To celebrate Somerset House’s annual Summer Series with American Express, we sat down with chart-topping singer Birdy to get us excited…
This year’s line up is particularly impressive, boasting acts from Birdy and Norah Jones to Goldfrapp, Foster the People and The Cinematic Orchestra.
Birdy teamed up with American Express® last month to perform an acoustic set underneath the iconic courtyard location of London’s Summer Series, Somerset House, where she performed at the music festival just this week.
We caught up with the 21-year-old singer at the intimate gig to talk musical inspirations, pre-show rituals and her plans for summer…
Tell us about your performance this evening…
‘I’m playing in the summer for the big show here and I have a big surprise planned for my performance, but it was really cool to do the preview in the same place, but more intimate and literally underground. I have always loved the intimate concerts because they’re really special and it will be such a contrast for summer. I have everyone at the front and I can see all their faces and they’re really excited – it’s just so nice.’
Do you still get nervous before performing?
‘Yeah, today I was very nervous because I haven’t played in a while. I finished touring last year, had Christmas and I have just been writing since. I’ve actually been having a little bit of a break recently because I have literally done three albums in a row. It’s been so nice to be home and I moved back from London to the countryside, so I was quite nervous because I just haven’t done anything for a while.’
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
‘When I’m with my band we just listen to music to get in the mood. We tend to put on I Say A Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin – that always seems to go on right before. I don’t know why it has become a ritual but I love it.’
Who do you perform with?
‘I have the same band that goes with me everywhere. They started with me on the last album – they are so talented.’
Do you have a favourite song that you like to perform?
‘Oh phew I thought you were going to say a favourite band member! With the songs it changes every time – I get bored after I have been singing one for too long and I think “I hate this one now”. Skinny love is different, it comes in waves – sometimes I love it and sometimes I can go for ages without it. But my favourite one that I have really always looked forward to in my latest shows is Beautiful Lies, the title track of my album. It’s just always a very quiet and sad moment, but it’s really nice, I love it.’
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Where does the name Birdy come from?
‘It’s actually just a nickname my parents gave me. When they used to feed me when I was a baby I would open my mouth really wide and I looked like a bird. My whole family starting calling me that and then everyone else followed.’
Is there anyone in particular you would like to collaborate with in the future?
‘Laura Mvula is definitely one – I just love her. It’s actually quite a recent thing, I remember listening to her music a year ago and not really getting it because it’s so complex. She is so talented and it was almost too much, and then I was listening to her this year and I absolutely loved it – I don’t know what I was thinking before.’
What did you grow up listening to?
‘A lot of classical music really because my mum is a pianist and was always playing. Tracy Chapman is also a favourite, and I love a lot of old soul: Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and all of that stuff. To be honest, I know it’s quite weird but sometimes I just don’t listen to anything for months. I guess because I’m singing so much all the time and I’m always surrounded by music, I just need a bit of silence sometimes.’
What is your favourite part of the whole creative process?
‘I love the beginning of writing a song, because that’s the easy bit – it’s the bit that comes naturally I guess and it’s just really exciting and new – but then you have to finish it, and that’s the hard part. I love recording too, I probably prefer it to performing, but I love both of them really because once you’ve had enough of recording you are desperate to start playing your songs to people.’
Tell us about your song-writing progress…
‘It starts with me at the piano just mumbling weird words and things that don’t make sense. I write a lot of the melody first, and then the lyrics later, and I guess different places inspire me as I go along. I get inspired a lot by books and films – I love writing for film, it’s one of my favourite things to do.’
Which films have you written songs for?
‘The Fault in Our Stars and The Edge of Seventeen. It was an amazing process because I got to see the screenings of those films early on to get a feel for them. It’s quite hard otherwise because you need to understand the emotion. It really is one of my favourite things to do, you already have a story and you just have to embellish it. I would love to do more of that, and maybe scores as well, I would have to learn how to do that first, but I would love to do that.’
People turn to your music in break ups, do you write with that in mind?
‘I can’t say that I do which is maybe a bit selfish. I only really write what makes me feel good but it is so nice to know that it can actually help someone.’
If you weren’t a musician what would you be?
‘Probably a painter – I love painting. I’m not very good any more but I loved doing it at GCSE level – I was good, that was my best work. I would love to get back into it.’
What have you got planned for summer?
‘Obviously the Summer Series, but aside from that I’m doing festivals all summer. I’ve never been to Glastonbury before, so that’s going to be so cool, it’s my first time, then I’m just working on new music really, I would love to do more film stuff, hopefully something will come up.’
The Summer Series at Somerset House is just one example of the music experiences available to American Express Cardmembers, providing access to some of the UK’s most sought after entertainment events, including best seats, exclusive offers and early-on-sale tickets.