Corinne flattered by comparisons
EMMA LEE Corinne Bailey Rae’s soulful voice has led critics to compare her to Billie Holiday and Macy Gray. EMMA LEE spoke to the singer, who is tipped to be one of 2006’s brightest stars, ahead of her Norwich show.
Corinne Bailey Rae is well on her way to becoming a household name. Her influential fans include Jools Holland and at the beginning of the year she was tipped to be the voice of 2006 on the BBC news website.
I spoke to her in the run-up to the release of her second single Put Your Records On - a summery slice of soul-pop which cheers up a grey dreary day at the tail-end of winter a treat.
You get the feeling that Bailey Rae perhaps doesn't totally enjoy being interviewed - but it's a necessary evil for any up-and-coming pop star.
The Leeds-born and based singer, whose voice has been compared to Billie Holiday and Macy Gray, chats quite happily about her music, but doesn't really give anything about herself away.
The 26-year-old probably prefers being up on stage, which is, as many an impressed music critic who has already fallen under the spell of her voice will testify, her natural habitat.
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Of course she does have a rather hectic schedule to contend with - I'm told that I can have only 15 minutes on the phone with her - and factoring in the TV and radio appearances and forthcoming UK tour which are also on the agenda, it seems quite gruelling.
“It's going well, I'm looking forward to seeing what people think of the record,” she says.
That includes appearances on the irreverent Channel 4 music show Popworld, a guest spot in Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley's Live Lounge and a feature on the BBC2 arts programme The Culture Show.
She's also filmed a video for Put Your Records On, in which cycles round the glorious South African countryside. The video's so polished it looks like a perfume ad.
“South Africa is so beautiful,” she says. “I just got to ride around on a bike all day, it wasn't really like work.
“I'm busy from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed, five or six days a week,” she says. “The single's coming out in Europe in I don't know how many countries. But I've been working at it for so long, it's great that it's actually happening.”
Some of the BBC's next big thing predictions have been spot on in the past. Previously hotly-tipped acts have included Keane, 50 Cent, Scissor Sisters, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and fellow Leeds dwellers and triple Brit Award winners Kaiser Chiefs.
Signed to EMI, Bailey Rae's first single, Like a Star, was record of the week on two separate Radio 1 daytime shows and she's also been championed by 1Xtra, Radio 2 and Capital Radio.
And her self-titled debut album hurtled to the top of the charts in its first week of release and is now currently sitting at Number two.
How does she feel about that?
“It's flattering, obviously,” she says, in her endearing broad Leeds burr. “When you're a new artist you get compared to people, but I would never compare myself to Billie Holiday.
“I like individual-sounding artists like Bjork, Martina Topley-Bird and Portishead - those who have a bit of a raw edge to them and a bit of drama,” she says.
Bailey Rae discovered her musical talent at an early age and says she always hoped to make a career out of it.
“I've always loved music,” she says. “My dad collected records and my mum sang in church. When I was really young I started playing the violin at school - you know if you show any interest they give you an instrument. I played that until I was in my mid-teens.
“Then when I was 15 it was the tail-end of grunge and I got into Nirvana. Everyone I knew wanted to be in a band and I got an electric guitar and learned four chords and bashed out songs.
“I loved playing in my band and I carried on with it when I went to university. I also started working in a jazz and soul club and when it was quiet I would come out from behind the bar and play with the bands.”
After local success her band, Helen, which supported the Kaiser Chiefs in one of their previous incarnations, was offered a deal.
That fell through when one of her bandmates fell pregnant, but Bailey Rae decided to strike out on her own, with EMI spotting her star potential and signing her up.
It was through the jazz scene that she met her saxophonist husband - she added his surname, Rae, to hers.
“I love Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. I feel really influenced by that soulful sound,” she says.
Not only does she have Europe set in her sights, but she's also having a go at cracking America, showcasing her talents at the SXSW festival in Texas, and also playing dates in LA and New York.
But while her career is guaranteed to take her to some far-flung and exotic destinations, she says there's no place like Leeds.
“I've just bought a house in Leeds. I love living there and being part of a scene. There's no reason why you have to move to London if you want to make it. It sets you apart from the rest. The Kaiser Chiefs have brought more attention to Leeds - and things started going really well for them when they started being themselves more.”
t Corinne Bailey Rae plays The Waterfront, Norwich, on April 6. The gig is sold out. Call the box office on 01603 508050 for details of any returns. Her self-titled debut album is out now. Website - www.corinnebaileyrae.net