From performing backing vocals in various underground bands to an award-nominated debut album and critical adoration, things have changed for South Londoner Jessie Ware in the past year. She talks to Andy Welch about her rise, recording Devotion and her forthcoming UK tour.


"I'm pretty knackered," says Jessie Ware. "I've packed a lot in this year, but I don't even think I've started the hard work yet.

"Plus I've been sat outside most of the day," she adds in reference to an unfortunate incident in which she locked herself out of her flat and had to sit on the steps and wait for her boyfriend to turn up and let her in.

"That aside, things are great at the moment," the singer continues. "Really great in fact. I was on Jools Holland the other night..."

Appearing on the weekly music show was a dream come true for Ware, although she barely relaxed enough to enjoy it.

"I said to myself, 'What are you doing?' I was there, in front of all my family, doing something I'd always dreamt of, and I wasn't having fun. I was a bit overwhelmed by it all, really. Thankfully I managed to talk myself into calming down and I loved it, even if I was still nervous."

Nerves are something that Ware, who hails from Clapham in south London, has dealt with and overcome before.

She's always been able to sing, but never believed she'd be able to do it for a living, partly because she wasn't sure she had the right temperament.

"I just didn't think I had the confidence to do it," she says. "I'd see other singers and even if they weren't great singers they still had so much more confidence to believe in themselves and carry it off.

"I wanted to be a singer, always, but I was practical and planned. I really wanted to go to university and get education behind me, so I went to Sussex and did English literature."

After graduating, Ware worked in TV production for a short time - a colleague at one company was EL James, who went on to write Fifty Shades Of Grey.

She also followed in the footsteps of her father John (a reporter on Panorama) and pursued a career in journalism, writing for The Jewish Chronicle among other publications.

Then old schoolfriend and signed singer-songwriter Jack Penate stepped in and offered Ware the chance to sing with him, first at a BBC session and later on various tours.

"I was having to take a lot of time off to go on tour with Jack," she says, "or I'd be working all day then go to do a gig in the evening.

"I'd have these late nights and then have to be up early to go to work, it was exhausting. Then Jack asked me to go on tour with him in America for a month. I'd used all my holiday from work, so I had to decide.

"I thought maybe I could do it full-time. I thought I might be able to make it as a session singer or backing vocalist, and took the risk."

Ware performed her last gig as a guest vocalist in January 2011 and then went about writing what would become her stunning debut album, Devotion.

Blending the smooth, late-night feel of Sade with the luscious melancholy of Whitney Houston's earliest recordings, Devotion somehow still manages to sound completely contemporary, thanks in large part to the production and co-writing skills of Dave Okumu of The Invisible.

Once Ware has toured the UK, visited her many fans in Poland and performed in the US for the first time, she says she'd like to get on with album number two, although she also realises she should start living too - in order to have something to write about second time around.

"I feel on a real high at the moment, so I'm waiting for the bad stuff to happen," she says, reflecting on a remarkable 12 months.

"I'm a pessimist so I can't help it. I don't think there's going to be some Jessie Ware backlash, at least I hope I don't put a bad enough foot wrong for that to happen, but I know that people can love you one day and not feel like that the next.

"That's why I didn't want to read any reviews of the album when they started appearing.

"I was so excited to finally be releasing an album I didn't want to potentially tarnish it by reading a load of negative things. I just wanted to enjoy the moment."

As it happened, Ware, who turned 28 earlier this month, would have had to have looked very hard to find negative words. Whether it translates to sales is another question, but Ware is already a darling of the critics.

Should Devotion pick up the Mercury Music Prize in November, beating the likes of Richard Hawley, Plan B, Alt J and Lianne La Havas in the process, her position as the brightest British talent would be cemented.

"Don't say I'll win it, please," she pleads. "Don't jinx it. Obviously I'd love to win, but being on that shortlist is enough, really.

"We all get a prize, I get to perform on the night, my mum and boyfriend are coming to the ceremony, and I'll be on a table next to one of my oldest friends too."

That friend is Felix from The Maccabees, also nominated this year, making Alleyn's School in London's Dulwich among the most prolific in the country when it comes to producing indie stars. Another former pupil is one Florence Welch, of 'The Machine' fame.

"It feels like I've been incredibly lucky to get to this point," says Ware, "but I've done a lot of hard work in that time. It doesn't feel like it's been a long time coming, but I know I've worked. And my best friend gave me a break, so really I owe it all to Jack for that opportunity."

Finally, she reflects on her forthcoming tour, her first run of headline shows. Has she at last got the confidence she always felt she lacked?

"There's a huge sense of relief that the album is out and people like it, and that brings confidence and belief," she says.

"Then I think if the record has sold, hopefully some of the people at the gigs will have it and know the songs. That makes it easier each time, so I'm not trying to win people over each time I perform, they're already on board."

Extra time - Jessie Ware

:: Jessie Ware was born in Clapham, south London on October 15, 1984.

:: She sang and performed with SBTRKT as well as Jack Penate and Man Like Me prior to recording her own music.

:: She released her debut single Strangest Feeling in October 2011.

:: Devotion reached No 5 in the UK album chart.

Tour dates


5 - Dublin Sugar Club

7 - Glasgow King Tuts

8 - Manchester Sound Control

9 - Leeds Cockpit

11 - Nottingham Rescue Rooms

12 - Brighton Concorde

13 - London Electric

14 - Bristol Thekla

:: Jessie Ware's debut album Devotion is out now.