By the early ‘90s Mike Pickering was already a veteran of the ‘Madchester’ Manchester music scene. He had been in two groups during the ‘80s - Quando Quango and T-Coy, signed artists such as James and the Happy Mondays to Factory Records and was a DJ at the legendary Hacienda nightclub. However, he had become disillusioned with the club scene.
“I’d been doing a lot of underground stuff and remixes and I was totally sick of it. Then I started writing songs with verses and choruses and hooks which I never really thought I could do”.
He was introduced to Londoner Paul Heard, who knew Mike’s manager from a wind-surfing holiday, and they began writing together. Paul had grown up with gospel music and played the organ at the Pentecostal church where his father was the Pastor. He had worked with and co-produced the band Working Week, played bass for two years in the group Orange Juice and also had his own band Ace Of Clubs.
Mike’s initial idea was to head a band with Paul and create a loose collective of musicians using a variety of different singers. One of these singers was Heather Small, a shy girl from a West London council estate and a fan of gospel, soul, reggae and blues music, who they had heard fronting the band Hot!House.
“We weren’t going anywhere (Hot!House) and I was originally asked to do two songs. The first time I met Mike I thought he had a real sense of fun. He was witty and charming so I jumped at the chance of working with him. I’m not very extrovert and he and Paul made me feel very safe and comfortable.”
Heather fitted so perfectly that it became immediately apparent that she had to become a permanent member of one of ‘Mike’s People’.
“I saw Hot!House support Barry White at the Royal Albert Hall and Heather just looked at the floor all the time but I was like, what a fantastic voice. I wanted to work with her, but she was a much rougher diamond then. She said she had only ever sung ballads before. She’d never done an up-tempo number and it gave a totally different texture to her voice. I wrote Colour My Life and How Can I Love you More? specifically for her. That was the start of M People. It was like a loose collective at the beginning, like a Soul II Soul kind of thing. Yeah! Mike's People. But straight away, Me, Paul and Heather became really close; you could just tell it was working.”