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When it comes to tipping who is likely to make it nationally in 2013 it can be a bit of a shot in the dark.
For every successful critic’s prediction of Jessie J or Adele, there’s a Rumer who comes from nowhere to upset the applecart, or a Daisy Dares You or Sadie Ama who doesn’t quite achieve what was initially expected.
But just before Christmas Chichester’s Tom Odell followed in the footsteps of Adele, Emeli Sandé and Jessie J to be named as the winner of the Brit Awards’ Critic’s Choice.
Not only that but at the time of writing he was still in the running to top the BBC Sound Of 2013, and is waiting until February to see if he will scoop the MTV Brand New For 2013 award – as won by Brighton’s Conor Maynard last year.
It’s pretty safe to say his future looks bright.
The former Seaford College student was born and raised in Chichester and studied at the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music for a year before moving to London as a 19-year-old.
He was spotted playing his fourth show with his current band at the Queen Of Hoxton and signed to Lily Rose Cooper (nee Allen)’s label In The Name Of – an imprint of the major Columbia – which released his debut EP Songs For Another Love in November 2012.
The EP is set to be followed up by a full album later this year.
Talking to The Guide from his London flat he admits being up for so many awards is pretty nerve-wracking.
“I’m very happy to be nominated,” he says. “I put a lot of work into the EP, so it’s nice that it has connected. It’s so incredible to create something that people like – I’ve never really done that before.”
He first found his love for music as a youngster in Chichester, starting piano lessons at the age of seven.
“I spent all my time playing the piano,” he admits. “I would come home every night and play for three hours continuously. I was obsessed with music since I was five or seven.”
When he hit his teens, he discovered pop music and much of his classical work began to go out of the window.
“My mum and dad bought me [Elton John’s] Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” he remembers. “It was the first record I listened to all the way through. I spent a lot of my teenage years listening to records and learning how to play them on the piano.”
Around the age of 12 he began penning his own songs – starting with an ode to an eight-legged creature he used to share his bedroom with.
“I remember I wrote lots of melodies and lyrics which were ‘I looove yooou’ or something similar,” he says singing down the phone. “My first proper full song was Spider, which was about a spider who lived on my windowsill for a year. One day he died, and I remember writing the song – it was one of the days when I felt lyrically inspired!”
Lyrics became much more important as he got older and found a new non-web-spinning muse – girls.
“As I grew into my teens and fell in love with girls I got a little bit more interested in lyrics,” he says. “I started listening to lyric-writers like Bob Dylan.”
He admits he didn’t get involved with the Chichester band scene but generally would go to Brighton on the train when he wanted to see live music.
“The scene in Chichester was quite limited really,” he says. “In a way it made me more hungry – I knew there was this big world of music out there.
“It meant I wasn’t influenced by what was ‘cool’ as I might have been in London. There’s so much music in London it can be distracting.”
At the age of 18 he moved to Brighton.
“I love Chichester, it is a beautiful place,” he says. “I remember going for walks up Halnaker Windmill. I was lucky to grow up in West Sussex. I felt the need to get away and Brighton was the most obvious place.”
He signed up to study at the Brighton Institute Of Modern Music for three or four days a week, and rented a bedsit in Dorset Gardens, where he started writing songs on his keyboard.
In the year he lived in Brighton he found his tastes widening from Elton and Billy Joel to encompass the likes of Leonard Cohen, Cat Power, Beach House and Arthur Russell, who he got into through a girlfriend.
At the same time he was composing, recording on a dictaphone, which is now home to “between 600 and 700 ideas”, and playing songs at open mics.
He also got his first airplay on Tony Marks’ New Music Show on Juice 107.2 FM.
“There was so much music going on and so many people into different scenes,” he says.
“Brighton’s such a small place, but it’s full of music and culture and art and everything. It’s hard not to be inspired by the town.”
With the music industry based in London, it was a logical move to head for the big smoke. He set about advertising for band members in the Royal College Of Music and Goldsmiths College, which brought him together with bassist Max Goff. The pair built the band, including guitarist Max Cliverd, which played that fateful show at the Queen Of Hoxton.
“Everyone says I got signed after my fourth show,” says Odell. “The people who say that don’t know what I went through for three years!
“I had a band in Brighton, I’d done loads of shows with various bands.”
A quick Google search reveals one of those bands as Tom And The Tides, who performed the aforementioned Spider on BIMM’S 2010 compilation What’s Inside Your Head Vol 3.
He admits he is still surprised about how much backing he has had from the music industry since that now famous show. Critics have compared his voice to former Columbia labelmate Jeff Buckley, and his energetic style at the piano to Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
A television performance on the BBC’s Later With Jools Holland in December proved he has plenty of energy, and a knack for an insistent melody and passionate lyric, especially on the song Another Love.
Getting signed meant he could start working on an album – something which had been an ambition for the previous three years.
“I rented a cupboard in a garrett off Brick Lane and would work every day from 10am to 9pm,” he says. “I did that for ten months on my own.
“I wanted to write the album myself, and record it in a month.
“A lot of artists will write in the studio and work with a million different producers – a lot of labels force solo artists into doing that. I wanted to do it in an old-fashioned, traditional way.
“I can’t speak too highly of the label, the two people who run it really look after me – I get that additional care a lot of artists don’t have. It’s nice to speak to Lily too as she’s done it before – she’s very supportive.”
The recording sessions for the EP and album took place at RAK Studios over the summer, with Vaccines, Keane and Lana Del Rey producer Dan Grech at the controls.
“I really wanted the EP to be like a mini-album,” says Odell. “I wanted it to be a piece of work, but have that continuity as I did the record.”
Now he is just waiting to see the reaction – but with his Komedia showcase sold out three months in advance, the future is looking bright for Sussex’s newest star.
- Komedia Studio, Gardner Street, Brighton, Sunday, March 10. Doors 7pm, SOLD OUT. Call 0845 2938480 for returns
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