He's got a striking look and a startling voice but somehow you don't quite connect the two. And yet it's true: that young man singing his way up and down the vocal range from tenor to falsetto with the power and grace of a Smokey or a Prince is actually a 23 year old from Manchester.
Meet Daley, the new wunderkind of modern R&B. You may already be familiar with him from his two visits to the charts, either via the Gorillaz single ‘Doncamatic’, a collaboration with Damon Albarn who invited him to write a song with him after watching him on YouTube, or from ‘Long Way Home’, a standout track on Wretch 32’s Top 5 album Black and White. “Working with Damon Albarn really felt like affirmation of how far I’ve come,” says Daley, a former web designer who has been living in London for the past two years. “… and being involved in Wretch’s album was just incredible.”
You may also have seen him in the BBC ‘Sound of 2011’ poll last year, a ranking he secured without the plugging of a record company. Or you may have heard his mixtape, Those Who Wait, a recent showcase for his mercurial vocal talents and songwriting prowess - after all, it has been downloaded over 20,000 times leading to live bookings all over the globe (including the legendary SOBs in New York).
As a teen, he would make bedroom recordings inspired by the likes of Prince, Maxwell, Imogen Heap and Jill Scott, but he had nowhere to perform in Manchester’s live scene, one still dominated by indie bands. So he moved to London and built a reputation on the black live music circuit performing at shows such as ‘Sunday Show’ and ‘I Luv Live’. “I would usually be up onstage just after a rapper or a grime MC," he recalls, "so I knew people did not know what to expect, but my music seemed to do the talking for me."
Daley’s track ‘Rainy Day’ found its way to Mistajam and Ronnie Herel at BBC Radio 1xtra, who started giving it heavy rotation. Fans of Daley include pop contemporaries Jessie J, Tinie Tempah and Little Dragon, dubstep producers Joker, Wonder, Tru Tiger, Quest and Silkie, and soul luminaries such as George Michael, Angie Stone, Bobby Womack, Ledisi, Chrisette Michelle and Marsha Ambrosius (the latter features on the mixtape).
“I had people talking and it felt great but I still felt I had not made a statement about who I am as an artist, so I recorded my mixtape, ‘Those Who Wait', and gave it away on Twitter and Facebook,” he explains. He adds that his mixtape might surprise some people. “If you’re expecting a straight-up soul singer,” he warns, “it won’t necessarily be that.”
The lead track from it is ‘Smoking Gun’. “It’s about an emotion I went through, rather than an actual situation,” he admits. “Obviously I’m not confessing that I shot someone! It’s me telling a story. About the frustration and anger that can develop in a relationship, the thoughts that enter our minds that we shouldn’t admit to. It’s quite dark.” Not that he’s got time for a relationship right now - he’s too busy forging a career as the first British male R&B star of note for a generation. Daley is currently working on his debut album with production so far from Andre Harris of Dre and Vidal (Jill Scott, Mary J Blige), former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler (Tricky) and Shea Taylor (Ne-Yo, Beyonce).
“I’m exploring different sounds with the album,” he says of the writing process, “but I am tying it all together with the songs and how I sing them.” The songs are, he explains, largely about love, life, and change. “It’s important to me to write about aspects of life that people can relate to,” he says. “Any time a drastic change occurs in my life, it ends up as a song.”
It's about time a soul man took his place alongside the many globally successful UK girl singers. “We’ve had great female artists like Amy Winehouse, Adele and Jessie J. But the men have been slacking,” he laughs. “There hasn’t been a great male soul artist for ages. I want to make it up there.”