OTW #502: Lulu James

21st century soul from the British north...
Lulu James by Neil Bedford

When Clash arrives at Newcastle’s The Other Rooms to meet Lulu James on the afternoon of her sold-out hometown show in March, the tiny 21-year-old is stretching out a length of black fabric in an attempt to figure out what she’ll be wearing for the evening’s performance.

“What do they think I am, a giraffe?” she laughs, upon discovering two arm holes halfway down the tube of material, her broad Geordie accent initially surprising.

Fashion has always been tied closely to the South Shields-based talent, her style paralleling her music by maintaining a level of class, whilst always retaining her youthfulness and fun personality.

Launching her debut EP, ‘Rope Mirage’, dressed in a bin liner, has become stuff of legend in the local music scene. “I wanted a Dior dress at the time,” she recalls. “And Dave [Stone, her manager] was like, ‘You’d look good in a bin bag!’”

Having started out singing in her grandmother’s choir in Tanzania at the age of two, Lulu moved to South Shields when she was six and progressed to secondary school concerts and busking. But it wasn’t until the age of 20, when she enrolled in a local Urban Music Training course, that she began taking things seriously and considering a career as a recording artist.

It was there that she met collaborator Domzilla, who was the course tutor, and the pair recorded ‘Rope Mirage’, their first experiment in blending Lulu’s soulful vocals with crackling, bass-drenched electronic production.

“21st century soul” is the term Lulu has coined to describe her unique India.Arie-meets-James Blake concoction, explaining: “It’s not particular, it takes influences from everywhere, but we’re trying to make it all fresh and current and something new to listen to.”

With three singles currently under her belt – ‘Rope Mirage’, ‘Be Safe’, and now ‘Closer’ – she describes the process to Clash as a slow reveal of her whole self. It’s much like the evening’s show, where as the night progresses the temperature forces her to remove layers, but all the while she retains that class.

The pay-off, she explains, will be her album, ‘Now The World’, which is planned for release in September on RCA. “Keep an open mind,” she advises when quizzed about the sound of the record. “Don’t think you’ve heard it all!” 

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Where: South Shields, Tyne and Wear

What: 21st century soul

Get 3 songs: ‘Stuck’, ‘Be Safe’, ‘Closer’ (video above)

Unique Fact: Lulu can run 100m in 12.98 seconds.

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Words: Grant Brydon

Photo: Neil Bedford

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