Interview by Ceri Wheeldon
I had the opportunity to chat to the Three Degrees about their long career in the music industry ahead of their scheduled UK tour.
What motivates you to keep performing?
Helen: Overall love for what we do, I like performing I like the smiles we put on people faces and the smiles they put on our faces. I am sure there are other things that we could do but would they make us as happy as we are now?
Freddie: I love music and audiences. I always had a very strong passion for music and to sing on stage and there’s nothing else I would rather do. And what is wonderful is that I can see the positive effect if has on other people.
Valerie: What else would I do!
For Valerie and Helen, when you initially joined the group back in the 60s, did you ever envisage still performing today?
Helen and Valerie: yes and no – yes as we intended to do this as a career but nowhere it is today, you have to think of all the things we done over the years and what we accomplished over the years and you cannot imagine that it would go this long. We had no idea it would last that long but it was something that when we started we wanted to do for life.
How much do you think the industry has changed for female bands over the decades?
Helen: there aren’t any, very few. When we came out there were a few that you could name and now they are very rare. And the ones that started when we started aren’t around anymore.
Valerie: everything changed, each generation has their sound and they contribute that to the music industry. Helen: this is why female bands like destiny’s child or recently fifth harmonies have done well more recently as they were the right bands at the right time but when you hear people acclaiming about their harmonies well that has been done before.
Freddie: artists today are writing a lot of their own songs, so it has changed. Valerie: and with technology is different nowadays you do not have to do into a recording studio you can record and produce from your bedroom and you go online to buy the records so is all an entirely different thing.
Helen: also we sing live, we don’t have backing tracks while I remember going to see few big groups and solo artists recently and I realised they were not only performed to backing tracks but they were performing to tracks with their lead vocals.
What do you attribute the longevity of the Three Degrees to?
Helen: just the love for what we do!
Valerie: the music, our songs are ones that you can sing to your 5 years old and you can take your grandma to our shows. Our music appeals to all ages, we are lucky to have a very wide fan base, the mother tells the daughter and you go through generations.
Freddie: a fan we met in Hollaind just showed us the album cover he got when he was 12! It is amazing to meet adults who were children and bought the three degrees albums.
How have you managed the changes in your line up? How much pressure is there on the newest member?
Freddie: It is a lot of pressure. You have to come in and you have to become as much as the three degrees are as possible. I have worked with many other groups and you have to become how they are and you cannot be you but I am also a solo performer so is not easy to step in and be able to blend, is a lot of work from learning the choreographies to harmonies.
Valerie: it is difficult to manage the changes, the difficult one was the first big change which involved one of our oldest members and we had to find someone who could gel and replace a specific vocal range Freddie already had the experiences, she made the transition a lot easier.
Helen: we had people trying and come in and then say, ‘I’ll see you until the end of this then I am out’, they would do a tour and it would be too much for them and didn’t want to continue. Some were trying to use a step to gp up the ladder as solo artists.
Freddie: I always seen The Degrees as female version of the temptations a lot of choreographies and vocals, and we are talking of a lot of work!
Valerie: when we started in the 60s no other female group had choreographies and that is what set up apart from anyone else.
How have fans responded to the changes?
Helen: they been supporting, they don’t always like the changes but they still support us. I got an email from one of our oldest fans who said he liked Freddie very much and that says a lot as before we had fans very vocal about not liking the newest members.
What have been your career highlights?
All of them: Performing with Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, we were the only Americans invited to the wedding except Nancy Regan. Performing at the royal albert hall with the royal philharmonic orchestra
Do you follow any specific fitness/health regimes to enable you to keep performing?
Helen: they are walkers I am not so much.
Valerie: we also try to eat healthy when we can.
Helen: doesn’t mean we do not have desserts!
Valerie: Freddie likes to have desserts first.
Do you follow any specific skincare/beauty regimes?
Valerie: we have our favourite products we like to use.
Helen: I don’t go through regimes.
Valerie: we use what works for our faces.
Valerie: there is this procedure called cool sculpting, we always teasing each other’s that we went to make an appointment and got it!
How have your outlooks on life changed with maturity?
Helen: One of my favourite saying is that we have earned the right, at this stage in my life I hope I am still capable to perform and take care of myself at 100 years ago but at this stage when you became a seasoned individual you stop caring about what people think, we of course we care as we work as entertainers but we are not worried about it all the times.
Valerie: In the 70s they told us they were gonna airbrush the album cover photo, as you could see our underwear through the outfit but they didn’t, we only had one risqué picture in our career, we weren’t in control, we were told what to do but now we don’t need to.
Which are your personal favourite songs?
Helen: One of my favourites, I have a couple really but one which is from Maxwell whenever, wherever, whatever.
Valerie: I have many, It depends which mood I am and what I am going through
Freddie: amazing grace I love gospel, I will survive as that can apply to any situation
40 Years Of Disco 2 tour 2019 featuring Village People, The Trammps, Imagination feat. Leee John, The Gibson Brothers, The Three Degrees, The Real Thing and Odyssey takes in 4 arena dates starting on 21ST March 2019. To buy tickets, please go to http://www.tdpromo.com/40-years-of-disco-2/