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Mama Stone's New Protégés

PUBLISHED: 17:41 21 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

Photo by Mike Alsford

Photo by Mike Alsford

The mother of Joss Stone, Devon's famous songstress, has crossed the border into Somerset to help launch new musical careers we discover in the July issue. Behind the brightly coloured frontage of Mama Stone's Academy in Wellington, aspiring singe...

Wendy's soul-singing daughter, Joss Stone, was just 16 when she shot to fame in 2003, hailed as the new Aretha Franklin. Since then Joss has sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, won two BRIT Awards and a Grammy.

Jonathan, who has played drums with many great artists, was Joss's musical director for her worldwide sell-out tour Soul Sessions. Wendy's education in the music industry started just seven years ago when Joss was 14 and she won the BBC television talent show 'Star for a Night' in 2001.

"I used to get a lot of telephone calls from artists and songwriters who wanted to find a way of getting on and were not sure who to ask," says Wendy, who co-wrote Joss's big hit 'You Had Me'. "I was inspired to start Mama Stone's by a dear friend, the producer and singer Betty Wright, who runs a writing school in Miami. Everything we do here at Mama Stone's is aimed at helping young artists to achieve their full potential.

"We have been doing an incredible amount of work on the place since we moved here in February - building the studio and the live music room - and the idea will be to have the caf at the front so people will be drinking coffee downstairs while people are upstairs making music."

Wendy and I are enjoying some early summer sunshine on the roof terrace of Mama Stone's in North Street. She pours the tea and laughs when I ask her where Joss's incredible voice comes from.

"Both sides of the family want to lay claim to this but I'm sure it comes from my side. Great Auntie Dot had a superb voice! I suppose really it's a blend between Richard, Joss's father, who is very good at holding a note, and myself. I have a deep voice, and the two come together in Joss, so we both get the credit.

"Joss was very shy when she was little but would sing at family events. We would say: 'Go on, sing Natural Woman'. She was in the choir and did a couple of solos once they realised she could sing, but she would never push herself forward.

"She won the TV competition and was fortunate enough to be in a position to choose her record label. I went to America with her and we were over there for the best part of a year or so making the album. The rest is history."

Joss, whose real name is Jocelyn Stoker, took the US by storm and has sung with some legendary performers. "I think Joss singing with Elton John for the first time was a massive thing for me because I love him so much, and watching James Brown listening to my daughter with his eyes shut made me terribly proud."

Wendy describes her own introduction to the music business as a baptism of fire. She spent three years travelling around the globe with Joss and knows that life in the industry is not all glamour. "You soon go off the idea of flying, and the best way to travel is on the tour bus, where you can get into your bunk when you're tired. Joss and I had a lot of laughs.

"I've regularly written songs with Joss and there's nothing like people you have never met singing back lyrics that you wrote with someone you are close to. Some young girls stopped outside here the other day singing 'You Had Me' up at the window - that was wonderful!"

"I think Joss singing with Elton John for the first time was a massive thing for me because I love him so much"

Joss's Westcountry roots are often referred to in the press. An American newspaper once described her as coming from the 'English village of Devon'. Now Wendy has decided to hop over the border to Somerset, establishing the academy in Wellington and making a new home for herself in the rural town of Wiveliscombe at the foot of the Brendon Hills.

"Joss has decided to buy the old house in Devon so it's still in the family. But I needed somewhere a little more workable and have a smashing old place which was built in the late 17th century."

Wendy's 19-year-old son Harrison works with her at Mama Stone's, her eldest son, Daniel, lives in Taunton, and 22-year-old Luci is a law student.

Wendy, whose father was in the Royal Navy and spent her early years living in different parts of the country, is very fond of Somerset and the Westcountry. "People have time to smile and wave. They are not so interested in their own lives that they can't be bothered to spend time with someone else.

BY SARAH FORD. PHOTO BY MIKE ALSFORD

For more information about Mama Stone's Academy call 01823 666626 or visit www.mamastones.net.

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