JESS GLYNNE CHART TOPPER
Pop sensation Jess Glynne explains how being a family girl helps her keep fame in perspective
IN HER description, Jess Glynne has experienced a “whirlwind” of a year. Twelve months ago, she was still working as part of the brand management team for a company dealing in the importing and exporting of alcohol. Then, last August, she handed in her notice, signed to the prestigious Atlantic label and began releasing records. Since January, she has sung on two number ones. She was the featured artist with soulful vocals on the exuberant, infectious pop-dance track Rather Be by Clean Bandit — the fastest-selling single of the year so far — and on Route 94’s My Love. Now she has a top 10 hit with her own debut solo single, Right Here.
As a result, and much to her delight, she has become Twitter and Facebook friends with Lily Allen, Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith. And she has begun recording her first album with some of the most garlanded music producers of the day. What could top that? Well, for her grandma at least, Glynne being interviewed by the JC. “It’s a big thing for my nan, me being in the JC,” says the 24-year-old north Londoner. “I think she might cry.”
Family is very important to Glynne. She still lives at home with her parents in Muswell Hill, where she likes to pop into the local Londis for a Toffee Crisp. Indeed, on the day she found out she was number one with Rather Be, she was getting told off by her mum. “She was like, ‘Jess, tidy your room, the cleaner’s coming’!” Did she not remind her mum that she was a pop star now and didn’t need to? “I’d never say that, ever,” she replies, mortified. “I’m really not like that.”
Unlike that other north London Jewish girl with the powerhouse vocals, Amy Winehouse, Glynne doesn’t seem remotely tortured or troubled. Garrulous, yes. When asked what she thinks so appeals about her that people seem to rush to the shops every time she releases a record, she suggests: “I think people take a liking to a voice or something that makes them smile and feel good about themselves.”
So she has the common touch? “Well, I’m a very sociable person,” she considers. She gets it from her dad. “He’s a really positive person, and he has always drilled that into me and my sister. I live by that. He loves talking and he’s crazy. I’m quite like him.”
Her father owns a highend estate agents in central London. Her mother used to work, coincidentally, for Atlantic, in artist and repertoire, overseeing the development of groups including The Rolling Stones.
If her surname does not sound particularly Jewish, that’s because her grandfather changed it from Goldstein. Her maternal grandmother also instigated a family change of name.
“My nan refused to marry my granddad if he kept his name, which was Podolski,” she laughs. “She hated it. So she made him change it to Ingram, which was the name of a toothpaste.”
Glynne was born in the Royal Free in Hampstead, grew up in Muswell Hill and attended cheder at Woodside Park Synagogue until she started misbehaving was taken out by her parents. “I was too much of a pain,” she recalls.
These days, she celebrates the main Jewish festivals and regrets not having that many Jewish friends as a child, although she largely enjoyed her schooldays at Fortismere, which was also attended by Ray and Dave Davies of The Kinks, Rod Stewart and, more recently, by BBC Sound of 2012 winner Michael Kiwanuka and former Blue Peter presenter Joel Defries, one of her best friends.
Not that the school exactly encouraged her musical abilities. At one talent show, she performed a version of Mariah Carey’s Hero but she regularly failed to pass auditions and felt ignored by music teachers.
“I took a back seat because I didn’t feel confident. It was such a musical school but they weren’t that interested in me and didn’t give me that many opportunities, maybe because I didn’t play an instrument. I auditioned for loads of shows but I never seemed to get any.”
Glynne left school in 2008 after taking her A-levels, but her sense of caution following those rejections, plus an innate work ethic inculcated by her parents, meant that she always held down jobs, even while she pursued her dream of a musical career.
“I wasn’t that academic but I always made sure I was earning money. I never wanted to put all my eggs in one basket. Even when I started doing music my parents were like, ‘You need to work, you can’t just live off music’. I always knew that. So I worked until I knew I was going to be financially okay.”
She was employed in a hairdresser, a boutique, even a fitness centre. Then, after travelling around Asia, Australia and South America with a friend, she found a job with a management company, where she picked up everything she needed to know about the music business — PR, touring, contracts. But mainly she learned that she wanted to be the artist, not someone working for the artist. So she started writing songs about her “life and experiences”, inspired by US R&B maverick Lauryn Hill, and “got connected”, meeting producers and industry types.
She had a few “knock-backs”, as she puts it, but they just made her try harder. Eventually, she hooked up with the producers who would give her the right sound — classically soulful but with a modern urban tinge — to match her songs. As she makes the transition from featured singer on other people’s tracks to solo artist, Glynne will embark on her first solo tour in the autumn. Will she behave on the road?
“I’m a good girl and I have a very good Jewish family who brought me up very well,” she reflects. After working for an alcohol company, getting drunk is the last thing on her mind. “That job put me off alcohol completely. I used to have to go out a lot at night and I’d have to stand in places till 2am while doing promotion. I’d see people so drunk and it’s so ugly. It’s not healthy, not attractive and not cool. I know exactly when to call it a day. My nan tells me to eat her fish balls and not drink alcohol. I’d rather have the fish balls.
Jess Glynne’s single ‘Right Here’ is out now; her tour opens in Sheffield in October