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No closet for Joe

JW New 3Joe Worricker was eight when it dawned on him that there was something remarkable about his voice. “It was my sister’s tenth birthday,” he remembers, “and I was singing Bugsy Malone in the corridor when I realised that I was a really jazzy singer.” Sitting in a pub in Soho 13 years later, singing a few lines to demonstrate – ‘I’m feeling fine, filled with emotion, stronger than wine’ – the effect, you imagine, is no less startling than it was back then. In person, Worricker is a skinny, white 21-year-old from Chelmsford in Essex, albeit with the lips of the young Mick Jagger. Yet when he sings it’s like his larynx is haunted. Deep, rich and smoky, Worricker seems to channel classic singers from Jackie Wilson to Arthur Russell – not to mention a phalanx of 40s jazz chanteauses. “The weird thing was that I sounded like a jazz woman rather than a jazz man,” he remembers, then shrugs. “I am a wannabe jazz woman anyway. I’m a wannabe diva.”

Behaviourwise, Joe Worricker has some way to go in the diva stakes – he admits that until recently he used to go purple in the face with shyness whenever he performed onstage. Yet as a singer he’s already fully-fledged. His voice has the kind of nonchalant versatility that only the truly talented possess, defiant on his song Finger-Waggers, bluesily intimate on Wrap Me Up and husky and yearning on Fairytales. His music, co-written with collaborators ranging from Scritti Politti legend Green Gartside to Lauryn Hill collaborator Jaz Rogers, takes in influences from the neo-soul Worricker grew up listening to to the epically ambitious psychedelia of Kate Bush or the Beatles. A sharp pop sensibility brings it all into focus. “It’s going to be really beautiful,” says Worricker, “but it’s not going to be wet – it’s going to be punchy.”

The lyrics, all written by Worricker, deal with subjects from rejection (“I’ve had so much it’s unbelievable”) to the importance of self-belief. “Finger-Waggers is about people trying to make you feel bad about yourself when you should love yourself. It’s just like ‘shut up, you piece of shit!’” Oh, and boys. No closeted pop star, Worricker is lyrically unafraid of the male personal pronoun. “Some people might think it’s my Lily Allen thing,” he smiles, meaning that they might think he’s being ‘controversial’. “Even when I came out in school some people were like, ‘you’re not even gay, you can’t even know you’re gay yet’. But I’ve tried to write in a truthful way which represents me and my character.” As the label that brought artists from the Smiths to Antony and the Johnsons to the world, Rough Trade, the iconic indie record label to which Worricker signed to last year (turning down a five-album deal one major offered), weren’t about to force him to compromise. “They’ve given me total creative freedom – they just want to create something beautiful rather than turn it into a product. And that isn’t just a phony thing, that’s how they are.”

Watch the video for Finger Waggers at: