Sudbury: Talk To Strangers songwriter Fiona Bevan’s rise from her local record shop to stardom
- Credit: Archant
On the verge of releasing her debut CD, entertainment writer Wayne Savage talks to Sudbury singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan about going from stacking shelves in her local record store to appearing on them – and why One Direction owe her a big favour.
“In my wildest dreams I imagined my CD might be on the shelf one day. I hoped it was going to happen... even from the first moment I started writing songs when I was 14, I dreamt music would be my career, but the chances are so slim, it’s very tough.”
Not that she’s a stranger to fame; having co-penned One Direction’s chart-topper Little Things.
It’s a crazy story, laughs Bevan, which started when her mate Framlingham singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran popped round for tea.
Deciding to write a song together, they huddled around his mobile phone in her East London flat – “at that point I didn’t even own microphones or anything,” she says – to record it.
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Over the following year she often wondered what happened to that little song which kept popping into her head. Sheeran, who she met on London’s gig scene, remembered it too but had lost his phone with the recording on it.
“I was living in this house of musicians who were finding it quite funny, me searching and searching for this piece of paper with the lyrics on one day. I was living in this little room and had so much stuff; it was tucked away deep in a big pile of lyrics.”
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Emailing them to Sheeran, who luckily remembered the melody, he recorded the song. Niall, Zayn, Liam, Harry and Louis heard it, loved it and the rest is history.
“It was an incredible rollercoaster from finding a piece of paper in my bedroom to having a number one in like eight months. It’s just crazy how you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Born in Bury St Edmunds, raised in Sudbury and educated in Colchester, where she first stepped on stage aged 15 with Rocking Horse; Bevan never thought she’d be performing at Compact Records either.
The April 19 acoustic gig is in support of Record Store Day; a cause she’s passionate about.
“A lot of really great local shops have gone under and it’s really sad. The ones that have survived have because they’re a focal point of the musical community... they’re supportive of events, know what’s going on locally, know a lot about music, have an incredible relationship with their customers and are passionate about what they do.”
The hours she spent there as a schoolgirl, and later during university breaks, proved a musical education for Bevan who was brought up singing classic film and show tunes around the family piano and listening to the likes of Cole Porter and Doris Day rather than pop.
“I was surrounded by all this music and the other half of the shop sold guitars and things. I was always in there helping people buy guitars, tuning them up... so it was a really important part of my musical journey and helped me understand that end of the industry.”
Spending years touring the London club circuit and writing, recording and playing with everybody from jazz vocalist Gwyneth Herbert to a brief spell as the bassist in a band mentored by Adam Ant and fronted by the Sachs-gate scandal’s Georgina Baillie, she’s looking forward to sharing new album Talk To Strangers, out April 28, with audiences.
“It’s really exciting because it’s the first thing I’ve ever actually put out on a label, I’ve done bits and pieces myself DIY...”.
She admits putting her career in somebody else’s hands has been a bit nerve-wracking.
“These are people I trust. I’ve been doing it on my own for a while and (it’s like) you’re running a small business... so it feels great to have a team on board, to get some help is actually the best feeling in the world because it feels like it can really grow.”
Navigator Records feels like the perfect home for her.
“They completely trusted me to make the album how I wanted with Shawn Lee, who produced. Between the two of us we played all the instruments and I had some of the best times of my life actually, making that record, and really want everyone to hear it,” says Bevan, who’s lost track of how many instruments she plays, laughing if it’s got strings or keys she’ll give it a go.
Among the guitars and piano on the album she also plays violin, double bass, accordion and, for the first time, the harp. She even whistles some birdsong.
Recorded entirely on analogue equipment in short bursts throughout spring last year, the idea was to capture the energy of playing live.
“Nothing is digital or sterile; it’s golden and human. We recorded everything live and not to click and captured something that I’ve never managed in a studio before - the magic of live performance.”
Composed by her over the past four years and recently mastered in San Francisco by the legendary George Horn - who has been cutting vinyl since the 1960s for musicians including Paul Simon, Sly and The Family Stone, Bob Dylan and John Coltrane - the album feels like a natural progression. It helps that she hasn’t been in the spotlight, allowing her to develop and create her sound on her terms.
“No one’s been interfering so that’s been an amazing sort of process of self-discovery and a luxury in today’s musical climate. I think if you get signed when you’re very young you don’t get to really develop yourself, you’re in the spotlight, it can be very stressful. Being able to quietly get on with developing I feel the album’s totally ready and I can go ‘tah da’,” she laughs.
Talk To Strangers, she hopes, is just the beginning of a long career.
“I feel like I’ve found my sound and it’s the beginning of another exploration; I feel like I’ll still be writing songs when I’m a granny,” laughs Bevan, whose first single from the album, The Machine, available with an Ed Harcourt remix featuring rapper Fem Fel, was released earlier this month.
Described as “pop in disguise”, it’s littered with book and film references.
“I love clever, interesting pop and I adore storytelling. It’s important to me no words are wasted. I write about real things that have happened to me or my friends. I try to find the focus of a story and work from there.
“My writing process is really an attempt to understand who I am and how not to be walked over in the world – as a woman, as a shy person, as someone doing something different. I’d say it’s about finding myself, if that didn’t sound so terribly cheesy.”
She plays The Angel, Woodbridge, tomorrow night; Compact Music, Sudbury, April 19 and will be supporting Ruarri Joseph at the Cambridge Junction on May 3.
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