An authentic helping of funk and sweet-soul with a touch of Afrobeat, ‘Wishes & Wants’ sees London diva Shirley Davis giving it her all, with vocals carrying scorned fury, heartfelt longing and joyous celebration. Davis’ vocal reach, echoes the greats of soul music such as Marva Whitney – whom Davis has sung backup vocals for – and Gladys Knight, as well as contemporary artists such as Macy Gray and Sharon Jones – the latter a friend and mentor to Davis and a pivotal figure in her incredible tale.
The album was written by Davis in tandem with the Silverbacks musical director and lead guitarist Eduardo Martínez, plus song-writer Marc Ibarz, and it’s a welcome new addition to the lineage of classic soul albums defined by the struggle of a black woman in life, love and loss. Says Davis “We write together – they understand my life story and all I’ve been through”.
Davis was born in 1974 to Jamaican parents in northwest London – in the shadow of concert venue Wembley Arena, a center of music superstardom that was to have a defining effect on her life. Aged just 12 she started her “best job ever” selling programs and tee-shirts at concerts given by Prince, Michael and Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and most memorably for her, Stevie Wonder, “My biggest inspiration”.
At the age of just fifteen Davis fell in love, marrying a year later and subsequently moving to the Australian outback where her new husband was from. Life was not easy for this young, black Londoner: “I felt like an alien”. At the age of 20 she had a daughter and by 23 she was divorced, moving to Melbourne, a single mother in a foreign land: “I didn’t know who I was”. A friend suggested she start singing and within weeks of moving to Melbourne she landed herself a gig as lead vocalist for a local soul and funk band: “when I started singing I found myself – it was a life-line”.
Encouraged to take formal singing classes, studying jazz, blues and other black music styles Davis soon became a fixture on Melbourne’s local soul and funk scene performing with various outfits such as Deep Street Soul and the acclaimed Grand Wazoo – Australia’s premier retro soul and funk outfit. This led to Davis becoming the go-to-backing vocalist for soul royalty such as Wilson Pickett, Marva Whitney and Lee Fields – as well as contemporary soul bands such as Osaka Monaurail – when they toured Australia.
In 2005 Australian pop-dance outfit Deepface enlisted Davis as vocalist – they eventually signed to Warner Music, scored a few chart hits and regularly performed to crowds over 30,000 – yet Davis’s most important musical experience was still to come. In the crowd at a Sharon Jones show in Melbourne in 2007 she was plucked out of the crowd by Jones to sing with her – and so began a decade of friendship “She was a mentor to me. She told me I could sing – she encouraged me. She had the biggest impact on my life”.
When Davis’s daughter moved to London in 2011 Davis found herself rudderless and on the spur of the moment quit everything and enlisted as a singer on a cruise ship, sailing the world for three years – until a chance encounter with Jones, her “guiding light’ changed everything. On vacation in Madrid in 2014, she went to see Jones in concert and ended up performing alongside her. In the crowd that night were Alberto “Tuco” Peces and Genesis Candela from Tucxone who were floored by this voice – Davis returned to Australia yet the label tracked her down and invited her to come to Madrid and record an album. Davis jumped at the chance and moved to Madrid later that year. Introduced to the Silverbacks, the connection between them was instant and after weeks of rehearsals, they recorded their debut album ‘Black Rose’ in a few weeks late in 2015. Released to great acclaim in 2016 the album put Davis and her band firmly on the modern soul and funk map – yet with ‘Wishes & Wants’ they take it up a notch.
The album opens with the gritty, righteous funk of ‘Wishes & Wants’ before moving into the red hot soul of ‘Like Fire’. Davis channels her inner Winehouse on the aggrieved soul stomper ‘Treat Me Better’ before turning the tables on the male protagonist in the uptempo funky dancer ‘Kisses’ describing him as someone who is “ugly…. but kisses so good!”. On “Silverbacks theme” Davis lets the band do the talking on a rolling groove where organ, horns, guitar and drums battle it out whilst “Nightlife” is a deliciously bumping slice of heavy Afro-funk and ‘All about Music” is heavenly Southern Soul of the caliber Marva Whitney was famous for.
With ‘Wishes & Wants’ Davis and the Silverbacks keep the torch of funk and soul burning bright as they carve their names into the lineage of contemporary greats. “The new album benefits from our confidence, from our mutual respect and appreciation of each other as musicians and performers. I’m not going to get this sound from any other band in Europe” states Shirley. “This is the only thing I know how to do here, and this is what I believe I will do for the rest of my life. I am meant to be the soul diva of Europe”. The spirit of Sharon Jones lives on…
“Wishes & Wants”
“Treat Me Better”
“All About Music”
“Trouble & Trials”