Local Artist Spotlight: Amba Tremain
|Published: 9th June 2021 16:55|
Fresh off her appearance on BBC's ‘I Can See Your Voice,' Amba Tremain is a multi-talented musician whose impressive career only speaks for itself.
From winning Mel B's ‘This Is My Moment' to working with Boy George & Eva Cassidy, Amba has been in the business for 20 years and has become something of a household name in Portsmouth. Aside from being a musician herself, she is also a lecturer at a music college in Brighton, and co-founded the local music charity ‘Urban Vocal Group,' providing access to music training & performance to young people in Portsmouth & its surrounding areas.
Ahead of a return to playing local gigs and the release of her album at the end of the year, it was a pleasure to sit down with Amba and find out about her incredible experiences within the industry, and how she turned a lifelong passion into a career.
Describe your sound in three words:
I'd definitely say soulful & nostalgic for the first two. It's a difficult one, because you could say fun, you could say pop, but there's more than that in there. I don't know how to put it into words, but something that involves connection & connecting people, maybe relatable? I feel like up until now I've always made music in different ways with different artists, predominantly for other people. Whereas right now it feels like the first time that I'm making music that's coming straight from my heart to connect with people. I think my relatability is my unique selling point - I've been doing what I do for a long time and I'm just trying to make music that connects people and takes them on a journey.
Who are your musical influences?:
In terms of listening, Stevie Wonder is my biggest inspiration. Everything he does is gold, from the emotional stuff right through to the fun stuff that gets remixed and sampled, you just can't go wrong. If I had to take one album on a desert island, it'd be Stevie Wonder's Greatest Hits.
I'm also really drawn to female singers; Aretha Franklin is a massive inspiration to me, mainly from the gospel and soul sort of edge, and her raw vocal delivery. I'm a massive Chaka Khan fan, and I love Al Green & Marvin Gaye too. I'm very much an old school soul classic, but I do love my R&B and modern stuff as well. I love this singer called NAO, she's just incredible & I love everything she does, Jessie Ware too. They cross that soul-pop genre so well and have that really nice combination of electronic and soul.
I think my biggest inspiration in recent years - especially with my original music - is a band called The Teskey Brothers. They're an Australian band that are quite young, but they sound like you're listening to old gospel singers from the 60s. The moment I discovered them I was so moved to write, so they've inspired a lot of what I do recently. It was funny, they came up on Spotify on my way to work in Brighton, and within ten minutes of hearing them I bought tickets to their show straight away. I saw them just before lockdown in January last year, and I honestly think they're the best band that I've ever seen live; they're out of this world.
How did you start in music?:
I've got really early memories of music being important in my life. There was always music in my household growing up, lots of disco classics like Sister Sledge & George Benson. I must've been about five or six and a neighbour across the road gave us a piano that ended up living in our hall. I remember my mum coming in and watching me with a bit of amazement as I taught myself to play ‘Do-Re-Mi' from the Sound of Music.
From that point I did a lot of dancing, I went to a dance school and was put into song and dance competitions. When I got to 11, I auditioned for a performing arts school in London and got a scholarship to go there. So, at age 11 I packed my bags and became a boarder - from there the whole of my life was filled with music and dance. I had an injury at 14 that made me switch from dancing towards musical theatre & drama. I was in some indie rock bands with friends when I was a teenager, and when I came to being 18 and leaving school, the path in my head was just that I wanted to be a pop star - it doesn't quite happen like that!
Even though I didn't become a pop star, I do like to think that my musical career has paralleled that in other ways. At 20 years old, I won a TV show called ‘This Is My Moment,' which was hosted by Mel B. It was one of those random, by chance things that I entered, and I came out a winner which threw me from the karaoke competitions into the live arena. I went out, performed on my own, signed up to agencies and eventually got into a band, and it all snowballed from there. The last 20 years have just been a ricochet effect of all that, really.
When I was on the show back in the day, there was no YouTube, no iPlayer, no platform to store those memories. Because of that, it almost felt like I became famous overnight as there were millions watching it the moment it was on TV, it was like nothing else. It was before the X Factor, before BGT, kind of the first thing of its type. The local news caught on that a local girl was off doing something like that, and it felt like the whole city got behind me in support; I feel like Portsmouth really does have that sort of spirit. From that moment everywhere I went I had people coming up to me on the street - even to this day I have older people stopping me and saying "I remember you from all those years ago!"
Being on TV again 20 years later with ‘I Can See Your Voice' felt very full circle. It was very different because it was all over YouTube, people were tweeting about it and even making TikTok videos out of it - it was crazy. When you're in this industry they do prepare you for the fact that not everybody will like you and that people can be horrible online and want to dampen your spirits. Thankfully, all the feedback I got was so lovely! Like I said, the Pompey spirit is strong, so when they get behind you they really do get behind you.
How would you describe Portsmouth's music scene?:
The Portsmouth music scene is fiercely strong and very protective. Because I work in Brighton and train musicians there, I get to see their side of things too, as well as a lot of work in London and all across the world. There is something really special and really protective about Portsmouth - which is why I think you can often find yourself not ever branching out from here. There's just so much music; as a city we're so cultural and so creative, and there are so many opportunities to get heard and seen. It's something you don't find in many other places; it can be nearly impossible to break through in other cities. It's also nice because there's a lot of respect in the scene. There's always going to be people that don't favour you, but the one thing I've learned is that you should treat every single person you come into contact with how you'd want them to treat you. It's cliché but it really is true, a bad attitude doesn't get you anywhere. Portsmouth is just a great example of everyone supporting one another, and that's how it should be.
I ended up doing a lot of work away from Portsmouth for a long time, but I feel like in the last couple of years I wanted to come back and do much more in my hometown. I'd be away for a long time doing weddings, gigs & functions all over, but it just feels right to be back home. It's just that feeling - we'd drive for hours to play these amazing gigs, but as soon as we get back on the A3 through Petersfield and are suddenly back on Albert Road, it just always feels like home.
What are you most proud of in your music career so far?:
I've been lucky to have some really nice milestones that fill me with so much pride. Me and my sister Leonie were backing vocalists for Boy George; we were able to sing on his album and that turned into doing a promotional tour. I also did a track with Eva Cassidy, and I've got the gold disc on my wall over there from that. Those moments have been so incredible, me and my sister just sit back and look at eachother and wonder how we got here and when somebody is going to tell us to leave!
There are also two other things that make me super proud. One is the Urban Vocal Group, which is the big, free-access music charity that I run here in Portsmouth. It's been going for over 12 years now, we started with just 8 young people and now we have over 100 members. The best part about that is seeing the changes people go through; from when they're young and insecure and lacking in confidence, to being a part of something and offering them opportunities like performing on the Victorious stage. It just transforms their whole persona and really takes them places. It's so important to me because it's all done through the music - it's not a programme or anything behavioural, it's just asking people to give in to the music and let it do its thing, and it changes people's lives. The other thing is the fact that all my family are singers and are all in bands together. My son is now one of the singers in my band and a percussionist too, and it just feels like a really strong family affair when it comes to music. When I see photographs of us stood next to one another it just feels really cool - maybe not for him, but definitely for me!
What's on the horizon?:
We've got lots of gigs booked - they were literally booked the second the Government announced the roadmap! It's a lot of local stuff; I'm really looking forward to playing the Guildhall later this year, and just taking the soul show that I've created to a bigger platform. With my original music, I've already released two singles this year, and have got three more lined up before releasing my album at the end of the year. There's a lot going on: lots of bands, lots of gigs, lots of music. Also, as a vocal coach, I've recently started a new mentoring programme and have just seen my first wave of students go through it and come out the other side as established artists. It's so nice to partner my love of teaching with the music. Those are the main things really, I'm concentrating on getting original music out and taking other people through it too.
To keep up to date with Amba, follow her on Instagram here. Amba's music is available to stream on all services, including Spotify below.