Heather Peace’s career is like a London bus. You wait for what seems like eternity and then three come along at once.
In the case of the lesbian British actress and singer, she’s back with a new series of BBC hit drama Lip Service and a sizzling single and album.
As if she didn’t already have enough on her plate, she’s even found time to perform at Manchester’s LadyRock Festival, sponsored by Gay Star News, playing alongside KT Tunstall and Jess Mills on 26 May.
Peace began her music career when she was 22, signing with Simon Cowell’s BMG label.
However, manufactured pop was not her style and she quickly parted ways with the music mogul.
She eventually made her name on TV, starring in hit shows including London’s Burning and Waterloo Road.
But her love for music never waned and after her role as hot cop DS Sam Murray in BBC Three’s Lip Service made many lesbian fans want to turn to crime just for a good pat down and body search, her music career finally found wings again.
It may have been 15 years in the making, but Peace’s new album Fairytales is definitely worth the wait.
And in a weird stroke of fate, the release of the video for her new single Better Than You, out 30 April, coincides with the second series of Lip Service. The former is released today and the latter begins tonight at 9pm.
How did you get involved with LadyRock, the first all women’s festival in Manchester?
Heather Peace: Me and Jackie Crozier, LadyRock founder and director,initially talked about the festival a year ago. I’m sort of hesitant to call it a women’s festival though because then you sort of feel like it’s just for women to go to. It’s more like a showcase of female performers and open to guys as well.
I’m presenting the whole day and will be on before KT Tunstall in the evening. I’m looking forward to it. I’m a big fan of KT so will be happy to introduce her. I love Manchester because that’s where I went to drama school, so I have a real closeness with the city.
How does the Manchester crowd differ from other cities you have gigged in?
HP: I think northerners are noisier in general. I don’t know if it’s a Manchester thing. I definitely feel at home because I know the city and I guess my energy is different.
But certainly when I played on the main stage at Manchester Pride to 10 or 12,000 people that was absolutely immense. Jackie really knows how to put on a festival.
How did new album Fairytales come about? And why has it taken so long to release?
HP: It’s my debut album really. It’s been a 15-year process, back from when I was 22 and signed with BMG. After which it all went wrong.
I’ve always sung jazz, so there’s some jazz elements in there and I’m classically trained. So, there’s quite a lot of piano riffs that come from a classical place.
They’re very big tracks. Nigel Wright produced it. He’s famous I guess for doing a lot of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Simon Cowell stuff and we became friends through the whole BMG thing.
I’m so lucky to have him produce it. I mean, he’s working with Barbra Steisand and Madonna. But he’s a friend so he’s done it for nothing essentially, but with a mind to go on and do a second album with me.
They are all self-penned tracks and the sound has grown really. As we’ve gone along it’s been a case of what we can afford. We’ve funded it ourselves so we kept putting on extra gigs to pay for the musicians and, because the fans have been so supportive, we’ve ended up being able to have a gospel choir and a 12-piece string orchestra.
We started off with a very stripped back album and a raw sound and it’s not ended up like that at all. It’s a way bigger sound.
What significance do the songs on the album have for you?
HP: The songs have to come from a personal place and I don’t think I could just write to order.
There were a couple of dark years where I wasn’t working and my relationship wasn’t going well. You lose yourself at times in life and you’re not sure what’s going on.
A lot of stuff is written around that and then there’s a transition through the album to the sort of ‘coming into the light’ when I met my present partner and things started to go ok.
What was it like working with Simon Cowell and why did you decide to leave the BMG label?
HP: He’s an absolute gent and I have nothing bad to say about the guy. I’ve met him a couple of times since the whole experience because he is friends with Nigel and he always remembers your name and is nice as pie.
But they wanted me to do a cover album, they wanted to style me, they wanted me to mime. For one, I can’t mime and secondly, why won’t they let me sing it live?
They said they wanted the audience to hear the finished track. I didn’t get their reasoning and a lot of actors were releasing records at the time and it was all looking a bit naff.
For someone like myself who took music really seriously, I was a jazz singer and it was my first love, I got to the point where I’d rather not be known as a musician at all than be known for the crap which they were trying to get me to do.
How important has your lesbian fanbase been to supporting your career and bringing you to where you are now?
HP: It’s been paramount, without a doubt. The album came about after Lip Service. It was all by accident and it just happened.
We’d filmed the show a year before and I wasn’t working again. I was broke, so I’d put on little 30 people gigs and they were just selling out really quickly. I was under no illusion that people thought I was a good singer. They’d just seen me in Lip Service. The gigs got bigger and bigger and the management team took over.
But it was all totally down to the gay fan base. And thankfully people are coming back because they love the music.
Has being openly lesbian hindered your career? Have you ever been advised to hide your sexuality?
HP: The music industry is a new start for me at the moment and it’s all been positive.
Within the acting world I thought it would massively have an impact. Certainly earlier in my career, I can’t say what show because it would implicate the producer, I was specifically told to not come out or say anything to the press because I was there to be eye candy for the men.
That just wouldn’t happen now and it just shows how far things have come. But when I was young it was quite frightening.
Do you think there are enough realistic lesbian dramas on TV?
HP: It’s about interweaving lesbian storylines within mainstream drama and that’s happening now. That’s the way forward.
I wouldn’t want to start segregating us and going, right, this is a drama for gay people. We’ve had Queer as Folk for the boys and we have Lip Service for the girls. It’s just about becoming mainstream now. I don’t think we need another purely gay show.