Wednesday 17 July 2019

I used to busk to earn a crust, now I've sold a million records

Passenger: Mike Rosenberg
Passenger: Mike Rosenberg
Huge rise: Mike Rosenberg

Ed Power

Chart topper Mike Rosenberg has spent the morning standing in the rain, being gawped at by passers-by. He loved every dank, dreary moment.

"I adore busking ... adore it," says Rosenberg, aka Passenger, aka the tousled Englishman behind the most played single on Irish radio in 2013, Let Her Go.

"I've done it for years. Back in the day it was how I paid for my records. With my career taking off, I have missed it. All of the promotional obligations can be a bit much. Busking is brilliant for clearing your head. We had 1,000 people today – I feel lucky people are prepared to stand around in this slightly dreary Dublin weather, listening."

It's an indication of Rosbenberg's overnight rise that he will headline Dublin's 14,000 capacity O2 in November, less than 18 months since opening the same room for fellow strummer Ed Sheeran. And he will be plugging his latest album, Whispers, which is out today.

For a sense of what Rosenberg is like, imagine Coldplay's Chris Martin if he was unsuccessful most of his career, hadn't met Gwyneth Paltrow and was unable to hang onto his bandmates.

He was getting by (just about) until Let Her Go, which quickly took over daytime radio and brought overnight stardom. The record has sold millions, topping playlists from Castlebar to Canberra. Presumably it has also turned Rosenberg into an exceedingly wealthy man?

"I've been skint my whole life," he shrugs, reddening slightly at mention of cold, hard cash. "I'm used to not having money. Let Her Go has obviously changed stuff, which is cool. It's not as if I can whizz off to Barbados. Nor would I want to. As a songwriter, you've got to be careful – if you are too comfortable, there's a danger you may stop challenging yourself."

He had a few tough years, though not to the point where he considered extreme measures, such as auditioning for The X Factor (you imagine Simon Cowell drooling over Rosenberg's perky stage-presence and finely honed tunes). "I wasn't ambitious in that way. At least not later in my career. At the start, I really did have an eye on success. I loved the idea of a big album, signing a major deal. That was before I knew what it was all about."

The story of how Let Her Go became a phenomenon is dusted in serendipity. A radio plugger randomly stumbled upon the tune in a sleepy cafe in the Netherlands. Smitten, he reached out to Rosenberg. In an eye-blink, Let Her Go was a hit in Holland, from where it commenced its inevitable creep towards world domination.

"I thought it was a good song, but then I'd felt that about loads of songs I've written. In my world, I didn't think it was possible to be on the radio. But the lyrics were simple and poignant and it had a catchy riff. And then, suddenly, it took off. I'll never have a hit that big again, and I'm perfectly okay with that."

Whispers is released today

Irish Independent

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