Talking Music: Mari Wilson Discusses Her Career And Playing Cornbury Festival – Part 2

The 15th Cornbury Festival takes place at the Great Tew Park, over this weekend, July 13-15. 
Among the weekend line-up are Alanis Morissette,  Mavis Staples, Amy MacDonald, Pixie Lott, PP Arnold, UB40, Squeeze, Caro Emerald, Deacon Blue, Jimmy Cliff, Marc Cohn, Andy Fairweather Low,  Danny & the Champions of the World and Mari Wilson and The New Wilsations. 
Yesterday, Andy Howells chatted with Mari Wilson about her early music inspirations and reaching chart success in the early 1980s with the single, Just What I Always Wanted.  

Today, Mari tells Andy Howells about life after chart success, her latest album and playing Cornbury Festival this weekend. 

After your chart success you have still managed to maintain a presence in the music industry. Has that been difficult? 

It’s a weird thing, we made a second album and it was a difficult time.  The recordings weren’t that great, so the record company didn’t want to put it out. 

There were problems with my management and I was been asked “Why don’t you make a hi-energy album?” and I went “No! What am I doing?” I just wanted to be a really good singer. I asked to be released from my record contract, which is really not what people do and for 18 months, I was kind of in litigation and I couldn’t record for anyone else.  

I ended up doing jazz because its more about the performance than the product, it’s not really about releasing records. So, went into that world, worked with some fantastic musicians and played at Ronnie Scott’s, a couple of jazz festivals and jazz clubs everywhere and learned an awful lot more about music.  

I sang lots of different songs and that’s how you get good. I could have carried on and done 80s tours with other acts but I didn’t want to keep singing the songs I recorded in 1982 for the rest of my career. Not that I’m ashamed of them, I’m very proud of them and still do some of them but I want to do new stuff. Whatever field you’re in you want to grow. 

On your recent album Pop Deluxe you featured covers of recordings made originally by Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield. Were these artists you aspired to? 

Yes, definitely Dusty Springfield, I was a massive fan of hers. I played her in Dusty-The Musical many years ago. To be able to sing those songs, (many written by Burt Bacharach, he’s a genius!) and she was a fantastic soul singer. I don’t think we had another one until Amy Winehouse really. 

With Pop Deluxe, we went into the studio and tried to make the songs more contemporary, it’s quite an electronic album. 

You also recorded a version of White Horses (originally recorded by Jacky)? 

It’s such a lovely tune. When I was a kid, my Dad would do shift work and I’d come home from school and he’d be there. We’d sit and do the crossword in the paper, then we’d watch kid’s TV and White Horses would come on. I never remember what happened in it, but I always remember the theme tune and I always wanted to record it.  

I sent a YouTube link to my guitarist, James Nisbet and said “You’re much younger than me, you won’t know this tune, but we’re going to be doing it, so perhaps you could learn it.” He wrote back, “Well I do know it, because my Dad (Ben Nisbet) wrote the lyrics to it!” It’s a lovely song, it’s like escapism

Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15.Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15.

Singing star, Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on July 15.

So, looking forward, are there any new recordings to come? 

I’m in the process of what I want to do next at the moment. I certainly don’t want to do another album of covers. As much as it was fantastic, it’s time to make an original album again. I’d like to do something soul based. That’s more where I started really. 

Do you have any outstanding highlights from your career? 

Paul McCartney introduced me to Michael Jackson! Not a lot of people can say that sentence! That was a pretty fantastic moment. He was lovely and that was just as Thriller was been released, before he became as big as anything in the world. 

There are also moments when you do such a fantastic gig.  It’s a gig, you’ve got to be there.  I’ve never been a fan of live albums and I think you’ve just got to be there, it’s a moment in time. I recently played at Wilton’s Music Hall and that was just one of those nights where I go to bed afterwards and think “Wow! How lucky am I to have just done that?” 

Do you find you are attracting new audiences to your shows? 

Funnily enough there are younger people coming. Some people are in their 20s and their 30s and I think “You are so young and you don’t know me from before! They probably heard my records played by their parents or come across me on YouTube. 

What type of material will you be doing at Cornbury Festival? I imagine you’ll be doing, your 1982 hit Just What I Always Wanted? 

I might, yeah! (Laughs) Of course, I’ll be doing that! Funnily enough I’m just putting a setlist together. Every summer, I do a big London show and we just did it last Friday. We were going to play for an hour and a half and we played for an hour and 45 (minutes) whereas on Sunday I think I’m playing for an hour.   

I’ve got an 8-piece band with backing singers and a horn section and its great. The rest of the year when I’m touring the budget isn’t always there to have a band that size. It was bad enough in the 80s with a 12-piece band – what am I thinking? But is a good show.  

So, there will be a bit of my latest album Pop Deluxe, a bit of the 80s and a few songs that I used to do when I played Ronnie Scott’s in the 90s. I do a version of Got to Get You into My Life and another really obscure song called Mr. Fix-it Man which is really funky. It’s a soul-based set because that’s really my main love, in the more old-fashioned sense. 

Beyond Cornbury Festival, will there be more live dates? 

I’m opening for Leo Sayer at Castle Roc in Chepstow at the end of August and as far as a lot of my own dates are concerned a lot of them will be in the Spring. 

  • Mari Wilson plays Cornbury Festival on Sunday July 15. For more details about Cornbury Festival visit