Charlene Soraia maybe best known for a tea advert, but she tells Sarah Marshall why she’s much more than a one-track musician.
Charlene Soraia first pricked the nation’s consciousness when her cover of The Calling’s Wherever You Will Go was featured on a Twinings Tea advertisement. However, like most musicians credited with overnight success, for the 21-year-old, who first picked up a guitar at five, the attention she’s since enjoyed was hard-earned.
“I started playing and writing music straight away,” says the London-born singer who taught herself to play guitar. “I just found playing so exciting because to me each note and each chord represents a different colour, feeling or experience.”
Soraia’s musical education continued when her father introduced her to David Bowie, who she credits along with King Crimson and The Beatles, as a major influence on her work.
Describing her school days as “lonely”, music has always been an escape, but when at 16 she won a scholarship to London’s BRIT School, which has several famous alumni including Adele, Amy Winehouse and Jessie J, she suddenly found herself among like-minded souls.
“The BRIT School was great. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many like-minded people who loved music as much as me.”
Soraia began performing in London pubs in her early teens and played in numerous groups during her time at BRIT from the psychedelic blues outfit Eletriq Mistress to rock band Retrospect with whom she recorded an EP.
“Playing in a band was really cool, but I’ve always been happiest as a solo artist,” she says. In 2008, Soraia returned to playing solo gigs and recorded three self-funded EPs: Daffodils and Other Idylls; Postcards in the iO and One of the Sun in the space of a year. While Daffodils and Other Idylls went to the top of the folk charts, Soraia craved a larger audience and admits doubts about her music remained.
“I did everything myself – from the recording to hand-making the covers, but I didn’t mind because I was just so happy to be getting my music out there. However, it was hard when a lot of my friends were having great success with their music. There were times when I would think to myself, ‘What am I doing?’”
In 2009, Soraia’s EPs finally caught the attention of independent record label PeaceFrog. A deal was signed, but her début album, Moonchild took two years to be released.
It was while she was waiting for the album to come out that she was contacted by Twinings Tea who were looking for an artist to record a new version of Wherever You Will Go.
“I remember coming in really early in the morning to do it, and being given a glass of whisky,” she jokes. “I wasn’t sure if my recording was very good, and I knew they had approached a couple of other singers so I didn’t think much would come of it.”
Immediately after the recording, Soraia went on tour and it was only when she came home that she realised the song been featured on the Twinings advert.
“It was absolutely mad. All of a sudden I had thousands of followers on Twitter and people were telling me they loved my voice. I really didn’t expect it.”
Released as a single in September last year, Wherever You Will Go reached number two in the downloads chart, paving the way for her début album Moonchild to be released in November last year.
“I think a lot of people were expecting my album to have a lot of piano on it and to be quite soft,” she says. “But I’ve always loved prog rock so I think the album reflected that – which might not have been what people were expecting.”
The Moonchild UK tour began last week and includes dates in Sheffield and Leeds.
“I’m so excited to be finally headlining after years and years of being a support act,” she says. “I’ve always enjoyed spending time in Leeds because I have quite a few friends here and it’s just a really nice part of the world. I also love the accent, which I always think sounds really friendly.”
As for the future, Soraia says: “I’ve always enjoyed watching the progression of singers and bands I love and I hope people will do the same with me.”
Charlene Soraia, Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, February 24, 0113 275 2411; Memorial Hall, Sheffield, April 10, 0114 278 9789.
Following in the footsteps of the brit school greats
Charlene Soraia is the latest graduate of the BRIT School to enter the spotlight.
Opening its doors in Croydon more than 20 years ago, its alumni include Adele, Amy Winehouse, the Kooks, Katie Melua, Imogen Heap and Rizzle Kicks.
The school was the brainchild of Mark Featherstone-Witty, who had been inspired by Alan Parker’s 1980 film Fame to create a secondary school specialising in the performing arts. With a little help from Richard Branson and the British Phonographic Industry, the Brit School finally came into being in 1991.