Emeli Sande: The New Role Model.


Every so often you get to hear a new album which you’ll be completely absorbed in. You won’t be able to leave it alone. But last Monday, we had Maverick Sabre’s ‘Lonely Are The Brave’ come out, so surely we’d have to wait a fair bit for another album of that quality, right? Well, a week is a long time in music, I guess.

As this Monday, just one week after Mav’s debut, we’re treated to the incredible Emeli Sande’s – ‘Our Version Of Events’.

With her number 2 single, ‘Heaven’, and the incredible feature on Professor Green’s ‘Read All About It’, Emeli began to attract a lot of attention, which peaked when she was announced as the BRITS Critics Choice Award Winner, following in the footsteps of Ellie Goulding, Florence & The Machine, Jessie J, oh, and Adele!

But if you were more aware, you’ll know that Emeli has been showing her talents for a bit now. Writing for and with, what seems, every fairly successful X-Factor candidate, but also with Wiley, Tinie Tempah, Tinchy Stryder and Wretch 32, plus featuring on great tracks with the likes of Chipmunk (Diamond Rings) and Wiley (Never Be Your Woman) and Tinie Tempah (Let Go). She’s also be described as, the Dark Lord himself, Simon Cowell’s ‘favourite songwriter’! Oh, 1 more then, she’s recently finished touring with none other than Coldplay… Things going well then?

You could possibly be forgiven for thinking the hype may have outdone the talents she has. But, well, you’d be wrong. Because, ‘Our Version Of Events’ showcases, arguably, the best UK talent out there right now. And, well Adele’s still out there isn’t she. I mean, I know that’s a big thing to say, but well, I certainly stand by it.

Kicking off her debut LP, is her number 2 single, that I mentioned earlier – ‘Heaven’. Sublime production which brings out the strong, majestic vocals of Sande. Pitched by Emeli as a confession that she’s changed so much since she was younger – but that it’s because “of everything that comes with living.” Just one of the many examples of how down to earth she is.

Originally, this post was planned as a track-by-track review of ‘Our Version Of Events’, but then I just thought, who’s really going to go out and buy it purely because of a review of mine? you’re going to buy it anyway. So I thought I’d try and show anyone reading, why Emeli Sande is the perfect role-model to aspire for – not even just for becoming a musician, but an all-round person too.

There are a lot of talented musicians. No doubt. But how many would you describe as intelligent? How many would you describe as humble? How many would you actually describe as a ‘nice person’? I certainly can’t think of that many. But after watching a mini documentary on Emeli, entitled, ‘Her Version Of Events’, you realise you can firmly include Emeli Sande in those previous categories.

She’s always shown the musical promise – learning the piano at the age of 10, and writing at 11, but she was once on course to becoming a neurologist – brain surgery for those who don’t recognise! Her link to this can be seen in her second single, ‘Daddy’. “Everyone is essentially addicted to something.” She says, adding, “I think that’s why I loved studying neurology… We’re all flawed in some way.” She also, when speaking to Q Magazine, said, “I’m really fascinated by mental breakdown.”

Despite being just 16, Emeli won Trevor Nelson’s BBC Urban Music Competition – which, fairly obviously, brought in label interest. In the same Q Magazine article, she said, “I’d sit and play to a line of men behind a glass shield talking about where the music should go… I could feel my control slipping.” This is when she chose to follow the science road for a while, but still maintaining the musical side – in playing as a background jazz pianist in Glasgow – for £40 a night! I think it takes a lot of commitment and loyalty to your talents to turn down record label interest. But if, and when, it pays off, it pays off big – as seen with that guy Ed Sheeran!

You could really pin down why Emeli is doing as well as she is now, by her mum’s actions. Obviously Emeli could have reached this stage at some point, but it was her mum who sent off a sample CD over to BBC Radio 1xtra, which eventually found its way through to Naughty Boy – which formed a very strong musical relationship between the two of them – creating ‘Daddy’ on their first session just over 3 years ago. She seemed blown away by his love of music. “I loved how passionate he was… purely about the music!” And it was in 2010, when she finally got a deal with EMI and Virgin.

What I find most incredible about Emeli is her humbleness. She’s speaks so highly of so many highly deserving artists that she’s worked with, especially the already mentioned Naughty Boy and Tinie Tempah… “He was so on point.” It’s something you don’t often see too much nowadays, artists giving other artists proper heartfelt credit and applause.

Despite this not being a track-by-track review, I thought I had to write a bit about my favourite track on the album. ‘Hope’. Obviouslty every track offers so much, in terms of raw emotion expressed through Sande’s brilliantly worked lyrics, which can sum up the most complicated of feelings into one sentence. ‘My Kind Of Love’, ‘Maybe’, ‘River’, and especially ‘Read All About It (Part III) – [below] all showcase this.

But ‘Hope’ really stood out to me – due it’s message.

So many artists can write perfect songs based on various, let’s face it, depressing emotions. Even some of my favourite artists can’t really get the effect Emeli has managed to achieve with this track. ‘Hope’ is the most inspiring, uplifting track I’ve heard in a very long time. You can see the opportunity the London riots have offered musicians, alongside youth unemployment rates, and just the general decline in views of young people, it’s a topic which can create some great music. But Sande has captured that whole picture, but also included other moments of desperation from far away from the UK – “I have a link to Zambia and places with standards of living that are just horrible.” Written with Alicia Keys, on a rainy day in New York just after the aforementioned riots, they came up with the first line: “I hope that the world stops raining, stops turning its back on the young” – she described it as a “prayer”. It’s 3 minutes of beautiful crafted music, inspiring lyrics, soulfully sung vocals with the brilliant production that is a constant throughout the album.

Emeli Sande is intelligent, talented, and just perfectly humble. A proper winning combination in life – not just music. If you don’t get lost in this album, I feel sorry for you.

Enjoy this cover of Blur’s classic, ‘Country House’, from her recent trip to Radio 1’s Live Lounge below. Really is something!

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Professor Green ft. Fink – Read All About It (Part II)


(At one point, I’m pretty sure, this was an exclusive between Q Magazine and my page, which I’m quite liking – and it’s still not available through searches on YouTube yet either!)

This took me completely unaware, and seemingly the majority of people. But I’m doing my little bit to make sure people hear this track. As it is just beautiful, emotional, and just deep. Continuing the same theme as the massive number 1 single, which featured Emeli Sande, this Part II track is a lot more simplistic in its nature – stripped back in essence. Similarly, in production terms, to Pro and Fink’s recent collaboration in the recent album, ‘Spinning Out’.

But this is just something else. As soon as the opening sounds hit you, you know you’re going to be captivated for the next 3 minutes or so, not listening to anything else going on – just focusing on Pro’s thoughtful, considerate, hauntingly deep lyrics, which are supported, almost protected, by Fink’s brilliant laidback chorus – perfectly the opposite of Sande’s version of chorus. Both brilliant, but in very different ways.

(if anyone makes a Eminem ft. Rihanna – Love The Way You Lie [Part 2] comparison, you’re dead to me)

Even if you don’t like rap, or even Professor Green himself, if you’re not moved by this, you’re not human.

Introducing Andrew Balkwill:


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I arrive at the famous O2 Arena way earlier than I’d expected – around 3 hours before the music kicked off. The ease of Monday lunchtime London public traffic helping me out I guess. After the obvious choice of a Nandos, I set up my wi-fi and plugged myself into some music – keeping my nerves down, a little. The cold didn’t help much at all.

I’d been given the opportunity to go to a few days of the December Sessions, and then review and interview the acts I saw for Yahoo Omg! Held over 20 nights and hosting 100 sets from new and up-and-coming bands and artists, O2’s December Sessions seems a perfect chance and opportunity to gain some more fans and just have the experience of playing in the O2 Arena – on a specially set up stage which is open to the walkers by.

After wandering around the arena for a while, I settled down in a bench opposite the stage, still plugged in and tweeting. Around half 3 I spot Andrew Balkwill – the opening act, walking around like I had done an hour earlier, having a look at the music photography on show, and setting up the on stage instruments along with Alex Yeoman (Bass), and Reuben Humphries (Drums). Dressed in a slim-fitting suit, Andrew looked quite calm despite being only half an hour away from playing, to what I have to admit, was a fairly quiet arena. The 4pm set time grew ever closer, and Andrew still seemed relaxed; hands in pockets as his band warmed up. Opposite of how I was feeling – seemed silly really, all I was going to do was review and interview him. He was the one actually performing.

But Andrew explained to me, “I don’t really get nervous, I’m more excited about playing. His first few gigs were “nerve-wracking”, but then went on to explain, “you do so many gigs, and everything can go wrong, so you learn how to deal with the things that go wrong. We’ve had power going off at a gig before. My keyboard actually stopped the other day, which was annoying.” It seemed the main thing bothering him was the cold chill flowing through the O2, “It’s very cold!” Both of us laugh as we both know how freezing it was ‘inside’. “My fingers took a bit of time to warm up!” But luckily, “after the second song, they were back to how they should be.”

Andrew’s set kicked off at around half 4 in the end, and saw a gradual increase in crowd size throughout the duration of the talent-filled performance. I was unsure what to expect, with it being a Monday afternoon, it’s hardly a Friday or Saturday night time slot. “When I first got here, it was empty.” (He should have tried it at 1pm – I was practically only one there!), “And I was thinking, ‘are we just going to play to a few chairs in the corner, or?’ But it did fill up quite well in the end – there was quite a few people who came and listened.”

When asked about where December Sessions rated in his overall gig history, he responded, “Playing at the O2 is always going to be quite a good thing to have on your gig list! But I recently supported Charlie Simpson on tour, which was really cool! It’s good because you’re playing quite big venues, and to a good crowd of people – it’s a good way to get your music out there! But yeah, they’re [December Sessions] pretty high up!”

“I’ve played for a very long time.” He says when I ask him about his piano skills. If you haven’t heard Andrew’s music, you wont know how talented he is on keyboard, truly magical! “Someone asked me the other day, ‘When did you decide to become a musician?’, and I was like, ‘I never really decided’ – it’s just one of those things I just did, I sort of just grew into being a musician.”

I gave him a question on his writing style after that. “The piano comes first. Some songs go different ways, but normally I just sit there and play a load of chords. It’s like, if you’ve had a bad day, or a good day, and you’re just chatting to your friend, and telling them what you did. It’s almost like that, but you’re just playing the piano, playing these chords. And if you’re in a happy mood, you’re gonna play happy songs. Sad mood, sad songs. You’re just kind of singing about stuff that’s been happening.”

“I love to work with hooks!” Which is evident from witnessing his set earlier, great hook, after great hook! “I normally sing a load of rubbish. Terrible. I’ll never record it. But I can get like a little hook, and go, ‘that’s a great song!’ then you can start on that.”

On any tips for other new music to listen out for, he gave me the name of Lianne La Havas. A female vocalist who recently appeared on Jools Holland, and who had, just that day, been announced on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 Longlist! So, as well as Andrew, look out for her too!

Dream collaboration. A fairly standard interview question, but with a great answer. “Jack White!” Obviously from the White Stripes. “His sound’s so raw and just cool. And he does piano as well, so it wouldn’t sound too strange.”

On his magnificent video for his single, ‘Bad Bad Luck’, he says, “I was trying to think of ideas, I wanted to make it quite quirky. We were on a bit of a budget, we didn’t have £100,000 to splash out on a video. So we tried to come up with a creative idea. I love Radiohead’s videos, just stuff that’s more about the idea. Originally it was going to be people getting into the cab and singing the song – I wasn’t going to even be in the video. But then we thought it would be a good idea if I was in the cab, and had different people getting in and out.” If you haven’t seen the video, why not watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9wsds8GkhQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I also wanted to find out how getting the chance to perform at December Sessions comes about for the artists playing over the next 3 weeks or so. From Andrew’s answer, I doubt it’s the same route to the O2 for everyone else. “It’s really weird. Music’s like a small world. I was playing in Scotland doing the support for Charlie [Simpson], and one of the sound guys was like, ‘I really liked your set, we’ve got this gig at the O2’, and I was like, ‘wow, oh my god, the O2?’ So we swapped numbers, and then I got a call from the promoter, and it just all went ahead.”

“I looked at the line-up and there’s quite a lot of people in bands that I know”, he says after telling me he’s staying to see one of his mates playing soon. “So, yeah, it’s a small world!”

I was also interested in his views on the ‘X-Factor road to stardom’ – whether he thought it had longevity. “Well anything you can do to get noticed, for people to see you, is good. I think the only problem with X-Factor is because that’s how people notice you. Next year, you’re yesterdays news. I think if you actually go out and gig, you build up a fan-base, and chat to the people coming down and get to know them – they’re the ones that will actually support you.”

Finally, the old ‘hopes for the future’ question. “The plan is to record an album probably late this month or early January. We’re going to do another single, and another video. But off the back of that do a whole album as well.” So, for live performances? “The plan is, in January, to get on another tour, to support another act in the UK. Then maybe by March, get the album finished, and start promoting like crazy! Well, yeah, that’s the plan.”

Andrew’s set was brilliant, and I hope you can tell how nice a guy he is from this interview. ‘Bad Bad Luck’ is available on iTunes, as well as a small album on his Facebook Page’s Music Tab. The ‘Bad Bad Luck’ video, along with other videos, are up on YouTube – and they’re well worth a look.

(yes, this was posted about 2/3 weeks ago, but yeah)

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/andrewbalkwill
Twitter: @AndrewBalkwill
Official Website: http://www.andrewbalkwill.com/

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