Meet East Anglian singer-songwriter Bessie Turner, playing Latitude
- Credit: Nick Butcher
East Anglian singer-songwriter Bessie Turner talks about playing Latitude Festival.
BBC Introducing called her a superstar in the making. Right now, Bessie’s trying to get the job of renovating my backyard.
“I’m trying to get a gardening job,” she laughs. “My granddad’s got a small tractor that I drive very confidently. The speeds are tortoise and rabbit; I think that’s so sweet.
“Oh God yeah,” she sighs when I ask if wants to swap her multitude of jobs - working for a cafe and catering company, The Woolpack in Ipswich and walking her friend’s dog - for a full-time career in music.
“To earn a sustainable wage out of music would be my absolute dream; even if it’s teaching people or doing songwriting workshops. Anything creative. For the foreseeable future I don’t see that happening.”
That may change at 1.05pm-1.35pm tomorrow when she’ll be performing on Latitude’s Lake Stage at Henham Park, near Southwold. She already released her debut single, Big Sleep, to critical acclaim and has the backing of BBC Radio 1 and 6 Music.
Listening to the Suffolk singer-songwriter - influenced by MIA as much as she is The Crystals and Dionne Warwick - you’re transported to a smokey underground club; the air full of blues, soul and jazz.
“That’s absolutely what I want it to be. I was named after Bessie Smith [the American blues singer, nicknamed the Empress of the Blues, who was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s] who is super fierce and fearless.
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“I’m not super fierce and I’m definitely not fearless,” she laughs. “But I love jazz, pop music and crazy screamy metal songs so if I can incorporate little bits of garage rock to Dusty Springfield then that’s what I’ll try to do.”
Raised in and around Eye, where she spent her high school years; when Bessie turned 16 she started working for family friend Val Bint, then landlady of The Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich; washing pots and collecting glasses.
Making friends in the town, she got involved in the music scene and moved to Ipswich when she was 18. She now lives on a boat at Pin Mill with partner Benjamin Ward, who owns record company Don’t Try.
Now 23, she’s been singing all her life.
“Apparently I sang the little tune Ariel sings in The Little Mermaid before I ever said any words. I got my first guitar when I was 11-12. I came downstairs and my granddad had been to an auction and got me this old £30 Yamaha. I was so overwhelmed I cried.”
She didn’t start performing regularly until she was 18-19.
“I’ve always been quite confident in some respects, but with your voice it’s such a personal thing. Singing is quite a ballsy thing and growing up I was really quite shy about it.
“I’ve got a sister who’s two years older and she was always hailed as having the most beautiful voice but then the roles kinda reversed and she’s completely tone-deaf now,” laughs Bessie. “But she’s much more brainy than me.”
She laughs at the idea of singing for a living, describing it as such a self-indulgent thing that it’s almost embarrassing sometimes.
“I’m putting on this show under my own name, singing songs I’ve written and I expect you to listen and like them. You have to be kind of humble about it for sure. I’ve been asked so much over the past two months ‘what’s your aim’ and I have none, I’m just taking it step by step.”
Right now that’s Latitude courtesy of BBC Introducing in Suffolk which, she says, breaking into the theme tune to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air has flipped-turned her life upside down.
“I would not be here without Benjamin’s support and belief... I could get emotional about it, it’s been insane. My friend Chris Driver who made the video for Big Sleep...,” adds Bessie, who’s just released its B-side Milinky.
“I’m playing in front of the guy who owns Festival Republic, Ben Lovett from Mumford and Sons and Lucy Rose who I’ve been listening to for three or four years. She was so good, she’s like the reincarnation of Joni Mitchell. I nearly cried when she started singing.
“Saying I’m anxious almost sounds like I’m a bit ungrateful but I’m super excited. It’s going to be a much bigger sound, there’s going to be four of us on stage; crazy drums, bass lines, some of it will be a little bit rocking, some of it will be super jazz, it’s up, it’s down.
“I’m a very much deal with something when it happens kinda gal. I just need to be really calm beforehand. Turn my phone off a couple of hours before, have a couple of beers or glasses of wine,” she smiles. “And make sure I go for a wee.”