There can’t be many people who can say Gary Barlow cancelled a Take That tour to support them on stage but Leeds’s very own Joanne Heselden-Edwards is one. Interviews by Neil Hudson
Joanne Heselden-Edwards always wanted to sing on stage. From a young age, the 47-year-old mother-of-one harboured a desire to grab the mic and let rip. If the name rings a bell, that’s because she’s the daughter of one of Leeds’s most famous sons, the late Jimi Heselden, the former miner who invented the ‘Bastion’ blast wall and who founded Hesco Bastion. He died in 2010 in a tragic accident aged just 62 after giving millions to charity and that philanthropic streak runs through Joanne too.
It was a chance meeting with music producer Eliot Kennedy, a man whose reputation goes before him having worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, penning songs for the likes of Take That, Bryan Adams, The Spice Girls and Aretha Franklin, among others, which saw Joanne’s dreams become reality.
“I’d always wanted to sing, from a young age,” recalls the former sandwich shop owner (she ran Jo’s Tuckaway near The Adelphi pub with her mother, Pauline until about 13 years ago). “I remember being on a trip away in Blackpool with the girls. I was 16 and we were singing and I just belted out Shout by Lulu and everyone was like ‘Where did that come from!?’
“I can remember going round to my grandparents’ house when I was young and there was always an old musical on with Doris Day or Judy Garland, they had one of those old gramophones, so it’s something I’ve known from a young age.
“When my dad was alive, we would go out on Wednesday nights to The Woodman in Oulton, near Temple Newsam, for a drink and a bite to eat and I would sing on the karaoke. He always urged me to do something with it at the time, to go on the X-Factor or something like that but I never liked the sob stories that came with it.
“I think he would be proud of me now.”
It was Joanne’s brother, Jason, who inadvertently helped her realise her dream after he attended an ice hockey match in Sheffield and got talking to Eliot Kennedy, who is Steelers fan. It was the start of a remarkable relationship and one which has now bourne two albums.
Eliot explains how the partnership came about: “I remember thinking this is not what I would normally do with a pop artists but sometimes you have to do what feels right and honest and help someone achieve her dream. It has been a wonderful journey, watching her develop, it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable the experience. You forget that sometimes in this business - it can be quite cynical at times because you are working with artists who want to be famous, so sometimes you lose that romance of someone loving achieving a dream. From my point of view it has been bs joy.
“I got beautiful message from her just saying thank you for helping me achieve my dream and for me that’s enough.”
Their first album together, Hidden Wounds, which Joanne performed in the Vulcan hanger at Doncaster Airport, was solely for charity and raised over £60,000 for Help the Heroes, and that’s when Gary Barlow became involved.
Eliot says: “I worked with Gary for years and in my line of work I know a lot of people in the industry. I’d asked him to do other things in the past and he was unable to help but when I explained the story and what was going on, he agreed to come and support Joanne. He was due to go to Germany on a tour with Take That but they cancelled it so Gary could do this instead.”
Joanne was over the moon: “Gary Barlow supported me at the Doncaster event, he came on for us. A lot of people don’t believe it when I tell them. Maybe one day he will let me repay the favour. He was lovely. He made a big fuss of my daughter [Jessica-Lilly, now nine].”
But rather than getting it out of her system, Joanne now has the bug for writing and contacted Eliot to see if he would be interested in producing a second album, this time with mostly original material. To her joy, he jumped a the chance.
“I was so pleased by that,” reflects Joanne, “because he doesn’t just work with anybody. I’ve never done anything like this before so it was a massive boost to my confidence. I enjoyed the whole process.”
That process involved some serious introspection on her part, not only about her father but her past in general. Having grown up in Garforth, she had always wanted to work with children with special needs but the death of her younger brother, James, when she was 16 saw her move in another direction. “He was just 11 when he died, he had cerebral palsy and epilepsy. I’d always wanted to work with children with special needs but I couldn’t do it, so I went into elderly care. I was an auxiliary nurse in a hospital for a while and I ran the sandwich shop with mum for five or six years.”
Aptly, the second album is titled My Journey, a lyric taken from one of the new songs, Look At Me Now, an anthem for anyone who has ever been told they won’t make it. “It’s not about saying ‘told you so’ to the people who said you wouldn’t make it, it’s more of a celebration and it came from the feeling I got when I was on stage in Doncaster. I was a bundle of nerves before that but when I got up there, they all vanished.”
One of the other tracks on the album is called Jimmy Boy, an insightful ode to her late father, who would have turned 70 this year.
Eliot says: “Jimmy Boy is the song she always wanted to write, the things she always wanted to say. The reason I got involved with her in first place was because I loved how honest and down to earth she was, how honest and sincere she was about her dad. I lost my dad recently, so I can relate to that, I understand that feeling.
“It has taken us about a year on and off. Unlike the last album, which was all covers, I wanted to make sure she really understood the process, of getting to the core of what she wanted to say, it had to come from her. So, she was involved in the writing process right from day one, it took longer but she was in tears sometimes, reliving things from her life. We all have a story and she has had the opportunity to share her’s. Now she has the bug and wants to write more.”
Joanne Heselden-Edwards grew up in Halton and attended Garforth Comprehensive, after which she had a number of jobs, including working with elderly people, as an auxiliary nurse and running a sandwich shop. When her later father, Jimi’s invention of the Bastion blast wall first took off, she even worked in his factory, pulling 13-hour shifts.
Jimi Heselden worked as a minor but was made redundant in his 20s, after which he set up a sandblasting company called Bright Luck. His break came after he decided to come up with a solution to prevent a cottage they had in Skipsea from corroding into the sea. His invention was the birth of the ‘blast wall’, which was later taken up by the Ministry of Defence.
The Bastion blast wall was so successful that Camp Bastion in Afghanistan is named after it.
Music producer Eliot Kennedy recalls: “I remember going to Afghanistan with Gary Barlow to do a concert to entertain the troops and one of the soldiers came up to us and said ‘You’re a Yorkshireman’ and that the blast walls were invented by a Yorkshireman.”
Joanne’s second album, My Journey, will be launched at The Foundry Studios, Sheffield on September 20 and is out on itunes from September 21.