"It's Too Late" gives us an insight into Mike Skinner's soppy and romantic side. While The Streets's debut album Original Pirate Material came to be defined by its sharp observations of city life, the simple break-up song at the heart of the record sees Skinner admit bashfully that he's a bad boyfriend. He's left crestfallen when his girl decides enough is enough and leaves.
British backing singer and vocalist Jackie Rawe provides the female voice on "It's Too Late." She adds another perspective to the song and lays out in simple terms why Skinner is unreliable when she sings, "If I ever needed you, would you be there?"
Speaking over the phone in early March ahead of the album's 15 year anniversary, Rawe remembered the early recording sessions with Skinner and the challenges of recording with a unique British MC when the other names on her C.V. included A-List pop stars like Celine Dion and Elton John.
How did you come to be involved in the making of Original Pirate Material?
I was living in Surrey. I had my son in 1993, so he'd have been at school. I was working with a couple of producers at the time called Bump & Grind. I recorded backing vocals for people like [U.K. pop artists] Honeyz, Michelle Gayle, Louise Redknapp. I was also making my own solo album. There was an office next to [Bump & Grind] and the guy in that office knew Mike [Skinner]. This guy had heard me sing loads of times and knew Mike was looking for a singer. It was a word-of-mouth thing.
What were those early recording sessions like?
We recorded in his bedroom. When I first met him he had a really bad hangover and the room stank of cigarettes. There was an ashtray full of cigarette butts on his bedside table and I had to sing in the wardrobe. He had a wardrobe set up in the alcove to get a muted vocal sound.
What was your impression of Mike?
He was very down to earth. The session was very basic but he got a great vocal sound out of it. I've done sessions for pop singers, people like Elton John and Celine Dion, and the phrasing on those songs is pretty standard. With Mike though, his phrasing is very different. We had to record the song a line at a time. It's difficult when it's not a natural phrasing.
Can you tell me a little more about recording the song one line at a time?
It's all about the meter of his phrasing. You or I might say, "The black cat sat on the mat." Mike, though, would say [adopts Mike Skinner style cadence] "The black. Cat. Sat on. The mat." "His phrasing isn't standard so I couldn't predict it. There's no way I'd be able to remember five lines exactly as he says them. You find ways around it. I've done it with other artists, but it's not really a normal thing.
What are the challenges of recording in that very British voice?
Well, you say British but it wasn't posh. When I think of British I think of being well-spoken but I'm an east end girl and I think of the song as being more "street," if you like. I can do that pronunciation though, even if it's not normally what you'd do on a typical pop record.
“I sang on three Streets albums. I recorded ‘Blinded By The Lights’ in a toilet.”
Your name doesn't appear as a featured artist on the song. Is that something that has ever bothered you?
There was no discussion about that at all, possibly because I was booked as a session singer. I didn't have a record label or even a manager, so maybe it was decided it wasn't necessary to include my name as a featured artist. It would have been nice, but it never came up. It's also not actually a featured part. I'm singing with Mike. When I sang on the next album [Jackie also sang on A Grand Don't Come For Free single "Blinded By The Lights" in 2004] my voice was on its own.
You mentioned "Blinded By The Lights" there. What else did you go on to record with The Streets?
I sang on three Streets albums. Mike set up a studio near [west London's] Hammersmith that was literally a concrete building with one room with a toilet. The vocal booth was in the toilet, which they'd soundproofed. So I recorded "Blinded By The Lights" in a toilet. I went on and recorded for a load of songs on [2006's] The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living. I'm on "Prangin' Out" and a few others. We also recorded an Elton John cover for the BBC.
You mentioned your son earlier. What does he make of his mum being on these iconic records?
It's very cool. He's into drum’n’bass and there are some mixes of "Blinded By The Lights" in that style that he can play and say, "That's my mum."
Why do you think Original Pirate Material has endured in the way it has?
Because it's so unique. It wasn't like anything around at the time and it still isn't. I'd put it alongside any Kate Bush or David Bowie record as albums that stand the test of time.