THERE seems to have been little doubt this miss would end up doing something musical.
With a voice as striking as her looks the laid-back lady with tunes to wow the most hardened critic is all set to explode – having done more than her fair share of time on the sidelines.
The touchpaper was truly lit when Lianne La Havas appeared on Jools Holland’s late night show last autumn, alerting millions to a wonderfully understated talent.
“I never have expectations. I just hope people like it, that’s all,” Lianne laughs when asked about her plan.
“I’m very fussy – picky about what I like. If I feel like that when I’ve written stuff, if I’m really happy about it and feel I can play it to people, then I feel generally it’s good.
“But if I cringe when I listen to it I just won’t share it. You usually know in your heart, though. Sometimes you need to listen again to be convinced.
“I aim for something that feels good. Some of the music I used to listen to and still listen to feels like it’s effortless, feels right. It sits correctly and doesn’t rub you up the wrong way.”
Her debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough, did the former rather than the latter, confirming what early observers had suspected. On November 1 she’s up against Sheffield’s Richard Hawley and 10 other artists for the coveted Mercury Music Prize.
Lianne’s soul and folk-flavoured etchings flow without feeling forced and have been steadily drawing more people to her shows. She remains modest, even surprised, that the public hand over good money to catch her doing something she enjoys.
In reality, of course, the 22-year-old Londoner has enjoyed plaudits from her peers – the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Bon Iver, Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder and Prince – suggesting she is moving in the right direction.
On October 20 she moves to Leadmill Road.
“This is the one, the album tour, so I’m really excited. Touring is one of my favourite things but in this context I don’t know what to expect, except going by the people who came to previous shows it should be a friendly affair and I’m excited to meet people who have discovered the music more recently and to see if anyone has decided to come back after seeing me before.
“Just people coming to shows of their own accord...people discovering the music and then deciding they want to see me live; that’s amazing, people you don’t know doing that because I remember when I was first gigging and trying to get all my friends to come to shows they wouldn’t come if it wasn’t free.
“It’s amazing now to see people wanting to buy tickets. That’s probably the most surreal thing to get over; people knowing who you are when they don’t know who they are. And they seem to know all the words to the songs – that’s insane. Being played on the radio and stuff – that’s also crazy.”
Lianne’s journey is a fairly straightforward one, however, not least as her parents – she has a Greek father and a Jamaican mother – influenced her music exposure with their diverse tastes. She began singing aged seven, having grazed on Jill Scott and Mary J Blige, while her dad taught her guitar and piano basics.
Writing her first song at 11, Lianne later left a college art course and met other musicians, including Paloma Faith who she toured with on backing vocals. After a brief stint co-writing and performing in The Paris Parade, she signed a development deal with Warner Bros. Three critically acclaimed EPs emerged before her album, including major debut single Lost & Found.
While her shows are very different to Paloma’s, Lianne admits to taking a little from watching the inimitable artist’s stage-craft.
“And generally being in a band, which I’ve always wanted to do. It was very different to this. I didn’t play an instrument, only sang and sometimes danced.
“I wanted to get my personality across and when you are a backing singer you are there to complement and accentuate the atmosphere and personality of your lead singer. But I loved the whole getting ready thing before the show. We used to all get ready with Paloma and it’d be a lot of fun. Now I’m one of only two females.”
Lianne still laughs a little nervously when called to explain her motivation and inspiration, but does so ably.
“I don’t think of it as wanting to make it as more wanting to express yourself. That’s what I’ve always felt compelled to do, to speak about my life and love through music because it makes me feel good and hopefully makes other people feel good.
“I was always into art, all kinds. I loved playing instruments and drawing and making things. Even drama class I enjoyed, English and writing. But singing is my passion and if I couldn’t sing I’d be very upset. It’s the main thing I had to try and now I’m doing this it opens me up to try all the other things I love as well... my own fashion line, writing a movie, photography.
“Music will always take precedence but I’d love to expand on the things music is connected to and you find you can reach into.”
Not to mention the places that music reaches. “On my Facebook wall and Twitter I get messages from Korea and I’m like ‘How did you hear the music there?’
“That’s what I love about music as well...you never know who’s listening. It’s important because it connects people from everywhere.
“Everyone has a favourite song in their life and it’s amazing to be one of the people who adds to that pool of music.
“The feeling of writing and making new music and playing it is so amazing, to feel like you’ve achieved something, created something you really love. As songwriters we’re always looking for that feeling again, which keeps you making records. And I’m very pleased to now know I’m allowed to make a second album.”