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Turning up the heat on Fried


Feature: Jack Foley

JONTE Short never had any aspiration but to sing and it is little wonder... her voice is up there with Aretha, Gladys Knight, Merry Clayton.

Born in New Orleans, 24 years ago, into a musical family, Jonte and her siblings sang all the time, in church and at home, harmonising to TV jingles.

When her mother was tired of her children’s singing, she would cry, ‘Shut up!’, so they invented a song called Shut Up.

"The only time we weren’t singing was when we were asleep," laughs Jonte, as she recalls her musical roots.

Jonte’s first public performance was when she was four, hair dressed in ribbons, at the World Fair in New Orleans.

She and three elder siblings were the Landrum Singers.

"I can’t figure how my mum would get all these gigs for us, auditoriums, theatres. We’d play in front of three people, or up to 3,000," she continued.

A strict religious family, the Landrums’ life was centred around church.

Jonte grew up listening to 'Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, everybody from Motown', but was not allowed to sing secular songs until she was 18. As soon as her birthday arrived, she decided she could sing what she wanted. Her mother told her to leave home.

"I did the sleeping in trucks bit. I shared a Happy Meal with Earl, my boyfriend every day, once a day – we didn’t eat that much," she recalled.

She got a slot at the Red Room, a jazz club in town, and the first song she sang was I Will Survive.

With her wages, she and Earl were able to get somewhere to live. They married a year later, Jonte gave birth to Earl Junior when she was 20 – she used to sing at the club in sparkly maternity shirts. “It all happened pretty fast.”

Babysitting Earl Junior was a problem when she was performing.

"No one in my family wanted to look after the baby ‘cos they didn’t want me to sing secular music," she said.

"It worked out for three months, but it started to get out of hand. Then I got pregnant again. I was eight months, one week and three days gone when I met David.”

David Steele had spent five years looking for a singer. He had been around the world trying to find someone ‘mind-blowing’.

"I’d been everywhere," he says. "I saw a lot of OK people, but nobody I listened to and thought – ‘fucking hell’."

It’s been eight years since his role as main songwriter in Fine Young Cannibals, but he is nothing if not exacting - and unhurried.

He first saw Jonte while in New Orleans for the Jazz Festival, in 2001. He knew she was right straight away.

"Something clicked between us," he continues.

"I have some weird musical influences, but when she sings over the top, you get something totally different."

The duo subsequently called themselves Fried, after Southern US cooking, and started recording in New Orleans and London.

But New Orleans was never far away. One vocal had to be finished in London, and to get the Deep South feel, David turned the heating up to full.

In other songs, Jonte found herself leaning on the past: songs about leaving home or recollecting her childhood.

The music is unique. Jonte’s vocals would make a car melt – the songs are searing, soulful.

But forget crappy Notting Hill pseudo funk, or corporate dance tunes predestined for some wanky car campaign.

The feel is pure Motown, blues and real R&B, but it’s not retro; there is a contribution from RZA and a song co-written with Beth, from Portishead.

"‘In a way, my ambition is almost done," concludes David. "What I wanted to do was make an amazing record, and we’ve done that."

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