IN amongst the post punk and new romantic movement of the 80s one woman stood out in more ways than one.
With her skyscraper beehive hairdo, glamorous look, catchy pop tunes and fully choreographed 12 piece band The Wilsations, Mari Wilson was a breath of fresh air and a welcome distraction from the rest of the decade that fashion and taste forgot.
Dubbed the Neasden Queen of Soul, it wasn’t long before she had notched up a succession of hit singles of which the biggest and most well known was Just What I’ve Always Wanted.
But just when things were getting interesting, she ditched her band and the beehive, left pop behind and changed direction with a move to jazz and more intimate shows.
However, pop music was in her blood and in 2000 she was chosen to play Dusty Springfield in the hugely successful UK tour of “Dusty – The Musical”.
Stints in musical theatre followed as did a succession of albums and then in 2014 she launched her show Mari Sings Dusty.
Now she’s back again with her Ready Steady Girls Tour which comes to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Thursday and features songs that influenced her as she was growing up.
They include interpretations of iconic classics by Dusty Springfield, Petula Clarke, Cilla Black and Sandi Shaw and Mari says it represents a rather personal and emotional journey through life.
“I played Dusty in a musical in 2000 and it was amazing,” she tells me. “Dusty is iconic and I grew up listening to her so I didn’t want it to be a tribute act or an impersonation, rather my interpretations of her songs.
“I loved doing it but one of the problems I found was that there were a lot of ballads and trying to find songs I wanted to sing was difficult. When you do a gig you need light and shade.
“So a friend of mine said why not do songs from all the girls and I realised it was a really good idea – so here I am!”
By looking through the back catalogues of all these “fabulous” women, Mari said she had much more choice in terms of tempo and style.
It has also led to her recording some of the songs for an as yet untitled album which she hopes to release in September.
“It’s been fabulous,” she says. “By having all these different songs to choose from it’s become a better show and will be a better album and I’m really pleased with it.
“These songs are timeless but some are quite challenging – for example we do a version of White Horses which is very different and an up tempo version of Can I Get A Witness. Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa is unrecognisable – it’s a bit of a Marmite moment,” she laughs.
“Some of them are just very different simply because I don’t have a full band with me but we do have beats and loops and some are very poppy. Some are quite demanding vocally but they are all incredible.
“I do have favourites,” she adds. “I love Burt Bacharach’s The Look Of Love as it’s like a standard and I’ve made it very sensual. Then there’s Island Of Dreams which Dusty sang with the Springfields. They are all classics though and I love them all.”
Although Mari has never collaborated with any of the ladies whose songs she will be singing, she does admit she would like to have done.
“It would have been amazing to do so when they were younger,” she says. “Dusty was the one in particular.
“I would also love to have worked with Amy Winehouse. She was amazing. I loved her singing and think she was a genius. Fame is a terrible thing yet everyone seems to want it.
“I was never that famous and only had about three years when it was quite intense.”
But it was that intensity that led Mari to quit pop for a while.
“I walked away from the whole pop thing in 1986,” she says. “I was surrounded by people asking me to do different things. One wanted me to be like Cilla and be on TV but I only wanted to be a great singer.”
She also got rid of the hairdo which she had cultivated since before she was well known.
“Oh my goodness it was expensive!” she laughs. “The maintenance was huge and it stank as well! I was sponsored by the hair spray company Bristows at one point but in the end I got tired of it and had to let it go.”
Thankfully she didn’t quit pop for long and given she always wanted to be on stage it was no surprise to see her return.
“When I was a kid my older brother and sister and I used to put on shows for my parents,” she remembers. “We had a space in the corner of the living room and my brother would be Al Jolson and my sister and I would sing our party piece Sugar In The Morning.
“My mum had a beautiful voice too and could have been an actress or a singer – in fact we could have been the Von Traps of Neasden,” she laughs.
“There was a lot of music in the house as I was growing up which was fantastic and being a singer was the only thing I wanted to do.”
And now she’s preparing to take to the stage at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a venue she says she loves.
“I’m really excited about the gig because I’ve never done a full set there before,” she says. “It’s a great venue, lovely and intimate with a fantastic atmosphere and I know the audience will be up for it. It’s going to be great.”
And she promises that as well as the songs from “the girls” she will be singing the one that made her famous – Just What I Always Wanted – though sadly without the Wilsations and the hair.
“People do still want to hear it,” she says warmly. “It’s a great song and it brings back great memories so it will definitely be on the set list!”
Mari Wilson will be at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern on Thursday June 18. Call the box office on 0207 820 1222 for tickets.