Three years is a long time in mu­sic, Adele tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea,

Tot­ten­ham su­per­star Adele tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea that three years is a long time in mu­sic – long enough for her to meet the love of her life, part com­pany, then mine that rich seam of heart­break to pro­duce some true tear­jerk­ers

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

WE ARE 20 min­utes into a right old nat­ter, and Tot­ten­ham’s Aretha Franklin is wrin­kling up her nose. “I’m so sorry, but the dog has farted.” Louis Arm­strong, Adele Ad­kins’s pe­tite, tubu­lar dachs­hund (aka Sausage), is soil­ing the at­mos­phere of XL Records’ head­quar­ters in London’s Lad­broke Grove, but the apol­ogy is shot through with a bit of a cackle and a carry-on-re­gard­less de­meanour. Spend any length of time in the com­pany of Adele and you’ll come to learn pretty damn quick that the classi­est singer of her gen­er­a­tion has lit­tle time for airs and graces.

Truth is, Adele is as rooted as they come, a 22-year-old woman with strong Ir­ish con­nec­tions and what ap­pears to be a di­rect line to a heaven-sent range of mu­si­cal in­flu­ences that them­selves are un­der­pinned by straight-as-they-come emo­tions. Three years ago, Adele’s de­but al­bum, 19, ush­ered in a singer and a voice that knocked her con­tem­po­raries and main com­peti­tors (Duffy, Lily Allen, Kate Nash) out cold. Now, with Duffy and Nash clearly show­ing their short­com­ings on fol­low-up al­bums, and with Allen cur­rently hid­ing in the long grass, Adele’s new al­bum, 21, is geared up to be this year’s model.

But 21 is more than just a Mex­i­can stand­off with her mu­sic chart mates. It’s un­likely that an al­bum re­leased this year will match its of­ten pro­found depths or its peaks of eu­pho­ria, all of which are en­veloped by a stir­ring mix­ture of stripped-down, sub­tle soul, blues, coun­try, gospel and pop.

“It was al­ways mu­sic for me, as I’m not, and never have been, very aca­demic.” Dressed top to toe in black, with a bee­hive hair-do out to there and curved eye­lashes out to here, the dog on her lap, Adele is a charmer. She’s the anti tits-and-teeth, barely-there fe­male pop star, fall­ing over her­self, al­most, to make me a cup of tea be­fore she gets down to chat­ting.

“I get bored very quickly – I have the at­ten­tion span of a fly. So mu­sic, yes, but it was never some­thing I pur­posely pur­sued.

“In other words, I never had the aim of

be­ing a pro­fes­sional record­ing artist. Like, my friends at the time, we all had a dream and none of theirs was com­ing true, so I reck­oned why the hell would mine? The only rea­son I ended up study­ing mu­sic at Croy­don’s Brit School was be­cause I knew I was go­ing to fail all my GCSEs, so I pan­icked. Whereas I knew I’d pass all the mu­sic and per­for­mance stuff, and be­cause of that I thought I’d get work some­where in the mu­sic in­dus­try.”

Adele had been writ­ing songs since she was 16, and while at Croy­don had set up her MyS­pace page where songs such as Home­town Glory were be­ing lis­tened to.

With her Brit School qual­i­fi­ca­tion in her bag and a job at Gap keep­ing her in pocket money, Adele even­tu­ally rolled up at the of­fices of XL (home to The Prodigy, Badly Drawn Boy, M.I.A., White Stripes, Sigur Rós, Peaches, Vam­pire Week­end, Dizzee Ras­cal, The xx), where she had hoped she’d land a po­si­tion as a tal­ent scout.

“They of­fered me a record deal in­stead – but get­ting signed was never an am­bi­tion. I knew I’d be in­volved in mu­sic some­where, but I never – ever – thought I’d be a record­ing artist. It just seemed pretty un­likely. I clearly re­mem­ber the day I came to them, as it’s one of the piv­otal days of my life. They asked me if I had a man­ager, and I said, ‘well, I have one at Gap!’”

And so Adele’s story be­gan. De­but al­bum 19 fol­lowed, its suc­cess quickly set­ting her up as an au­then­tic voice of the emo­tion­ally bruised teenager. But how does any­one fol­low up such a stir­ring de­but? The an­swer,


in Adele’s case, is with rel­a­tive ease, and with, ap­par­ently, none of the short­com­ings that usu­ally un­der­mine highly an­tic­i­pated sec­ond al­bums: lack of ma­te­rial, in­sight, guid­ance, and a sur­feit of ego.

“When I was 16,” re­calls Adele, “I wrote my first song, Home­town Glory, which is the song I got signed on the back of. Then, of course, the rest of the songs for 19 came af­ter that. But I re­mem­ber when I was pro­mot­ing 19, I started to think ‘what the fuck am I go­ing to write about for the next al­bum?’ It’s not life, is it, when you’re spend­ing your time in ho­tel rooms and air­port lounges? What if I turn in to one of those peo­ple I hate? What if I had ended up writ­ing a re­ally ego­tis­ti­cal record, about be­ing lonely while you’re raid­ing the mini­bar? Peo­ple aren’t sym­pa­thetic to that, and I’m not, ei­ther.”

Life, as is so of­ten the case, had other plans for Adele. She hooked up with what she calls “the com­plete love of my life, and the most amaz­ing im­mense re­la­tion­ship so far in my life. It didn’t last, un­for­tu­nately – it ended be­cause it stopped be­ing fun, and thank­fully the end­ing wasn’t bit­ter – but the whole thing changed me. It made me re­ally pas­sion­ate about love, life, my­self, pretty much ev­ery­thing. I had so much to write about. It was like a tap that was dif­fi­cult to turn off. The re­la­tion­ship just con­sumed me, which is where the songs came from.”

As on 19, the songs on 21 ring true. With such a res­o­nant source from which to mine au­then­tic heart­break, Adele has achieved that rare thing: you be­lieve ut­terly in what you’re lis­ten­ing to.

“It’s im­por­tant to me that peo­ple be­lieve the songs are hon­est be­cause they to­tally are. I would hate if some­one thought that, ‘yeah, what­ever, she’s made them all up’.

“My pri­mary in­spi­ra­tions for this record were the likes of Etta James, Ca­role King, Roberta Flack – peo­ple be­hind com­pletely con­vinc­ing love songs that I fully be­lieved when I first heard them. I re­mem­ber hear­ing The Mise­d­u­ca­tion of Lau­ryn Hill when I was 10. I was wait­ing for the bus out­side Wool­worths in Brix­ton, and my dad bought that record for my mum and a video of Flub­ber – fuck­ing Flub­ber! – for me.

“But I nicked the al­bum and lis­tened to it ev­ery day af­ter school in my bed­room, sit­ting on my lit­tle sofa-bed, read­ing the lyrics, and hop­ing to God that one day I’d be a singer. So that con­vic­tion, the breath­tak­ing de­liv­ery of songs – the be­liev­abil­ity – is al­most part of my DNA. I’m not happy un­less I feel I’m of­fer­ing

“Adele is a charmer. She’s the anti tits-and-teeth, barely-there fe­male pop star, fall­ing over her­self to make me a cup of tea be­fore she gets down to chat­ting”

that – even if it’s just a lit­tle bit.”

A lit­tle bit? Adele is un­der­selling her­self here, as 21 is the work of some­one whose heart was shat­tered but whose dreams have come true, a song­writer adept at min­ing gold from despair. It must make cer­tain peo­ple livid to re­alise she had no ca­reer strat­egy what­so­ever.

“Maybe it was just hav­ing a kind of self­be­lief, and also hav­ing to bear the brunt of at­ti­tudes from author­ity fig­ures such as teach­ers who were say­ing that, for me, suc­cess was un­re­al­is­tic. So I chose to sur­vive rather than live in a fan­tasy world. I sup­pose I could have been more de­ter­mined, but, well, here we are any­way.”

The fall­out from Louis Arm­strong has drifted away, and Adele has more things to do, more peo­ple to charm, more cups of tea to make in or­der to put them at ease.

“It still feels odd, though, if you know what I mean,” she con­cludes, ea­ger to ex­plain, if not quan­tify, the huge changes in her life from then to now. “In many ways I’m still a ratty-haired blonde girl from Tot­ten­ham. So far, my mu­sic has passed all ex­pec­ta­tions, and oc­ca­sion­ally re­ac­tions from fans take my breath away.

“Some­times it’s dif­fi­cult to let things sink in, and that can come across as me be­ing a bit icy or un­ap­pre­cia­tive, par­tic­u­larly on tele­vi­sion. But I of­ten feel that if I let it sink in I’ll just melt into a pud­dle.”

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