Twinnie, Laura Oakes
Wednesday, April 17, 19:30
8.30pm Laura Oakes
Named by Rolling Stone as one of the stand-out acts at this year’s Country2Country festival, recently signed to a global major label and with acclaim for her extraordinary, storytelling songs snowballing, Twinnie is finally ready to put out her debut album and reveal her real self.
“I’m a great believer in fate and trusting my gut,” says Twinnie. “I’ve always written songs and performed them anywhere that would have me. But I kept it low-key. I wanted to learn my craft, to put in the graft, to be sure that my music was the best it could be. I waited until the time felt right to release these songs and suddenly everything else fell in to place.”
That Twinnie can sing will come as no surprise to anyone who watched her in West End musicals - We Will Rock You, Rock Of Ages and Footloose among them - although her gorgeous, gravelly, country-tinged vocals still caught many off guard when she self-released her debut EP in 2016.
Produced by Jon Green (James Bay, James Morrison, Paloma Faith), the EP hit No.2 on the iTunes country chart, propelling its single Home onto radio. Within weeks, Twinnie had management (Craig Logan’s LME, home to Dido and Anastacia) and major labels competing to sign her. At a guess, she says, she had already written hundreds of songs in the past couple of years.
“For years I’ve been back and forth to Nashville for writing,” says Twinnie. “I’ve written in London, LA, New York, Sweden and at home at the end of my bed. I taught myself to play piano and guitar and put together a band. Everywhere I worked, I’d go out at night and play. Every job I’ve done has been to pay for myself to make music.”
For a decade, Twinnie has led a double life. While becoming a star of stage and screen, conquering the West End and working with Hollywood royalty, Twinnie has quietly pursued her real dream. Or rather, not so quietly of late.
“My journey as a singer/songwriter has been a winding road, it has been filled with so many amazing people and opportunities that have provided stepping stones to help me with my music. Coming from a small town where no-one had any connections to the music industry, it took a while for me to find my way and my team.
To sing my own songs and people sing them back to me has always been the ultimate dream. I either want to break people’s hearts or make them dance – or, both at the same time.”
Born to perform, aged two Twinnie was entertaining clients at her mum’s hairdressing salon in York. She went for her first audition aged four, won her first part in professional panto aged six and by seven was regularly on stage.
“People assume I had pushy parents, but it came from me,” says Twinnie. “I grew up watching Hollywood musicals, I was obsessed. I would learn the songs and routines and act them out, I just loved music and to perform. There was never a chance of me doing anything else but being on a stage.”
By the time she left home for drama school in Blackpool aged 16, Twinnie played lead in theatre productions of Annie and The Wizard Of Oz. She graduated three years later with her first West End role in We Will Rock You; spending her 20th birthday singing Bohemian Rhapsody on stage with Brian May and Roger Taylor.
By design, her life since has been an unpredictable adventure involving performing backing vocals and dancing for Justin Timberlake, Pharrell & Robin Thicke on the Blurred Lines tour, Michael Bublé, The Wanted amongst others on the Graham Norton Show, X Factor, and Strictly. She also adds her vocals on Ed Sheeran’s signing Jamie Lawson’s album. She has starred in TV and film. Currently she’s in cinemas in The Wife, (rumoured to be an Oscar nominated movie) alongside Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce and Christian Slater.
Throughout it all, Twinnie worked on her music. She was offered the opportunity to join forces with Ben Earle and form a duo after they had been writing a lot together however Twinnie had her heart set on being a solo artist. Earle later formed The Shires with Crissie Rhodes instead – Twinnie co-wrote Black and White and First Flight Out featured on the duo’s gold-selling debut album, Brave.
“I never really envisaged myself in a duo’ says Twinnie. “It’s that gut feeling again. I love writing with Ben, he’s one of my favourite writers to this day! I find it amazing how things work out, I knew that being anything other than a solo artist wouldn’t be right for me. The Shires have been integral through their success in breaking down the door for UK country acts. I’m so proud of Ben and Crissie and was overjoyed that I got to be a small part of their first album ‘Brave’ ”
Twinnie’s songs are steeped in country, but really they’re powerful pop with bewitching stories at their core. Sometimes they stray in to rock, often they embrace electronics.
“To me country is more about storytelling than a sound,” says Twinnie. “I come from a family of storytellers – I have Romany Gypsy ancestry. I grew up on a wide range of music from Dean Martin, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Billy Joel to folk, old school country and Tupac.
My inspiration for songs comes from people. I’m fascinated by them. I love talking to someone and hearing their tales. More than anything else I look for the truth. I try and write from a different angle, always looking for a twist (that’s probably my training from Nashville) it’s sometimes a bit of an abstract approach’
What’s in Twinnie’s head spills straight on to the page and she sings it’s straight from the heart. The sassy It Won’t Stop, co-written with Jack McManus, documents her path to becoming a singer. On both the Meghan Trainor-like Type Of Girl and the anthemic Better When I’m Drunk, she turns the spotlight on her own imperfections.
“I call myself out a lot, try and be as honest as I can” says Twinnie. The big production on those songs make them sound fun, but the message is deep. My song ‘Better When I’m drunk’ came from a conversation with my co-writer Adam Argyle about how my perception changes when I’m drunk. I like myself better simply because I feel I have more confidence and I’m free from the stresses of reality, it’s not necessarily about a lover. I just think a lot of people can relate to having an air of confidence when having a few drinks. The funny thing is I’m such a cheap date I literally have one glass of wine and I feel the buzz!”
“I’ve had people tell me I shouldn’t say this or that but what I love about song writing and music is that there are no rules. I wrote a song the other day called ‘Daddy Issues’... it’s a pretty self-explanatory title. I want to write about the stuff that everyone thinks, but not necessarily wants to say out loud. Music is personal preference and for me my songs are a self-expression of what I’m feeling, I strive to find the truth when I’m writing because then I feel people are more likely to relate to something that feels authentic. This record is 100% me and my story, it’s a collection of memories of my journey so far I’m really proud of it.”
The spellbinding piano ballad Superhero, co-written in Nashville with Lucie Silvas and Jeremy Spillman sees Twinnie lay bare her feelings about love and how the strongest of people become vulnerable. Social Babies makes explicit her opinions on social media. More, another from a Nashville session, began with the lyric “these red lips don’t give a shit”.
Twinnie’s debut album is due in the spring of next year. For now, she’s busy writing more songs and finding new fans. Among her admirers already is Bryan Adams, who caught her set at Cornbury festival last year and invited her to duet with him on the main stage.
“We did It’s Only Love with no rehearsal,” recalls Twinnie, it was an incredible opportunity that I’ll never forget. Literally one of the best experiences I've ever had.”
The Lexington is an 18+ venue - please bring ID!