By Geoffrey Rowlands
Anne-Marie Nicholson refers to herself as a singing ninja. It’s an appropriate description. The 26-year-old singer/songwriter, who provides the female vocals on Clean Bandit’s smash hit single Rockabye, is a multiple shotokan karate world champion.
“I got into shotokan when I was nine,” she explained. “Before that, I’d done a lot of dancing as well as singing at my performing arts school. I was actually in the West End production of ‘Les Miserables’ when I was six. My dancing ability meant the movement necessary in karate came to me quite easily and I became good at the sport pretty quickly.
“I was encouraged to enter competitions and won loads of things in Britain. I competed in the Funakoshi Shotokan Karate Association World Championships when I was 12 and won two gold medals.”
Another world championship and more national success would follow. But Anne-Marie’s burgeoning career in the entertainment business prevented her from putting in the many hours required to dominate her sport on a global level.
“I love karate, still practice whenever I can and I really enjoy instructing newcomers to the sport. But my career was always going to be in music or musical theatre so this had to take precedence. Karate has been beneficial to my career though. It teaches you discipline and focus, exactly the kind of things everyone needs if they want to have a career in music.”
Anne-Marie could have been starring in stage musicals rather than the pop charts. Her second West End role was in “Whistle Down The Wind.” But a chance encounter with an aspiring songwriter in need of a female vocalist led to her recording tracks at Sir Elton John’s Rocket Music studios. Executives there were so impressed by her performances that they signed her to Rocket Records.
“I released a demo single called Summer Girl in 2013. It was championed by Ed Sheeran but I think all concerned felt I wasn’t really ready to become a solo artist. I needed time to develop as a pop performer and the best way to do so was by providing the vocals for artists who didn’t have their own singer.”
So it was that Anne-Marie’s voice was heard on tracks by artists such as Magnetic Man, Gorgon City and Raized By Wolves. Her work caught the attention of Rudimental. She featured on four tracks from their UK chart-topping 2015 album, We the Generation, and spent nearly two years touring with the band.
“You can’t buy the kind of experience that gave me. Working with Rudimental also helped me as a solo artist. They signed me to their record label and I released my first official singles as a solo performer.”
Two singles, the title-track and Gemini, were taken from Anne-Marie’s debut EP, the appropriately entitled Karate. Issued in 2015, neither made any great impression on the charts. The same was true of her third single, Boy. But things began to happen last year when Do It Right became Anne-Marie’s first British chart hit and reached number 22 in Australia.
She was finally being recognised in her own right. It was no surprise when her next single, Alarm, became Anne-Marie’s first UK top 20 hit, peaked at number seven in Australia and garnered significant chart placings throughout the world.
“I felt like my solo career was starting to take flight. Despite this, I had no doubts about putting my solo work on hold again to sing with Clean Bandit on Rockabye.”
Clean Bandit had first heard Anne-Marie sing with Rudimental and loved her voice. She had become friends with the band after meeting them at numerous music festivals over the last few years.
“I had a great relationship with Clean Bandit and loved the song so I was thrilled to be asked to sing on Rockabye.”
The track topped the UK chart for nine weeks. It became the first song to be the Christmas number one after having already spent six weeks in pole position. Rockabye has also been hugely successful worldwide having so far hit top spot in more than 20 countries. America has yet to be conquered but the song is rapidly climbing Billboard’s Hot 100 having just moved from 51 to 38.
“I’ve had so much international exposure from the success of Rockabye. My debut album will be out later this year and I have more solo singles in the pipeline. I hope all the people who got to know me through Rockabye will be interested in hearing my solo work.”
Taylor Swift / Zayn
Taylor Swift and Zayn’s duet, I Don’t Wanna Live Forever, has been in the charts since early December. But it is only in the last few days that an official video has been released to accompany the song.
The song was written by Taylor, Sam Dew and fun multi-instrumentalist Jack Antonoff. There have been numerous postings on YouTube claiming to be official videos but these were simply the work of talented filmmakers hoping to make a name for themselves.
The official video was shot in London’s St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel. Directed by Grant Singer, it was simultaneously posted on Taylor and Zayn’s own VEVO channels. In all, the video was viewed more than 30 million times in the first three days of release.
Most of the views were on Taylor’s channel. The video can be seen here at www.youtube.com/watch?v=7F37r50VUTQ
Anyone could be forgiven for thinking Jay Kay and his band, Jamiroquai, had quietly quit the music scene.
They formed in 1992 and enjoyed enormous success the following year with their UK chart-topping debut album, Emergency on Planet Earth. All seven of their studio albums sold well but nothing has been heard from the band since their 2010 LP, Rock Dust Light Star.
To quote the title of Jamiroquai’s second album though, The Return of the Space Cowboy is imminent. The band’s new LP, Automaton, will be released on March 31.
Available now is the title-track which has been issued as the lead single. Jay Kay says of his new record; “The inspiration for Automaton is in recognition of the rise in artificial intelligence and technology in our world today and how we as humans are beginning to forget the more pleasant, simple and eloquent things in life and in our environment including our relationship with one another.”
The science-fiction style video for Automaton was directed by Charlie Lightening and partly shot in a long-disused London underground railway station. It can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmlmOk4ubcU
Nick Cave/Jimmy Barnes Paul Kelly
The government of Australia has awarded an Australian Badge of Honour to Nick Cave for “distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or humanity at large.”
Similar in nature to the British honours system, the Australia Day honours roll is issued every year on January 26. Nick, 59, was among 958 people from all walks of life whose names were added to the honours roll this year. His specific citation was for “serving the performing arts as a musician, songwriter, author and actor, both nationally and internationally, and as a major contributor to Australian music, culture and heritage.”
Nick is now entitled to use the letters AO after his name. This is an abbreviation for his official title as an Officer of the Order of Australia.
He was not the only musician in the honours roll. Rock singer/songwriter Jimmy Barnes and folk-roots singer/musician Paul Kelly also became AOs.
Now 60, Jimmy has recorded more hit albums than any other Australian artist. He was specifically recognised for “distinguished service to the performing arts as a musician, singer and songwriter, and through support for not-for-profit organisations, particularly to children with a disability.”
Although 62-year-old Paul Kelly is largely unknown to international audiences, he has provided a musical soundtrack to Australian life since making his first appearance during an open mic night at a folk club in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1974. He was recognised for “distinguished service to the performing arts and to the promotion of the national identity through contributions as a singer, songwriter and musician.”
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