Music interview: Jess Glynne

Jess Glynne is playing two open air concerts in Yorkshire.
Jess Glynne is playing two open air concerts in Yorkshire.
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Jess Glynne is taking her swift rise to fame all in her stride. She spoke to Duncan Seaman ahead of two Yorkshire gigs.

With a full slate of open-air concerts lined up for the next few weeks, it would seem Jess Glynne is becoming something of a specialist in performing al fresco.

Tonight the 27-year-old north Londoner, who in the last three years has become only the second British female artist to score five UK Number One singles, is due to play at York Racecourse. Her diary for next month includes a date at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

“I made a statement at the beginning of this summer that I would only do outdoor shows – that’s a big fat joke, just so you know,” she says. “But I like doing outdoor shows, it’s a different vibe.”

However those fans travelling in the hope that the Hold My Hand singer might use the occasion to air new material she might have been working on since 2015 debut album I Cry When I Laugh are unlikely to see their wishes fulfilled. “I’m not actually going to be giving anyone a new taste of anything, unfortunately,” she clarifies. “I’ve not got any plans right now. I’m just in the process of creating and nothing is really ready. When it’s ready you will get a taste.”

Still, Glynne’s million-selling album, whose deluxe version includes nine hit singles including chart-toppers with Clean Bandit, Route 94 and Tinie Tempah, should be enough to be going on with.

Jess Glynne is only the second UK female artist to have five Number One singles.

Jess Glynne is only the second UK female artist to have five Number One singles.

She describes the 18 months from early 2014 when she hit the top of the charts as featured vocalist on Clean Bandit’s Rather Be to when her own song Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself became her fifth Number One in a row as “pretty mad”.

Such was the accelerated pace her singing career was taking, she admits it was “a lot to take in”.

“It was so surreal, it all happened so crazily fast,” she says. “But you have these moments when you sit back and look back and you’re like ‘Wow, did that actually happen?’”

Nonetheless Glynne counts her blessings that she didn’t attempt to pursue an early route to stardom. It had been on offer in her mid-teens when she was approached by talent spotters from the X Factor to take part in the show. She turned it down, preferring to play her way up to a record deal while holding down regular jobs. “I’m really glad that I had normal jobs and did a lot of that stuff and worked the grind before it all happened because I think it gave me a level head and it taught me about business.”

It was so surreal, it all happened so crazily fast. But you have these moments when you sit back and look back and you’re like ‘Wow, did that actually happen?’

Jess Glynne

Glynne’s mother worked in A&R in the music industry; her father, an estate agent, was also a music fan. “I grew up in a musical household in the sense that my parents liked listening to music but other than that, that’s as far as it goes. They liked going to shows and listening,” she says.

The singers that inspired her to pursue her own musical dreams were from the fields of soul and R&B. “Aretha [Franklin], Whitney [Houston], Mariah [Carey] – those were the people that I used to imitate when I was younger vocally, they were the starters.”

Later on she began to appreciate Amy Winehouse and Lauryn Hill. “They weren’t right at the beginning, but when Amy Winehouse arrived on the scene it was like a game-changer. The thing with Amy was that she was so relatable, she told her life in her music and she had the most incredible voice. She was honest and she was different and it was really relatable in the sense that where she was from and how she did it and what she did, I think that’s why I connected with her so much.”

The enormous success of Rather Be – it won a Grammy and sold more than 6m copies worldwide – took even Glynne by surprise. “I guess you never have any expectations, you never know what can happen, it’s just one of those things, really,” she says. “It was just amazing how people did take to it.”

Hold My Hand also became ubiquitous thanks not only to constant airplay on the radio but also through TV commercials and placement in the film Bridget Jones’s Baby. She ponders for a moment when asked where the most unusual place she might have heard it. “I don’t know...Dixons in the airport – that’s probably a bit weird,” she says, admitting she did a “double take” before walking on past.

Glynne has recently been working as a music ambassador for the National Citizen Service, encouraging teenagers through workshops and skill sessions. “It’s massively rewarding working with kids like that,” she says. “They really want to work hard and if they’re given an opportunity they all take it on and I think it’s really special.”

The role was a year-long commitment but Glynne says it’s “definitely” made her want to do similar work in future. “When I was younger I didn’t have such things available to me. It’s nice to be told and shown how it can be done and how you can do it. I had to work it out for myself.”

Jess Glynne plays at York Racecourse tonight and Scarborough Open Air Theatre on August 11. wwscarborough-openairtheatre.com

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