Jessie Ware: Things are looking up for the queen of UK soul

Newly married Jessie Ware is in 'a ridiculously happy place'. So why all the songs about unrequited love?


Back in the days when Jessie Ware was a young web reporter for the JC, she helped to compile a gig guide. "I used to do the listings for Jewish people appearing at Brixton Academy and now I'm playing there," says the acclaimed soul singer and songwriter, amazed by the transition. "It's fabulous." Has her change in fortunes exceeded her wildest expectations? "Absolutely."

A lot has happened since she last appeared in these pages, in August 2012, when she confided: "All I wanted was to be in a position where the JC would write about me. It made my month when it put my video on its website home page. I had been working on the website, so I thought that was wicked."

On the back of a top five album, Devotion, she has since received two Brit nominations - for breakthrough act and British female - and become the new queen of UK soul. She has been hailed as a latter-day Sade, her work drawing on R&B, garage and electronica, while her voice prompts comparisons to Adele and Florence Welch. She was even booked to perform with the winner on Poland's X Factor, where she "felt like Beyoncé for the night".

It is a measure of her success and standing that her second album, Tough Love, released next month, includes collaborations with Brit boy wonder Ed Sheeran and Miguel Jontel Pimentel, known simply as Miguel, one of America's foremost R&B singer-songwriters and producers.

Ware and Miguel co-penned a track called Kind Of… Sometimes… Maybe. One of her finest to date, it's a dark sort of R&B song in waltz time. The idea was to evoke soul's classic era. "I wanted it to feel like an Otis Redding track," she explains. "It's retro, but with a modern production."

I would loved to have been around in the 60s

Does she see herself as part of a female tradition - heiress to the likes of Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield - or a newer kind of soul woman? "I don't feel that comfortable saying either," she replies demurely. "I would have loved to have been around in the 60s although I don't know if I would have got a look in because they were so good."

Ware's soul music is quite sombre and sorrowful. Does it come from the sort of place of pain that inspired her heroines?

"I don't think I've had as much strife or struggle as those artists. I was in a ridiculously happy place when I wrote this album. The songs aren't necessarily about me. They might be me being a voyeur, watching other people. Besides, there are happier songs on this album, such as You and I (Forever), about when my husband proposed. It's got a pretty positive chorus, although I hope it's not too saccharine."

The past two years haven't been all highs. Tough Love was written following "a really gruelling period of shows, to the point where I had just completely run out of energy". She took a break for a few weeks in New York and began working on the album's title track, an ambiguous study of heartache. And although the 29-year-old married her childhood sweetheart, Sam Burrows, in August, on Tough Love she continues to explore the dark side of romance.

"I still wanted to return to that theme from the first record of unrequited love," Ware admits. "I was drawing on a lot of past experiences, cleansing myself of those demons." Tough Love is more of a reflective late night record than an upbeat party album. "My voice lends itself better to that kind of music. I love a bittersweet song, and I love that sense of jeopardy and tension, even if it's not a feeling I've had for a while."

Will her third album really be the test of whether she can write an affecting soul collection in a state of domestic bliss? She seems mildly peeved.

"I was happy throughout this album and I think it's soulful," she smarts. "So, hopefully, I'll be able to do it again. Maybe even better." So married women can sing the blues? "I'm singing them now. I don't know if it's the blues, but why not?

"Everyone asks me that, and it becomes a stress for me. I don't feel like I have to be getting my heart trodden on to write a good love song."

Does her husband scrutinise her lyrics for signs of biography? "He doesn't give a s***."

As for their wedding on the Greek Island of Skopelos, "we did have a Jewish ceremony - well Jew-ish. We got married under a chupah and we had seven blessings done by our friends. My brother said the berachah and we stamped on the glass, but it was a civil ceremony, done by the town hall on the island."

There was also some "pathetic Jewish dancing, and my DJ friends, known as the Wedding Smashers, played this one Israeli song they had left after their computer got wiped. All the boys picked up my husband on a chair and all the bridesmaids were left to pick me up. It was so ridiculous. I thought I was going to break my neck."

Despite the unintentional moments of hilarity, she found the service moving. Her aufruf had been at her local synagogue in Wimbledon.

"It was important for me and my family to have some Jewish aspects," she decides. She was especially pleased with the way her rabbi, Sylvia Rothschild, made Burrows feel included.

"She said: 'Instead of people thinking you're marrying out of the community, they should think of it as marrying into our Jewish community.' That's a much more positive way of looking at it. They were very welcoming and generous towards Sam."

Now she's keen to have a son and watch him get barmitzvah - nothing like planning ahead. But for the moment, she's having to get used to musical fame, although she cautions: "I don't think I'm pop royalty yet."

Does she not get mobbed every time she walks down her local south London high street? "They know me, but nobody cares." Does she dress down? "Well," she says, looking at her outfit, "I've got on my Adidas Gazelles and a pair of tracksuit bottoms, so I guess so".

The real Jessie Ware is somewhat removed from the imperious, dark soul siren of Devotion and Tough Love.

"There's still a bit of drama in my life, but I'm pretty down to earth," she concludes. "I'm never going to take myself too seriously."

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