In 1988, singer Yazz stormed the charts worldwide with her popular dance anthem ‘The Only Way is Up’. It hit the number one slot in the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium, and made number two in the USA, Australia, and Switzerland.
‘The Only Way is Up‘ was the second of Yazz’s three top ten hits in 1988. Earlier in the year ‘Doctorin’ the House’ (with Coldcut) reached number six and before the year was out ‘Stand Up for Your Love Rights’ got to number two. In all, Yazz had a total of 13 chart singles between 1988 and 1998. Her 1988 debut album ‘Wanted’ reached number three in the UK being certified double platinum with sales of over 600,000.
Early Life in England
Yasmin ‘Yazz’ Evans was born in Shepherd’s Bush, London. As a teenager she excelled at sport and became a member of the England under-19’s volleyball team.
”I was born and educated in West London, Shepherds Bush. My dear father was West Indian Jamaican and my mother English. They met and married in the UK during the middle ’50s against much racial tension and family difficulties. They had three children, myself, my sister and my brother. I was the last! We were poor but lived simply and happily. Music was an integral part of our home, my father introducing me to some of music’s greatest singers and writers – Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dionne Warwick, Brook Benton, Glen Campbell – he played country, jazz, soul, blues, reggae and gospel. We were the proud owners of a sideboard that contained a long player system – they were very expensive at the time. We treasured it!
Yazz remembers when her Dad sat her down and said, “Child, listen to this.” He played her ‘Walk On By’ by Dionne Warwick. He said, “This was written by two of the world’s greatest songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Never forget this’” She never did forget and 20 years later she was amazed to be on stage performing alongside Dionne Warwick at the Royal Albert Hall, celebrating the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.
After leaving school, Yazz started to edge her way into the music business.
“I would work in the day and got a job in a nightclub in Soho at night. That changed my whole life – I grew into the very real and dark world of drugs, guns and pimps. I thank God for his protection as I got into some really dire situations. Then I got into my first band. I got into my first recording deal with a band called The Biz. We traipsed up and down the country doing gigs in bars…”
After working with The Biz, she sang the lead vocal on Coldcut’s top ten single ‘Doctorin’ the House,’ which became their biggest hit. Yazz then decided she would work best as a solo artist. Her effervescent smile and boundless energy captivated the punters and catapulted her next single ‘The Only Way is Up’ to number one in six countries.
It seemed that the world was at her feet and she remained a popular performer for the next decade.
“Success is measured in the world in such a sad way – what you’ve done, what you own, what you look like, how you speak, what you wear, all outward conditions and all temporary. I was completely and inextricably caught. I felt like a chased rabbit! Loving the music, the song, and desiring to become a better artist I sang my heart out. But inside I was running. I was struggling desperately with all the attention on and off stage, finding myself around lawyers and men in suits quite unable to understand their speak with contracts formed and stylists employed. I remember being in one meeting being sold the idea that wearing what looked like a nightie would sell loads more records than jeans! It was like a circus.”
Marriage Problems, Alcohol, and Religion
Success took its toll on the young singer, as it has on countless others. As Yazz began to reevaluate her career and pondered the future, she became a heavy drinker. As she moved from the 1980’s to the 1990’s life did not get better as she had hoped, rather it got worse.
“I learnt to wear a smile as I realised people wanted me to be happy because I was famous and it helped me move around places without having to confess that I was dying inside, lonely and lost. My marriage was failing and I felt so very ashamed. I believed in marriage but had no concept of what it really meant to be married. I was gutted.”
Yazz began to research various religions. She thought that perhaps one of them would have the answers she needed.
“And so began the search for deeper meaning. The music business leans towards the Eastern philosophies plus the esoteric. I went to every seminar going. I went with questions like ‘Why is this happening? Why am I here? Does anyone care?’ I saw that everyone was searching for answers and I learnt personally that behind fame’s game and success’s trophies, behind all the decadence, rich or poor there is the same cry going on inside everyone – ‘Is there anyone who really loves me, who will love me when I’m not in control, hold me and give me a sense of belonging and complete me?’ I read everything from Buddhism to gurus to the Koran and the New Age umbrella of Eastern ideologies. But I judged Christianity by two visits as a child to a Baptist church. I chose to place my preconceived ideas upon it and said God isn’t there. How poor and weak I was.”
But things changed in 1996. Having previously dismissed Christianity because she had visited a church in her childhood which was more of a religious club than a loving family, Yazz recalls something supernatural that happened during a time of illness and depression,
“After a breakdown and agoraphobia I found myself in bed at home and asked my mother for a Bible. She said we had one and that night I opened it and read. I don’t know what I read and certainly I didn’t understand it. But I remember peace falling over me like a river, a warmth flowed through me, a sense of belonging. I remember laying down and placing the book aside. I wanted nothing but the warmth of the sensation to stay forever! I knew I had experienced what I had been looking for, a divine experience had occurred and it was something to do with the author of that book.”
Yazz decided to go to church. She found a local church which looked ok, but after the service she reflected that nobody had spoken to her. The atmosphere was cold, not warm and inviting. She left the church disappointed and was on her way home when something happened, a ‘divine appointment’ where she unexpectedly met an old friend from when she was in the music scene.
“I turned a corner and met Bonnie, an old friend who used to bleach my hair, a woman of the booze, drugs and men scene. I looked at her and saw another person, not physically so much as internally – her eyes held a glow that was compelling. Again I had that sense of safety and peace just standing in front of her. I had no idea who the Holy Spirit was at that time. During coffee together I asked Bonnie what had changed her life, for she was changed. She explained to me that she had placed her life by faith into the life of Jesus Christ and that she was a believer.
Bonnie persuaded Yazz to visit her church. She found it to be very different from the last one. The message was ‘life’ and there was certainly life in the congregation.
I couldn’t believe it! Bonnie took me to her church that weekend and there I found my Lord and Saviour!”
New Beginnings in Music.
Her new-found faith eventually led Yazz back to the studio and in 2008 she recorded her first Christian album, ‘Running Back to You.’ The album charted her spiritual journey and her new-found Christian faith. Speaking of the title track ‘Running Back’ she says,
“I wanted to capture the listener’s mind to see themselves and the Father running into each other’s arms. It worked really well. I wept when I heard it all done and mixed. I love that track and it’s really moving people’s hearts in churches and conferences. The lyric is inspired by the Prodigal Son story. I kinda see that as my story. It broke open my heart to the Father’s heart for the lost.”
In August 2009, she performed with a full band on stage for the first time in many years. Then in October 2010, she performed again with a full band at the Huddersfield Christian Fellowship in Yorkshire. Yazz recorded a second Christian album, ‘This is Love’, in 2011.
Now based in Spain, Yazz is an active member of the Calahonda Baptist Church. She works with a Christian charity helping drug addicts and alcoholics. She also returns to the UK from time to time to perform and to share her faith at Christian outreach events.
Story by Ralph Burden
photo: ‘Running Back to You’ album cover