With an education from the BRIT School as a teenager and time spent studying at ICMP, on a scholarship no less, Charlotte Campbell undoubtedly knows a thing or two about writing great music. Having recently had overwhelming success with a Kickstarter campaign to fund her new album, Charlotte agreed to sit down and have a rather long chat with me so that I could find out a little more about her. Warning, this is a bit of a long read (sorry!) and not one for the Buzzfeed types. So get yourself a cup of tea, sit back, relax and read on;
The build up to Christmas is generally the only time of year I’ll meander along to the Southbank, aside from popping into the BFI for the occasional screening, yet I seem to have come across a motivation to get me to head riverside significantly more often thanks to a chance Twitter encounter. The details of this encounter are still somewhat hazy in my mind yet what I am sure of is that I’m thankful for whoever it was that brought the delightful Charlotte Campbell to my attention. After falling through the rabbit hole and watching a selection of Charlotte’s popular YouTube videos, I struck up a conversation with her about possibly getting an interview together. And so, I finally meandered down to the Southbank on a brisk Friday afternoon and got to spend a good half hour in the company of one of the nicest people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.
Before we got to talking I made sure that I arrived with time in hand to catch a glimpse of Charlotte’s live performance, taking in her exquisite covers of ‘Heaven‘ and the seasonally appropriate ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas‘. It was so life-affirming to see a steady stream of patrons pausing their plans to listen to her sweet sounds and actually taking the time to listen to new music without being shepherded into whatever hot new thing the media are pushing. WIth a polite ‘thank you’ and a charming smile every time someone dropped money into her guitar case or picked up a flyer, the latter being of preference to this chirpy performer, a smile cracked across my usually sceptical face.
Once all the gear had been packed away, and the offer of a gig in Cambridge had been tabled by an enthusiastic gentleman, Charlotte and I headed off somewhere a tad more peaceful to chat. We began by talking about the differentiation between a street performer and a busker, the former being the more accurate description of her current role, and the topic repeatedly arises due to my general inability to avoid putting my foot in it. Though she doesn’t mind either term, Charlotte feels that her preferred term “gives it a bit more status”. She has the equivalent of a residency by the river, getting involved originally as she genuinely loves making music and she “wants people to hear it”. Having originally bought an amplifier for mobility on the tube, she discovered that it was battery powered which naturally led to her ability to theoretically wherever. There’s a genuine determination to get her music heard that flows through every last sentence and she decided to follow in the footsteps of others by simply getting out there and giving people the chance to hear her wonderful sounds as often as possible. She tells me of how there was a real competition to be heard before a licensing system came in to place which, once in effect, ensured a supply of high quality performers being allowed their own space to breathe and indeed be heard.
Whilst Charlotte voices concerns about sounding like she’s rambling I find myself truly enraptured by her positive attitude and more than happy to hang on her every word. One quote sums her attitude up succinctly – “I just wanted people to listen to my music and if I go out in the street and they have to listen then I might get some more people to find me online and follow what I’m doing!” She’s already 3 years into her street performing stint and it has become a full time job, one that many people would surely envy yet few actually are brave enough to take the plunge and follow their hearts as Charlotte has. Being out and about does indeed get her noticed and it’s where she manages to pick up most of her future gigs. So what got her first into music? With parents that met through amateur-dramatics she was encouraged to enter the world of performance at a young age and, after realising that she was “really really a bad dancer” her mum bought a guitar which allowed her to “stand still”, a decision praised as “good logic”. Within a year Charlotte’s mind had turned to songwriting and, inspired by Joni Mitchell”s ‘Blue‘ and the sounds of Michelle Branch, it is the aspect which “keeps [her] in music”. In fact, this passion for the art of creating songs is so strong that if it were snatched away from her bow she would even consider not making music any more.
There’s an interest in writing songs for others but as of yet her finest products have resulted in her own creations. Whilst there can be no denying her ability to construct beautiful sonic tapestries her job requires the ability to perform cover versions that’ll bring tears to your eye – there’s a truly heart-warming reasoning behind the inclusion of ‘Heaven‘ into her regular routine which show Charlotte’s desire to “connect with people and reach out to them”. The footfall for the area is incredibly weather-dependent, rainy days are no great help yet when the Christmas market is in town the crowds can be booming. Referencing Aesop’s fable ‘The Ant and The Grasshopper’ as the reason that she works so hard all year round – if your livelihood depends on the weather there’s certainly no excuse for slacking when the sun is shining! Her willingness to work long hours when the getting is good shows why she’s still out there performing and why her popularity has begun to rise. Though this might not be the most conventional job, Charlotte does indeed “try to work an 8 hour day” which is no mean feat given that she’ll often be working 7-day weeks, most of us may instinctively turn away with this realisation yet this is one woman that won’t be swayed from doing what she loves.
Eventually we get down to the crux of the matter, the topic which first brought Charlotte to my attention – her Kickstarter campaign. For those of you that are unaware of her successful crowdfunding attempt, the campaign to raise money to record a new album set out with the original goal of achieving £3000. With just under 24 hours to go as I write this, Charlotte has current raised over £7,750. Not bad eh? This overwhelming showcasing of generosity has lead to a reciprocation from the benefactor in the forms of a bonus EP and a free ukulele giveaway, a sizeable thank you o those that have shown their faith in her. This is actually Charlotte’s second attempt at crowdfunding, having used PledgeMusic previously to make an album full of songs. This time out, however, there was no surprise in the campaign’s success as her online presence has grown significantly – Charlotte talks incredibly fondly of those that follow her social media content, showing her appreciation for those that are helping her pursue her wonderful dream. This time around she actually had the money to finance the album and decided to be very open with her fans who actively encouraged her to use Kickstarter so that they could get their hands on some of the charming perks that come along with the promise of a donation. The incredible heights that the campaign has reached has allowed Charlotte the opportunity to pick and choose the details of the album, rather than being restricted to her original basic budget – making sure that it’s “just the best thing ever”. What does help massively is having a gentleman who lives in America stumping out the entirety of the original goal to ensure that Charlotte would head to the US to perform for him – also allowing her the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream of visiting Nashville and chancing her arm at a gig at the Bluebird Cafe.
Charlotte’s YouTube videos are her “top promotion” and she’s even carved herself out a semi-catchphrase, it may be just the word “Hiiii” but her familiar form of delivery is a rather welcome introduction to each video – and it is also ready for T-shirt printing in the near future. Currently undertaking her brilliantly named “Advent Campbeller” in which fans are treated to daily submissions, Charlotte is a humble person who seems to be making the very most of the support she’s given. In a world where the value of recorded music is repeatedly brought into question, she allowed listeners to pick their own price for her recent single ‘Streets Of London‘ and she’s proud to support this wonderful quote from Amanda Palmer;
I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, “How do we make people pay for music?” What if we started asking, “How do we let people pay for music?”
One of my personal highlights of the many quotes Charlotte offered up was the short but sweet “music is for everybody” and this seems to sum up her musical philosophy in 4 short words. Whilst many people are looking for a holy grail of sorts, I was in the company of someone with nothing but good intentions and there wasn’t the slightest hint of insincerity to be found. Having been somewhat knocked back by dismissive attitudes towards her songwriting whilst learning her craft at the Brit School and ICMP, Charlotte does at times appear to doubt herself slightly yet she openly states her ambition to “make a living as a musician” and that if she can keep on “pleasing the people who actually are interested” she’ll be content. Essentially, she’s writing songs that she likes and, for me at least, that’s exactly what making music should be all about. There’s plenty of support on offer from friends and family that Charlotte is pleased to acknowledge but the fact that she does almost everything for herself will surely help her gain the experience and wisdom necessary to progress in the way that her attitude deserves.
So who does Charlotte enjoy listening to? Though it might not be quite in keeping with the music I’m generally keen to promote I can’t fault her acknowledgement that she “adores Taylor Swift” – I may have been keen to move the conversation on at this point. Charlotte is full of praise for fellow street performers including Emily Lee, Scott (“I can’t remember his surname”) the Scot and his band The Medicine Show and the delightful Lewis Fieldhouse whom I had the pleasure of briefly meeting. There’s also a shout out for fellow songwriting school alumnus Sam South (“he’s a genius”). She’s certainly keen to lend a hand to her peers and tells me of how she’s constantly encouraging friends to make more music and get out there. There’s not dwelling on any negativity, even when I ask the increasingly pointless question regarding her least favourite cartoon character – after some cajoling I’m able to purse the words “Daffy Duck” from her lips before she criticises my answer of Scrappy Doo as “everyone loves Scrappy”.
As we drew things to a close I finally mustered up the courage to ask something which had being playing on my mind, amid plenty of Hugh Grant style faffing, regards to her appearance – a topic I would generally keep well away from. After thanking me for calling her an “attractive woman” (yes, I am clearly a smooth talker) she acknowledges that her charming looks are helpful but stresses that she tries to “avoid being sexual” as she would prefer to see some rather more upstanding role models for young girls. Having felt like there weren’t many female singers that she could look to as being “a bit like [her]”, Charlotte is keen to take the focus away from body image and give parents the knowledge that their child can be “safe listening to certain artists”. Describing herself as more of a “girl next door” type, there’s a distinct unwillingness to be Miley Cyrus – though she wouldn’t mind being Hannah Montana. Her messages of “embrace yourself” and “it doesn’t matter what people think, it just matters who you are” are ones that everyone should be able to heed.
I could run out of superlatives before I even begin to describe what a wonderful person Charlotte Campbell is – the fact that she’s out there making such feel-good music is simply a bonus. WIth a smile that barely leaves her face, she’s definitely someone worth supporting and if we could all take a leaf out of her book I’m sure the world would be a much friendlier place.