 7th.

"Working with the Absolute Boys is great because they understand what I want to say,"
enthuses Geri. "They worked on a couple of tracks I had written when I was in the Spice
Girls. But I had a relationship with them that was very different to the other girls. They were
almost like brothers to me. One day I walked in with the chorus for 'Stop' and i played it to
them on a thing like that" - she points at the Dictaphone, then spontaneously burst into the
chorus, "Stop right now, thank you very much..." - "and I wanted it to be a Motown song...
and they could translate that. They knew instinctively what to do with it. You have to feel
comfortably with whom you work with. I am very flattered that they've chosen to work on my
album. It was a bit of a "her or us" situation, as I understand but they chose to stick with
me. There is no guarantee that I will be a big success but they Spice Girls will be a massive
success, they have a massive following."

Geri admits that she can also be a tad difficult to work with. "Me, I do mad things," she grins
mischievously. "Like I have this song on my album that is a real guitar song" - she jumps up
and starts playing air guitar - "da da da da da... bit like [Guns n' Roses guitarist] Slash, you
know, really hammering it. And I've had a great backing behind me to make my imagination
come to life. That's a very rare opportunity."

Anyone else would have thought, 'you are obviously bonkers, you are mad to do this'. But
we did it and it turned out absolutely fantastic. There's a fine line between bullshit and
genius. And I am always... you know, I'm actually not sure which side I'm on."

All things considered, Geri feels quite pleased with the current state of her pop career. "I'm
in a unique, priveleged position where I have the opportunity to make an album and I've
had a great backing behind me to make my imagination come to life. That's a very rare
opportunity."

What would happen if 'Look at me' fizzles out by the end of spring and the album bombs?
"Half of me is shiting myself," she admits, "because if it goes wrong everyone is going to be
shouting at me. At the end of the day, I am going to be the one who will have to take the
rap - which is SO terrifying. I don't have the other band members any more who could take
the rap with me, you know?"

In a more contemplate mood she adds, "Of course I want it to be a success, I want you all,
personally, to like my stuff." She sighs, "I was terrified to go into a studio again and record
a solo album. I am fully aware that this is a fickle industry. I know very talented people out
there and they still don't make it, you know? Half of me would be crushed... but I've done it
now and that is the biggest rush for me."

Being back on the pop scene after a good six months break, Geri is full of enthusiasm
about the whole business. "What I really like about this industry," she explains, "is that
once you're getting tired of a particular area, there is always another bit that rejuvenates
you. For example, being in the studio. I love being in that safe, enclosed environment - in
your own little world. It's very self-indulgent. You can get lost in your world; then you come
out of your little cocoon into the bright light and you do something else, like working with a
band.

Now that the album is in the can, she is already thinking about bringing it on the road. "I'd
love to be able to put a show on." she muses. "What everybody was saying after the Spice
Girls - that I didn't like going on tour - that's such crap. I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I
really enjoyed myself. I know I am not Celine Dion, but I am passionate, I love reaching out
to people." Geri sure calls the shots, but she feels really strongly about the musicians that
are likely to share the stage with her. "I've already got a good band together," she says,
"and they've got a great brass section. I believe that the whole band should have life,
should have personality. The brass section should be going 'duh duh, duh duh'." She
wiggles off the sofa and demonstrates with and imaginary saxophone. "Music be joyful
escapism. And it'll be that, when I put it onto the stage, all right."

She is certainly no shrinking violet, our Geri. But pop music Made In England needs some
strong colourful characters. However you feel about lovely Martine, The Honeyz or the
rather irritating Steps, there is simply nobody else around on that level who looks like they
can grow and still be relevant a couple of years from now. Geri has got the ambition and
the fire. If her artistic development can stand the pace, there'll be little to stop her become
a female pop icon. Maybe somebody should tell the guys on Oxford Street that they ought
to change their merchandise soon.