M People's namesake and driving force, vocalist and saxophonist Mike Pickering, was DJ at New Order's Hacienda Club when he and keyboardist and programmer Paul Heard found former Hot!House singer Heather Small. She had sung with Orange Juice and Working Week, while Pickering also worked at Factory- he is credited with signing Happy Mondays and James.

The 1992 debut, Northern Soul, earned them a BRIT award for Best Dance Band. Once established as powerful live performers, their Elegant Slumming reached UK No.2 in 1993 and won the Mercury Music Prize over strong competition from Blur and Pulp. Their Bizarre Fruit (1994) reached UK No.4 and remained on the chart for two and a half years. Success was boosted by a UK TV ad featuring the hit 'Search For A Hero'.

Their arena-filling position was strengthened by Bizarre Fruit II (1995), and was consolidated by the platinum Fresco (1997).

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