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WIND BACK WEDNESDAY: ADELE


With Adele's first tour of Australia announced this week, Wind Back Wednesday goes back to the days around the release of her debut album. In 2008 she was already marked for success but was she marked to last? Was she for real?

(Incidentally, that same week in London I interviewed two other singers launching their debuts: Duffy, about to have a huge success and then seemingly oblivion; and another teenager, Laura Marling, about to start a brilliant career. Good trip.)

SHE WAS ONLY 19

Adele Adkins bustles into the back of the car, her hair still wet, blowing the last smoke from her cigarette behind her. The suit bag of clothes in the boot is for a photo shoot later this morning but for now, in the London chill she's wearing a big and clearly well loved black jumper, a bit of ash scattered across it.

The "new Amy Winehouse", a tag quickly stuck to her thanks to a lightly smoked voice and, 19, an album of soul with roots in the early '70s rather than the early '90s, thankfully is no borderline anorexic, Class A substance-ingesting waif.

And judging by the chain-smoking and occasional references to heavy nights on the turps, not yet a devotee of an ascetic life.

Bollocks to that she laughs with a throaty undertone.

If her musical life is lacking a surname - she's dropped the Adkins professionally - it's not lacking confidence: there's nothing retiring about this 19-year-old with the broad London accent and an earthy sensuality.

It's not rock star arrogance, more feeling comfortable being exactly who she is and where she is.

And you know that's not always a given in a teenager, let alone one with photographers camping out on her doorstep (forcing her to move out of the home she shared with her mother, "my best friend"), a number one album and a Brit Award for critics' choice - a new award which was won even before the release of that album.

"All the journalists have got into a sweat about it all and I decided it was funny so I stopped paying attention to everything," she says expansively as the car jerks and jolts in the heavy traffic.

"I do my gigs, turn up for things and try to remain oblivious. But now, I've got a number one album so I just have to soak it up. It's surreal suddenly becoming something you see on TV. For 19 years I've been watching other people do it."

Part of this ease in the spotlight may well come from the groomed-for-stardom training offered at the Brit Academy, the performing arts school whose graduates include Winehouse, Kate "the new Lily Allen" Nash and Adkins' friend, rising star and recent visitor to Australia, Jack Penate.

Part of it would be the seemingly contradictory lack of a lifelong urge to be famous.

"I was at college, then I was supposed to go to university in Liverpool to do music. I didn't want to go but it was an excuse not to work in a shop," Adkins explains.

"Then I got on My Space and I got emails from XL [independent record label and home to heavyweights such as the White Stripes and Radiohead]. I went in for a meeting trying to blag an A&R job, hoping to be a scout because I'm around the [hard edged domestic hip hop] grime scene in London and I thought yeah that would be perfect, and they were like, we want to sign you. Oh, ok.

"See I was never really working towards being signed. At the time I signed I had three songs [including what would be the opening and closing tracks on her debut album, Daydreamer and Hometown Glory] and I couldn't write any songs for ages afterwards. It was really unconscious but I went from writing songs because I wanted to, to writing songs when it had suddenly become my job."

And what helped to break through this impasse?

"I met my future ex-boyfriend. And then I had plenty to write about," she says casually. "I've been writing since I was 16 but I wrote nine songs in three weeks for this record."

It's a shame the "future ex-boyfriend" wasn't wearing a sign identifying him as such when the romance started.

"He kinda was," she giggles. "I've known him for years and I knew he would be bad trouble but I needed a bit of drama to draw out something inside of me."

Bad men are useful then.

"Yes they are. I used him better than he used me, I'm number one," she giggles again.

A little later, having happily confessed to actively seeking out personal drama for the sake of a song, Adkins is sitting on the steps of an east London building more town hall than art school and confessing something else: she's scared of flying.

I suggest she could travel to Australia on a cruise ship, earning her passage by singing some standards in the show room. But unlike say Jamie Cullum, who cut his teeth on cruise ships, Adele has never done the covers shows.

"No, I find it really difficult doing covers," she says. "I feel like a hypocrite saying that because [Bob Dylan's] Make You Feel My Love is on the album but when I'm singing other people songs, apart from Make You Feel My Love, I don't sing it with a passion or sincerity.

"I don't think I'm believable and my favourite singers, like Etta James, Roberta Flack, Anne Peebles and Karen Dalton, they are the most believable singers ever. I believe every single word and breath that's on their records. I don't see how you can relate to something if you don't believe what I'm saying."

As it turns out, hearing Roberta Flack two years ago was crucial, if only for sparing us another of those Idol-tutored singers with the vocal range of a diva and the emotional range of a plank.

If one criticism of Adkins is that she sounds smooth and, suspiciously for some, too ready, it's also true that she doesn't greedily binge on the notes.

"When I wrote my first song, Hometown Glory, when I was 16 my voice just changed," she says, watching her smoke curl away from her face.

"Before that I was trying to do Beyonce, all those [she lets fly some of that melismatic warbling] and Roberta made me realise you could have soul without doing that.

"It became obvious when I started writing my own songs and I couldn't fit in all that stuff because it was written from the heart and became very personal. With Hometown Glory my voice took on its own."

#Adele #WindBackWednesday

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