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Mid-February brought a wintery apocalypse that battered Britain and attempted to bring life to complete standstill. Luckily the sense of impeding doom was not enough to prevent young singer-songwriter George Ezra from setting out on his debut tour. I met him in the Duchess on a particularly dreary Wednesday afternoon, ahead of his first performance in York that evening.
The twenty year old has already had a rewarding start to 2014. He was voted fifth in BBC's Sound of 2014, something he is incredibly appreciative of. "It's just so nice to be considered for those things, out of all the people in England doing this" he remarked. Whilst he was uncomfortable with people trying to cast what should have been a showcase of new talent as a competition, he was sure to qualify "the core of it, what it was, I loved."
Ezra never made a definite choice to pursue a career in music. He says whilst he "made a conscious decision to leave school and study music," he never pictured success being something that could happen to him. "I'm just lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to do it," he explained. "I never thought I'd do a tour of England, and that people would be interested in my nonsense."
The establishment Ezra briefly studied at was Brighton Institute of Modern Music in Bristol. Whilst he enjoyed the side of the student lifestyle that involved "not having much to worry about and just bumbling through life," he didn't feel entirely comfortable with the idea of education in creative subjects, explaining, "I just don't get how something could be wrong." Therefore he definitely does not regret jumping at the chance to enter the industry and leave university behind after only a year.
He recently spent three months in the studio recording material for his debut album. The album will be out later this year, whilst his next EP, Cassy O' will be released on 16th March. He enjoyed working with producer Cameron Blackwood, stating "I don't want to say we talked the same language, I don't want to be that guy. But we just had the same ideas, we really saw eye-to-eye." His least favourite part of the experience was he reclusive nature of spending all day cooped up in a small studio. "About five weeks in, we went to a gig in London and I couldn't string a conversation together," he laughed. "After spending so long with the same people, you start to communicate in grunts."
In 2013, he played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury festival. Being his first festival experience, he was initially nervous, but this soon faded. "As soon as I walked on stage, I saw two twins from my hometown at the audience. It instantly relaxed me." The experience also stands out to him as the first time he saw people singing along to his songs. "It really is a great feeling," he mused.
In his free time, Ezra "can't think of anything better" than watching Take Me Out. "When I do get a day off, I'm turning my brain off and watching Paddy," he fondly revealed. Another not-so-wild guilty pleasure is Scrabble, something he and his friends are currently "addicted" to.
His main musical inspirations are all firmly rooted in the past, explaining that he's "not really listening to much new music at the moment." If he could collaborate with anyone it would be Elvis (presumably whilst he was still breathing), and he could have written any song it would be My Baby Just Cares For Me by Nina Simone. "I talk about that song a lot, but I just love it," he remarked. Meanwhile Bob Dylan is his ultimate inspiration, a singer he found when he was fourteen. "It was the first time I really got into music," he disclosed. "He's the reason I'm doing what I'm doing today." Going to see the American folk legend in December with his dad at the Royal Albert Hall is something he cites as an unforgettable experience. Despite Dylan's bizarre silence between songs ("he didn't even say hello, or thank you, not even once"), he was mesmerized.
Performing at the Duchess was the fifth date of Ezra's first headline tour. He suggested he was still at the point where he "felt slightly awkward on stage," but this certainly wasn't apparent during his beautiful set. He played a mixture of released and unreleased songs, with Blame It On Me showcasing his unique vocals particularly well.
Easily the most popular hit with the crowd was Budapest - a track inspired by a trip to Europe in which Budapest was the only city on his wishlist he did not manage to make, something that greatly disappointed an interviewer from a Hungarian blog. "Their only question was 'What did you like most about Budapest?' When I said I'd never been, they were stumped."
He finished with title track of his first EP, Did You Hear the Rain? - wryly commenting on the unfortunately contextual title in current conditions. Singing the first verse a capella, his deep vocals thunderously echoed through the intimate venue in a moment that was quite special indeed, and a perfect end to the evening. I'll certainly have all fingers crossed that this humble and talented boy from Bristol has a long and prosperous career ahead of him.