Wednesday 21 March 2018

The Sande of Time

Emeli Sande
Emeli Sande

By Andy Welch, Press Association

With a big soulful voice andemotional songs there's already an eerie familiarity to Emeli Sande's career.

Add in the fact her first name is actually Adele, and the picture becomes much clearer.

"I decided I had to change it and use my middle name," begins Sande, smiling, fully aware of how comparisons with the 2011's big-voiced juggernaut might be stacking up.

In truth, the Aberdeenshire singer's music is quite different to that of the Someone Like You diva, with bigger orchestrations owing far more to R 'n' B and soul than the contents of 19 and 21.

Sande started writing songs aged seven, and while there's no danger she'll begin performing her childhood back catalogue, she says, her first effort was still good enough to be plagiarised.

"It was about an alien coming to earth looking for love, and it wasn't very good. It didn't have much structure," she says. "My friends formed a girl group for this talent show and they sang my song. I was in the audience and thought, 'I recognise that!' That was my first lesson in copywriting, anyway.

"The crowd seemed to like it, and they had a dance routine and everything. It was flattering I suppose, and we're all still friends now, so I like to tease them about that."

A few years later, after nagging her parents to buy her a piano, Sande taught herself to play, inspired by a lasting love of Nina Simone, and began taking music and songwriting more seriously.

"The first song I wrote that I can listen to without cringing came when I was about 14 or 15. That was quite experimental, I think, as I was really into jazz at that point."

She also performed whenever she could, at school events and local concerts, all the time dreaming and trying to work out how she could turn her passion into a career.

Despite having her mind set on music, Sande, who finally made her big breakthrough while featuring on Professor Green's No 1 single Read All About It late last year, knew the odds were stacked against her becoming a successful solo artist. That's not a slight on her talent, but statistically, most people don't go on to sell millions of albums.

Sande ploughed on with academia, and now, after three years of a medicine degree, she's a qualified neurologist.

"I'm so happy I took time to study," she explains. "It was the first time I'd been away from home and I learned a lot about myself, let alone the subject. I feel a lot more in control now that I have a degree. It meant that music wasn't the be-all and end-all, so that takes some pressure off.

"There was a point at university where I was leaning towards a career in medicine, mainly because I didn't see a way into the music industry. I was losing hope, but it was never an actual, complete decision," she continues.

"If I'd have made that decision, I wouldn't have come down to London."

Sande never worked as a professional neurologist, rather did three years at medical school, then a year specialising in neuroscience, before coming down south after graduating.

"I still have about 18 months [of education] left if I want to become a doctor," she explains. "Dr Sande - I like the sound of that. It would look cool on the album cover."

While living in London, she didn't have much luck getting her own career off the ground.

She won a competition run by BBC radio DJ Trevor Nelson, although turned down the contest's prize, a recording contract, preferring to do things herself.

Other record labels weren't so interested, unwilling to take a chance on a fully formed, young female singer whose career they couldn't shape.

It always pays to have more than one string to a bow, though, and even if there was no joy with the solo career, various record labels fell for Sande's songs.

She quickly became an in-demand writer (Simon Cowell says Sande is his favourite songwriter) penning hits for the likes of Leona Lewis, Cheryl Cole, Cher Lloyd, Susan Boyle and Tinie Tempah - some of the biggest-selling artists in the UK.

Sande laughs at the suggestion she only sells songs to artists who shift millions of records, countering the accusation with the fact she's currently working with an unknown band called Saving Grace.

"And I don't 'sell' songs, as such," she adds. "I give them to people. I love the reinterpretation, and the fact someone can change a lyric to mean something I'd never thought about or intended.

"The first time I heard someone singing a song of mine was Cheryl Cole, who sang Boys. Leona Lewis did another around that time, too.

"Some people think it might be odd writing for other people, but I haven't felt like that. There's no one who's sung a song of mine that I haven't respected, and no one who made me think they didn't understand what the song was about."

Sande's own album, Our Version Of Events, is released on February 13, and features No 2 single Heaven, which is reminiscent of Massive Attack's classic Unfinished Sympathy, her follow up Daddy, which reached No 20 in the charts, and the forthcoming single Next To Me, which caught Madonna's attention when Sande performed it in front of her on Graham Norton's chat show recently.

"That was a strange night," she says. "We chatted briefly, she said she liked the song and my voice, and I shook her hand. Very memorable, but surreal.

"There have been quite a few surreal things happening lately, though," she adds. "I walked into Topshop before Christmas and Heaven was playing. It was such a cool feeling, thinking that it's not just on the radio anymore, but that it'd actually filtered into people's everyday lives."

As early reviews of Sande's album roll in, all largely positive, anticipation begins to grow. Add into that the Brit award she's already won - the Critics' Choice gong is traditionally announced two months before the actual event in February - and a lesser person might begin to buckle.

It's hard to imagine the young Scot ever struggling with issues with self-confidence though, so it's perhaps no shock to discover she's taking it all in her stride.

"I definitely knew I'd release an album," she says. "But I didn't think there'd be this much anticipation, or acknowledgement of what I was doing.

"That said, I'm happy people are talking about the album so much. I love getting the attention, because I have experienced the other side of that, when no one cares.

"I also love that my album is expected to be good. It's a huge compliment."


:: Adele Emeli Sande was born on May 20, 1987, in Alford, Aberdeenshire.

:: She studied three years of medicine at the University Of Glasgow.

:: At the age of 15, Choice FM invited Sande to London to take part in a competition they were holding called 'Rapology'.

:: In 2008, Sande sent a tape to BBC 1Xtra, which was played by DJ Ras Kwame. She was then invited down to London to perform at a showcase and her songs and came to the attention of record labels.

:: Sande is engaged to her long-term boyfriend, but won't identify him at his request, saying only that he works as a scientist, not in the record industry.

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