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Henley Festival
5-9thJuly 2017

Jess Glynne describes the day that she signed her record contract as ‘the happiest and saddest day of my life.’ Professionally, she had come of age, earning the respect of an industry she fought long and hard to win a place in. Here was the proof that her talent for singing, song writing and performance were ready for their close up. Personally, she was in pieces, broken hearted from a two-year relationship that made her question everyone and everything. ‘I was holding back the heartbreak,’ she says, ‘I was living my dream and a total nightmare at the same time. I cried all the way home. The one person you want to talk to about this, the call you want to make after you’ve left the label is that person, and I couldn’t. It was horrible.’

There is more than one musical way to skin the heartbreak cat. In the decade passed since Back to Black, the British pop narrative music has cultivated a side line speciality in albums documenting the wrench of broken love. The break-up album is now its defining motif. When she began documenting her exact feelings in song for I Cry When I Laugh – a deliberate duality that speaks directly to her demeanour in person as in song- Jess Glynne decided to take an alternative, circuitous route to the searing piano ballads that are now our national pop default position. ‘I wanted this record to be about hope,’ she says.

Like many of her young peers, Jess outgrew her early diva favourites Mariah and Whitney on first hearing the voice of Amy Winehouse at a pivotal age. She loved Frank, but Back to Black came out when she was 16 years old, opening up a kaleidoscopic new world of musical possibilities. This wasn’t just about Amy’s peerless ability to harness truth through music. It was about the figurative and the literal voice she gave to girls with talents like Jess, too, that didn’t want to strip off, get skinny and look the same to get heard. ‘When I saw Amy?’ she says. ‘Mate, I was like, OK, she’s from North London, she’s Jewish, she sings songs that I’d love to sing, she’s inspired by the people that I am inspired by. It was almost weird how much we had in common. At one point, she made me think I can never do this because I can never be as good as she is.’ Rather than torturing herself in the shadows of an inspirational figurehead, Jess made the decision to be as good as she could at being herself.

Writing pop hits is enviably easy for Jess Glynne, as she has already proved ‘The three-minute pop song is a structure I understand. It almost feels like second nature.’ It was when it came to scripting an album, a full body of work that would bear only her name, that she knew she had to flesh out her ideas. ‘I do worry that people take music less seriously if it’s upbeat,’ she says. ‘But that’s why I am here. The reason music seems to be finding an audience is because I found something different, which was always my intention. I found me. This is it. I couldn’t be prouder of it.’