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July 2014

IT was at last summer’s Splendour festival and a backstage chat with Jake Bugg’s manager that the seeds were sown for Harleighblu’s current success.
She had been on the local music scene for a few years, picking up acclaim and tips for success on a regular basis. Then came the deal with Tru Thoughts and the subsequent debut album Forget Me Not, plus national airplay and magazine cover features.
But she’s stepped it up a gear this year, making her Glastonbury debut last week, playing the Isle of Wight Festival, festivals in Switzerland and France, with more to follow including Bestival and The Great Escape.
“There are lots of great things coming up,” says the 22-year-old, who lives in Carrington.
“It’s going to be a good summer. It feels like it’s going to be my year.”
It all started with a mini-tour of the UK, including the Rescue Rooms, in February.
“I’ve not stopped since then,” she says.
The jump from local gigs to international festivals has been down to her finding a manager.
“It’s had a massive effect on my life,” she says.
“I only came across him because of a big talk I had at Splendour last summer with Jason Hart, Jake Bugg’s manager. He said I needed a manager who would, eat, sleep and breath me, who totally gets the direction I want to go in, someone with time, money, energy... all of that.
“It was invaluable advice. And I soaked it all in. Then I played an industry festival that was showcase for Tru Thoughts. Chris Young was there to give a talk about the success of Subtracks, a producer he manages. He’d just been in the States working with Drake.
“Chris knew who I was because XFM’s John Kennedy had been championing me and I’d been played on 1Xtra. He said he was interested in managing me and I told him I was in between management. I wasn’t, I was doing it all myself,” she laughs.
“He gave me his card and that was it. He sorted my life out. Now I can enjoy the singing and he can sort out the business side of it. That had been killing me and the reason why I’d not been playing so many gigs.
“Then, as soon as you give that job to someone who knows what they’re doing... bam! it all starts.”
Not that Chris is finding managing Harleighblu that easy.
“He gets quite annoyed with me because I’ve not been checking into flights on time when I get the emails,” she laughs. “All this flying malarkey, it’s a bit much for me. I find it really confusing.”
Already this summer she’s played the Isle of Wight Festival, then Fete Du La Musique in Switzerland.
“I didn’t know until I got there that I was on the main stage. I thought I was playing some little jazzy stage. There were thousands of people there. It was massive. I was in the Geneva newspaper as ‘one to watch’ and even when I was soundchecking there thousands of people waiting and staring at me. And when I started singing they knew the words. It was a really surreal feeling.”
Last weekend’s Glastonbury was a good experience she says but the smaller, leftfield festivals are what she’s most excited about.
“Glastonbury is as mainstream as I’m getting,” she laughs.
“It was great but the next day I was in Paris supporting Charles Bradley and the Dap Kings at La Defense Jazz Festival.
“On Tuesday it was Gilles Peterson's Worldwide Festival in th South of France. I’ve got Love Supreme this weekend where I’ll get to support De La Soul again, and Laura Mvula... just cool soul and hip-hop artists. And I’m excited about the other jazz festivals I’ve coming up in France later this month.”
Harleighblu is her real name. Her mum was pregnant with twins that she planned to call Harleigh and Blu, merging the names when she lost one of them.
It was her mum’s vinyl collection that inspired the music she makes today.
“Singing is definitely the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do,” she admits. “I have no plan B.”
Her debut album, Forget Me Not, came out on Tru Thoughts last summer. It earned great reviews but wasn’t a commercial success.
That said, it served its purpose, she says.
“Forget Me Not was a great platform, just to get something out there and start the ball rolling. I got the attention that I needed from that album but now I’m moving on.”
The more she plays live with her band, the more her sound is developing: “It’s going a bit more trip-hop and electronic. It still has that hip-hop soul element but it’s developing. I’ll release an EP with that new sound at the end of the year or in January.”
Harleighblu is back in Nottingham tonight for the Tia Maria Dark Room, a curious event in a pop-up venue in Broad Street.
TV and radio presenter Gemma Cairney is the curator of what is billed as “the ultimate girls’ night out” that includes cocktails, hair styling, manicures and live music.
“I wasn’t sure about doing it because it’s the day after I come back from France and I’m off again to Love Supreme the day after,” says Harleighblu.
“I could have done with the day off. But Chris said that Laura Mvula did it last year and I like her. I think she’s cool. And I pretty much do as he says anyway.”

The Tia Maria Dark Room, with Harleighblu and One Girl, One Boy, is at Unit 2, 7 George Street, Lace Market from 5pm to 11pm and again tomorrow from 4pm to 11pm (Harleighblu only appears tonight). Admission is free but tickets are required. Go to for details.

“The new queen of hip hop soul”@ Radio 1/1Xtra’s Mistajam

“Her protean, dexterous voice immediately impresses. A talent to watch"@ Q

“A raw talent… with a voice that pours old soul in unfeigned torrents… a polished yet stirring debut.”@Clash

“Great soul. Look for this voice to grace some future high profile collaborations”@ DJ Mag

“Great vocals and songs to die for… expect big things and a bright future (5/5)@ Blues & Soul


“Can’t get enough of Play Me”@ 6Music’s Nemone

“A tune that a lot of people are asking about… Harleighblu… I like that!”@ 1Xtra’s Trevor Nelson

“She is something else. Massive, massive”@ 6Music’s Huey Morgan

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