Corinne Bailey Rae, an English literature graduate with a love of Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood, is talking about words, lyrics and punctuation. Her songs, she says, are an expression of her ‘unfettered self’.
…From the age of 15 she played the guitar and sang in an all-girl indie grunge band called Helen. Their first ‘proper’ gig was at the Duchess of York pub in Leeds in 1996. Her desire to make a go of the band was behind her decision to study at the University of Leeds. She had applied to Balliol College, Oxford, and achieved the necessary four As at A-level, but didn’t get in. She wasn’t hugely disappointed: she had found the Oxford interview process ‘quite alienating. There weren’t many people from my experiences. I didn’t meet any working-class people, I didn’t meet any black people.’
Bailey Rae grew up listening to all kinds of music. Her mother, from Yorkshire, and her father, who had moved from St Kitts in the Caribbean in his late teens, had a collection of Stax and Motown singles (they divorced when Bailey Rae was 12). The progressively minded youth leader at her church introduced her to Björk and the Cocteau Twins: music that he felt was ‘kinda trippy, a bit cerebral, a bit spiritual’. As a result of her mixed race – she dislikes the term but accepts that most people understand it (for a long time, if forced to describe her ethnicity, she preferred to say ‘brown’) – it has always been important to her to embrace all kinds of musical genres. She hates the notion that suggests that ‘Oh, black people only like R&B…
I don’t only like R&B,’ she says. ‘I always love in life when you see people acting in a way that is true and genuine to them but doesn’t fit into the perceived notion of how they would respond to something.’