Preview of 2012 - Emeli Sandé
The Scottish chart-topper aims to release a hit album in 2012
Whenever Emeli Sandé gets a chance to stop and think, she says, the journey she’s already been on in her life still has her pinching herself. ‘To think that three years ago I was sitting in a lecture theatre in Glasgow learning about anatomy,’ she says, preparing for soundcheck at the Bercy arena, ‘and now I’m in Paris waiting to open for Coldplay.’
The 24-year-old Aberdonian with the distinctive dyed-and-undercut hair is already a familiar name from her featured vocal appearances on hits like Chipmunk’s ‘Diamond Rings’, Wiley’s ‘Never Be Your Woman’ and Tinie Tempah’s ‘Let Go’, not to mention the number one ‘Read All About It’ alongside Professor Green. Yet 2012 is hopefully the year she builds upon her own hit debut single, ‘Heaven’, with the release of her solo album Our Version of Events.
She’s already got one success to celebrate, having been announced as the winner of the Brits Critics Choice award for 2012, joining a club which includes Adele (whose emergence convinced Sandé to perform under her middle name, Emeli, and not her first name, Adele). The day before she won, she told The List that ‘getting nominated for the Brits Critics Choice was the big highlight of 2011 for me. There’s heaps, there’s been so many. Getting to number two with ‘Heaven’ was amazing, writing with Alicia Keys – there have been a lot of pinch me moments, really.’
Keys is just one of a long list of celebrity admirers the softly-spoken Sandé has picked up, the pair having met when Sandé was booked to support her at a tenth anniversary show for the release of Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor. ‘We kept in contact via email,’ says Sandé, ‘then I went over to New York and did some writing with her, it was amazing. She’s very down to earth and it was all about the music, keeping it really stripped back and just writing on the piano. That’s the way I enjoy writing the most.’ The pair’s ‘Hope’ will appear on Sandé’s own album, and the intention is that Keys will use one of their tracks for her record, ‘but that’s not out for a wee bit yet.’
As for the Coldplay link, which saw her finish 2011 by supporting the band at Glasgow’s SECC and London’s O2 Arena, ‘Chris [Martin] personally asked. He said he’d heard my music and liked what I was doing, so wondered if I’d support them. It was a bit of a shock when I found out, but it’s just such an honour to do it.’
So what of the route that brought Sandé to the point she’s at now? It all started in earnest while she was studying clinical neuroscience at the University of Glasgow, which she left at the Honours stage, ‘because at that point I thought I’ve got to go for it with music. I’d love to go back at some point and finish my medical degree, but it would be very hard to go back into the library now.’
It was during her studies, though, that she used to travel down to London and play gigs, at one of which she met Shahid Khan, aka producer-songwriter Naughty Boy. ‘We just had a really good chemistry,’ says Sandé. ‘So I started writing my album with him. After that it’s word of mouth, if you write for one person and it does well, then another person and another, and you become known as a writer.’ It was the pair’s work with Chipmunk which truly launched them, and Sandé has since written for artists as disparate as Cheryl Cole, Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle.
The writing stimulated Sandé’s career as a featured singer, which in turn fed into her developing solo work, a more soulful affair than the garage and urban tracks she’s appeared on thus far. ‘Nothing was planned,’ she says. ‘It’s just fallen into place very naturally, which is fantastic.’ ‘Heaven’ has given her a powerful confidence boost ahead of the crucial next stage in her career. ‘It’s such an important song to me, and it’s nerve-wracking to introduce yourself to the world, so for the first single to do that well was just fantastic.’
Although almost everything Sandé has lent her voice to has met with success so far, Our Version of Events will reveal whether she has the staying power to move from the pop charts to the more enduring ranks of the album artist. ‘It’s the main event in my life at the moment,’ says the singer, ‘I’m just finishing it off and getting ready to release it finally. It’s been a long time in the making, so I’m very excited.’ What does she hope for in 2012? She sighs. ‘I don’t know, because I could never have predicted where I am now (at the beginning of 2011). I’d love for the album to be received well, to keep doing tours, to keep establishing myself as an artist. That would be my thing, to be established on the UK scene by the end of the year.’
Modesty aside, though, what would be the fantasy ambition? ‘I would love,’ she says, ‘to sit at a piano alongside Stevie Wonder. Maybe if he could sing one of my songs, that would be even better.’ So the way things have gone so far, we should probably expect that sometime around autumn then?
Emeli Sandé plays the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Tue 10 Apr. The debut album Our Version of Events is out in Feb.