More than one direction for Fiona Bevan
She co-wrote ‘Little Things’ for One Direction with Ed Sheeran and has been mentored by Adam Ant – but now singer-songwriter Fiona Bevan is going it alone with her own brand of “pop in disguise”
Fiona Bevan: “Ed was hanging out with One Direction around the time of the Olympics opening ceremony and the Queen’s Jubilee, and he played them the song and they just really liked it”
It must be strange to be at a gig where thousands of screaming, sobbing teenage girls are shrieking the words that you’ve written back at the boyband who are crooning them, but Fiona Bevan has been there, done that and bought the (One Direction) T-shirt. The young English songwriter co-wrote Little Things , the mega boyband’s sweet acoustic ballad, with a friend and fellow Suffolk native by the name of Ed Sheeran – but she couldn’t have foreseen just how life-changing one short writing session would prove to be.
“Ed came around to my flat one afternoon and we wrote it over a few cups of tea,” the bubbly, upbeat Bevan explains. “In fact, we actually lost the song for a while because we had only recorded it on his phone and it got lost or stolen.
“About a year later I was thinking about it and I said ‘Oh yeah! What happened to that song? We should do something with it’, because it hadn’t been used on his album. I rifled through my whole house and found the lyrics, and I emailed them to him. He was hanging out with One Direction around the time of the Olympics opening ceremony and the Queen’s Jubilee and stuff like that, and he played them the song and they just really liked it. It happened in a really strange, but completely organic way.”
Sheeran is just one of the many names Bevan has worked with over the past few years, but she’s now striking out on her own with her debut album, Talk to Strangers . It is richly informed by her upbringing with parents who listened mostly to classical music and jazz rather than contemporary pop. A multi-instrumentalist who plays almost every instrument on the album, Bevan began piano and violin lessons at the age of four, taught herself bass guitar at 14 so she could join a band with her schoolmates, and was writing her own songs on guitar by 15.
Rather than study music in college, however, she got a degree in English literature, which was not that surprising considering she is a distant relative of Robert Louis Stevenson’s. “He was my great-great-grandfather’s cousin, so my family was a literary family and I was brought up reading a lot,” she explains. “Words are very important to me and when it comes to writing songs, studying literature really helped; I read a lot of poetry and stuff like that. It’s important to me that the music and the lyrics mean the same thing. To me, that’s great songwriting.”
The pull of music became too powerful to ignore after graduation, however, and, having dabbled in various songwriting and performing circles, she spent some time playing guitar in Poussez Posse, a band Adam Ant took under his wing, mentored and even brought on tour as a support act.
“I learned a lot from him,” she says of the iconic pop star. “He’s an incredibly creative, productive person when he’s in that frame of mind. We’d go around to his house quite a lot, and his whole kitchen would be covered in cuttings and ideas and things that he’d use. His whole creative process wasn’t just restricted to music, of course – his image is a huge part of it and he was one of the first pop stars to think in such a visual way. For him, it really is about a show, and that was really a good education for me. Because I haven’t had a musical education in any traditional sense, all the people that I’ve worked with have been my education. He was inspiring.”
After a short period in the band, Bevan decided to follow her own path and the wheels were put in motion to craft her debut. She describes Talk to Strangers as a culmination of all of her experiences, collaborations and knowledge to date, from writing for classical ensembles to world-dominating pop bands. There is a gleeful eclecticism to the music, from smoky, jazzy cabaret to soulful pop – she calls it “pop in disguise” – but the lyrical content is less lighthearted.
“I suppose the album is political, because it’s about people, solidarity and togetherness and social isolation,” she explains. “There are lots of different things in there: love and the breakdown of love, and quite a few songs about money and the power of money, and whether you accept or reject that. So I think it is sort of subtly political in a coded way. I wrote most of these songs in London, so there’s something of the city in it – but I’m really a country girl and I was brought up in the middle of nowhere in Essex and Suffolk, so there’s a pastoral feel to songs like Slo Mo Tiger Glow , too.”
Although Bevan has finally found her own niche as a singer-songwriter, that doesn’t mean that she’ll be retiring as a gun-for-hire for other musicians. “I think at the moment, because this album is coming out, I’m very much concentrating on being an artist myself,” she says.
“I can be writing songs ’til I’m a granny, but it’s quite a tiring life being on the road so I think that I’ve gotta do that now, while I’m young. Songwriting can be more like a nine-to-five, but I think it’s a nice dayjob for when the singer-songwriter thing has its quiet moments. It’s lovely to have that option there. They’re both satisfying, in different ways.”
In any eventuality, she won’t be taking her moment in the spotlight for granted, having lurked in the shadows for so many years.
“Part of the reason it’s taken me so long to do this album has been time and money. I’ve always had to do other jobs; it’s just so hard to support yourself as a singer-songwriter until you get a lucky break,” she says. “I’ve always been working really hard, hustling and trying to pay the rent and stuff, so I think it just does take a long time. Also, because I didn’t study music at uni, I think it’s maybe taken me a bit longer to find my voice.
“But if all this stuff had happened when I was 18, I just really wouldn’t have been ready. I think everyone develops at their own pace, and I feel like now I really know who I am and what I want to say to the world and how I want to say it. It’s just taken a few years of trying different things and working with different people.
“It’s been an amazing journey to get to this point, but this also feels like a beginning.”
Talk to Strangers is out on April 25th