On Monday I was invited — and was honoured to be invited — to spend some time observing the process that Emeli Sandé and her team go through before any live performance. The experience was that much more special because this performance was at Sadler’s Wells and it was the first time that anyone would be hearing a selection of songs from her eagerly anticipated third album, Real Life.
What struck me initially was the incredible amount of hard work that goes into the preparation of a music performance. Sandé was focused on every single detail of the sound check and put so much energy into perfecting how the back-up singers and the band felt. She ensured that they were all in complete synergy and happy with what they were all bringing, collectively, to be the sound of Sandé’s performance. Her passion for her music — and for her team — showed in the care and attention she paid to every detail.
It really taught me about the hard graft — that so few people see — within the music industry. To me, it was a stark reminder that there really is no such thing as instant fame or overnight success. Sandé is a multi-award-winning, platinum-selling artist — but what I witnessed is someone who is working as hard as a person who is nameless in the industry. It was really humbling to see such a great talent still so dedicated to her art.
It sounds like a cliche, but her voice is truly astonishing. It’s one thing listening to her in the main event, but hearing her sing in an empty Sadler’s Wells was a celestial experience — if the empty chairs could, they would give a quiet nod to her performance, even with all the talent that they’ve seen before. It is in these moments that you realise how much of a national treasure she is. A combination of humility, talent, and an unbreakable will to be the best artist she can be. Lightning in a bottle…
During that performance, I spent so much time looking at the crowd — because every single face told me a different story. I saw people from almost every background — there were people quietly meditating, just taking in an artist who they love dearly, and there were people overcome with emotion. You could tell that every one of Sandé’s songs is a uniquely personal experience for her fans.
And that is the kind of fanbase that you have with you for life. From the empowering message of Shine to the stunning range of Sparrow, and the deeply intimate, powerful performance of Survivor, Sadler’s Wells rang with Sandé’s talent. It was truly extraordinary to witness the avalanche of emotions that was in the auditorium in Sadler’s Wells.
In the photos I took, I tried to capture not just the glory of her performance, but also the hard work and preparation that it takes to execute in the manner that Sandé and her team do. This includes makeup artists, management, the band, the sound team — everyone. It was quite the symphony and you can tell that it’s a very well-oiled machine and a crucial part of an artist’s success. No matter how astonishing your talent might be, the voice only gets you so far — you need a team that knows how to give that talent wings. That is exactly what I witnessed that night in Sadler Wells.
In many ways, Sandé feels like an artist that is from another age. It’s a beautiful thing to observe someone who is truly dedicated to the craft of her songwriting, to creating music, someone who is the opposite of the throwaway, celebrity culture that has invaded so much of the film and music world over the past few years. Someone whose talent just cannot be denied. I’m sure that her third album will be an incredible success.
This third album, Real Life, was written by Sandé after spending some time in Zambia and it really does feel intimate and personal. What I would leave you with is that this is an artist who is truly, authentically giving you a little piece of herself — maybe more than a little piece — in musical form. That is a rare thing. So let’s treasure her, support her, and enjoy the music.