Festival preview: Roland Gift at Grassington Festival

Roland Gift
Roland Gift
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Some Eighties chart stars may be reluctant to tread the nostalgia circuit, fearing perhaps a creative loop.

But not Roland Gift, former singer with Yorkshire pop group Fine Young Cannibals, who were a very big deal indeed as one of pop’s most fertile decades drew to a close.

Their album, The Raw & The Cooked, was number one in both Britain and the US and two singles, She Drives Me Crazy and Good Thing, claimed the top spot in the Billboard Hot 100.

Twenty-five years on – after a period away from the limelight – Gift, 54, seems simply content to be performing again.

A guest slot on Jools Holland’s 2013 UK tour got Gift “back in the saddle”, since then he’s been playing occasional shows around the country – the latest of which is due to be the Last Night Party, with Heaven 17, at Grassington Festival this weekend.

LISTEN: Hear Roland Gift talk to Duncan Seaman on the latest PostMusic podcast

“It’s not like I’ve been away from that thing totally, “ he says when asked if he’s been gradually feeling his way back into performing. “It’s all I’ve ever done, really. It’s not like I’m an Olympic swimmer who’s not been training and trying to get back.”

He admits he became frustrated by the business side of music after breaking up with band mates David Steele and Andy Cox in 1992.

“It was kind of tricky, “ he says. “It was quite a big thing, actually, when the group split. It was all stopped – we didn’t really split we just kind of stopped – but it doesn’t happen quickly.

“It’s like any relationship, I suppose, like a marriage that’s gone bad – you might wake up one day and think, Right, this is it, I’ve had it’, but it’s probably gone on for a little while. Then when you’re in a group and get signed you’re also signed as an individual so you’re in a contractual relationship with a record company and they may not be able to relate to you as an individual in the way that they could relate to you as a group but at the same time they don’t want to let you go just in case, so it gets a little bit sticky.”

Fine Young Cannibals, who Gift had formed with Steele and Cox after the pair left The Beat, had actually been at their commercial peak when things began to sour. Their second album, The Raw & The Cooked, had produced five hit singles and sold more than a million copies in the UK and two million in the US. It was also number one in the Australia and Canada and their songs were being featured in Hollywood films.

Gift admits he was surprised that things ended the way they did. “The record company hadn’t experienced that kind of success, nobody in the group had, nobody in our management had and I think one of the pressures that wasn’t good for the group was that people thought that the next album had to sell more than the one before and that’s such a short-sighted way of approaching things.

“As soon as you start aiming at the brass buckle then you’re in trouble and we proved that.”

Gift’s musical roots were in Yorkshire. He was 11 years old when he moved to Hull from the Birmingham suburb of Sparkhill in the early 1970s. “Culturally it was very different,” he remembers. “I was very white. I’d come from a street in Birmingham where nobody was English, tso it was quite a difference coming to a place where I think there was only one other black kid in my school and somewhere that was smaller, it was strange.”

He took his first steps into performing in the Hull Community Theatre Workshop, run by Pam Dellar.

“We used to take our lead from Hull Truck, we used to devise plays along the lines that they did. That’s where I first sang.”

Roland Gift headlines the Last Night Party at Grassington Festival on Saturday June 27. For details visit www.grassington-festival.org.uk