Monday 26 February 2018

Birdy's flyinghigh on life

Birdy, aka Jasmine van den Bogaerde, is ruffling feathers in the music industry with her dulcet tones. With her 'real' debut album, the future looks bright for this plucky starling. Ed Power meets the teen

The stage name is a misnomer, it turns out. Jasmine van den Bogaerde may style herself 'Birdy' but there is little of the shrill, twittering ingenue about this 17-year-old. Barely out of school, with her first album proper ready to drop, she has the music world at her feet and is visibly taking it all in her stride. That clunking cliche about a savvy head on inexperienced shoulders never felt more appropriate.

"Singing is what I have always wanted to do," says Jasmine, who became something of a cause celebre by winning Britain's Open Mic competition in 2008, when she was all of 12.

"To have a chance to actually make my dreams come true ... well, what can you say? It is exciting."

You can't talk about Birdy without mentioning her transcendent cover of Bon Iver's Skinny Love. The original was a rather straightforward woe-is-me dirge, by a guy who'd split messily from his girlfriend and was feeling heroically sorry for himself (it's the kind of tune a single chap dreams up after living alone in a cabin for six months – which happens to be the circumstances in which Bon Iver wrote it).

Channelled by Jasmine, the track becomes another thing entirely: a bone-bare lament, full of shadows and mystery. Stripped down and spectral, it gives you goosebumps in places you didn't know it was possible to have goosebumps. Her Skinny Love is so gorgeous it's a tad unsettling.

"It was a song I loved," says Birdy. "That was the first cover I recorded. Previously, I'd focused on originals. So I did it and thought 'well, this sounds weird'. And then I sent it off."

On spec, Birdy submitted the recording to BBC DJ Simon Mayo. Smitten, he slapped it on the day he received it. The response was immediate and ecstatic. At her parents' home in the English countryside, Jasmine watched her YouTube profile blast into high orbit.

Within a week, the cover had received thousands of hits; by end of month, the figure headed towards a million.

"It was so quick and so strange," she nods. "I put it on YouTube and checked every day. That was a very exciting time. I felt overwhelmed to be honest."

Her self-assuredness aside, the first thing that strikes you about Jasmine is her supreme poshness. She is Downton Abbey, country-pile posh. In fact, she's almost as posh as Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine – certifiably the poshest person Day and Night has met until now.

It's not nouveau, Kate 'n' Pippa, upper middle class either. Of Flemish and Dutch ancestry, Jasmine grew up on the 1,500 acre Pylewell Park estate in England's plummy New Forest and has an entry in Burke's Peerage (she is listed as granddaughter of John Christopher Ingham Roper-Curzon, the 20th Baron Teynham). With a concert pianist mother and the actor Dirk Bogarde a distant relation, she is from the artier end of the family and believes the urge to perform is in her genes.

"I never imagined I would sing for a living," she says. "I have always loved doing it.

"I would be doing this at home anyway, even if I didn't have an album coming out."

On the strength of Skinny Love, Birdy signed to Warner Records. Her first LP was a collection of covers, which found her tackling, in her distinctively dulcet style, tunes by The Postal Service and Phoenix.

Good reviews suggested she might have a career in music after all – though she was determined to not become known as a covers artist. For her 'real' debut, she would write all the material.

This proved more difficult than she'd imagined. Keen to see their investment live up to her potential, Warner suggested she go to Los Angeles and hook up with some co-composers. In theory, it sounded a good idea. The reality was rather different.

"Writing with others was not an experience I was familiar with," she says. "I was shy at the start. Reluctant to show my songs to people. To be honest, I'm never entirely sure if they are good enough.

"In the beginning, it was challenging. I tried a series of collaborators. They were all very nice. But it doesn't necessarily work out."

She eventually struck up a friendship with Ryan Tedder of One Republic, whose resume includes Beyonce's Halo and Leona Lewis' Bleeding Love (you DO remember Leona Lewis, right?). Together they assembled the bones of what would become her new long-player, Fire Within.

"It was odd, opening up to strangers in that fashion," she says.

"Ryan was fantastic. To have a connection like that, having only just met someone, was rare."

You won't catch Birdy smiling much in her press shots. The image she presents is of a young women with a lifetime of woe on her shoulders.

Her hair seems perpetually windswept; her choice of frocks wouldn't look out of place in a particularly grim episode of Game of Thrones.

What it all adds up to is a sort of Fortnum and Mason Enya – a star-crossed debutante trafficking in a very agreeable stripe of designer gloom.

In person, she works hard at disabusing this image. On a long train journey, she will probably relax with a weighty book and a Postal Service album, she confesses.

Out with friends at home, however, she's like any other teenager. She isn't adverse to listening to One Direction or Justin Bieber, and enjoys a giggle with her pals.

If she's feeling wild, she may go to the cinema or the bowling alley.

Tellingly, the closest Jasmine has ever come to being star-struck was meeting ginger prince Ed Sheeran.

"All my friends love that music. Okay, it's not what I would sit down to on my own.

"In company, I do like to listen to what everyone else enjoys."

So, she isn't as crestfallen and sad-mouthed as her songs suggest? She smiles.

Well, it depends what day of the week you catch her on.

Sometimes, yes, she might come across as a bit ... well, bleak.

"I can be a happy person. At the same time, I am drawn to melancholy stuff.

"My mum played classical concerts and those can be quite melancholy in a way," she says."It has been with me since I was a child, you could say – so that's definitely part of who I am."

Fire Within is released today.

Irish Independent

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