Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Maverick Sabre: Travelling at the speed of sound

Maverick Sabre
Maverick Sabre Maverick Sabre Maverick Sabre

Known for his eerie, soulfully haunting vocals and skilful acoustic guitar-playing, critically-acclaimed 20-year-old Maverick Sabre has already won over a diverse fan-base - ranging internationally from the crowds at Texas’ SXSW to the DJs at Jamaica’s infamous Irie Fm, while additionally taking in prestigious support stints on UK tours with the likes of Plan B, Chase & Status, and Cee Lo Green.

Meanwhile this month will see him headlining for the first time at Camden’s prestigious Jazz Café on June 9, before going on to perform at a string of festivals this summer, including Glastonbury and Bestival. All of which will unquestionably be bolstered by the forthcoming late-July release of his next single ‘Let Me Go’.

Born Michael Stafford in Stoke Newington, London in 1990, Maverick’s musical escapade initially began at the tender age of four, when his parents decided to leave their UK home for County Wexford in Ireland’s “sunny Southeast”. Where, spending his formative years both accompanying his musician dad to his live performances and listening avidly to his dad’s classic soul and rock albums, by the age of eight a young Michael had already written his first song.

Nevertheless, while recording sessions with his dad ensued, it was actually Maverick’s older sister’s love of R&B and hip hop that would open his eyes to a wider range of contemporary music and take his up-to-then-homegrown formula to the next phase. When, on hitting his teenage years, he found the confidence to begin performing on the small-but-buzzing Irish hip hop scene. Where, via links with local groups like Rap Ireland and Urban Intelligence, support slots would soon ensue for internationally-successful rappers like The Game, Lloyd Banks and - most significantly - Plan B. Who, after hearing Sabre sing, suggested a move back to London.

Taking up his famous new friend’s suggestion, at 17 Maverick finally returned to his city-of-birth. Where, at first living with an aunt, he joined the dole queue for over a year before becoming a flatmate of the aforementioned Plan B. Since which time his ultra-distinctive, hip hop-inspired soul/folk vocals have gradually reached an ever-increasing audience. With Sabre prominently guesting on London rapper Professor Green’s award-winning Top 40 single ‘Jungle’ and on UK urban-dance producers Chase & Status’ Top Three LP ‘No More Idols’; while simultaneously inking a solo deal with Mercury Records and (in November 2010) putting out his critically-praised, 10-track free download ‘The Travelling Man Mixtape’… Which in turn preceded the March 2011 release of his equally-acclaimed debut EP ‘The Lost Words’ (which brilliantly showcased his unique artistic blend of social-political soul with dubstep-fuelled radio-bangers) and his recent, BBC Radio One-championed uptempo single ‘Where We Gonna Go’.

… Cue a highly-talkative Maverick hooking-up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing introductory chat.

Maverick’s main aims as an artist

“As an artist I want to put out music that crosses genres, ages, and even language and cultural barriers. You know, I want to make music that people can CONNECT with, whether they’re from the same background as me or not. Because I feel that, when you do try to focus on the raw emotions of people and stay true to yourself, then people everywhere will always pick up on your messages, and always draw from them and gain positivity OUT of them - just like I did when I was younger from artists like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and 2Pac. I mean, even though 2Pac might have been from a totally different background from me, when he spoke about feeling trapped or how none of his friends ever spoke about their emotions, I was always able to draw from that and apply that to my OWN life! Because, at the end of the day, everyone at different points in their life goes through the same real, raw emotions. Everyone’s heart gets broken; everyone has someone stab them in the back; everyone loses someone they love... And I think that when you do present those real emotions that people can truly connect with, your music will cross those boundaries and genres that society has put up over the years to divide us... So yeah, my main aim as an artist is to help people through rough times, while at the same time also bringing them TOGETHER.”

His musical upbringing in Ireland’s “sunny Southeast”

“Though I was born in Stoke Newington in 1990, when I was around four/five years old, because my dad is Irish, we moved back over there to the town he was brought UP in. Which was basically just a typical small town in Southern Ireland, where there wasn’t much going on! No cinema, no McDonalds - just a lotta standing around on corners and kicking a ball about! But at the same time, with my dad having been in a band all his life, it was actually after we moved to Ireland that I gradually started getting more interested in MUSIC. To where, when I was around eight or nine, I asked my dad to teach me the GUITAR. So he taught me to play ‘Stand By Me’ - and then from there, because I think he could see the genuine love I had for music, he started allowing me to go upstairs and listen to his RECORD-player! And I actually think it was that - along with me going to my dad’s rehearsals - that really developed my ear for MUSIC, because it was just kind of around me all the TIME! I’d literally just sit up there for hours - sometimes until it got too dark to see - listening to, and loving, records from Fats Domino, The Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Carole King... You know, I loved the crackle, I loved the touch of the needle on the records... Then, when I got to 13/14, I started to develop my OWN taste and got totally into hip hop - as well as reggae, folk, grime, drum & bass, dubstep... And so I think, when you mix all that together, you end up with the sound I have NOW! Which is basically like a melting-pot of all the different influences I’ve gathered up, and soaked up, through the years!”

Cutting his professional teeth on the Irish hip hop scene

“Well, I started MCing when I was about 14. At the time I’d literally just set up on Myspace. You know, it had been up-and-running for a couple of months and I’d basically just been targeting Irish hip hop acts, mailing everyone and offering to send them my EP, etc... So anyway, I mailed this man called Dan Scurry a CD, he liked it… And he was actually the one who offered me my first GIG - in a pub in a town called Waterford, supporting a hip hop group from Dublin he was managing called Urban Intelligence... And then it was literally a case of just building up contacts THROUGH that. So from there I started supporting Rap Ireland - a group of DJs who at the time were getting booked to support all of the big American acts that were coming over to Ireland. Which meant that, at 15/16, I was supporting people like The Game and Lloyd Banks, as well as UK MCs like Lethal Bizzle... And I guess that did kinda build up my confidence at an early age... In that I was getting chances that a lot of the MCs in the UK would NEVER have got! You know, at 16 to be able to say you were doing gigs in front of 2,000 people supporting big American acts I think did give me a very good GROUNDING.”

Maverick’s move back to his city-of-birth - London - at 17 years old

“I made the decision pretty soon after I did my final exams in Ireland that I was gonna move away to London, because I still have got quite a lot of family here. Plus I’d met up with quite a few people who’d helped me out a helluva lot when I’d been over here during the summer months doing a gig or two, and who’d offered me any support they could give me if I ever DID move over. So, after leaving school, I literally worked for a couple of months back in Ireland before finally moving over here to London the following January to stay with my aunt. And, while for a couple of years I kept going back and forth between the two places, I have now been living here permanently for about a year. And what moving to London has done for me as a person is definitely help me FIND myself. Because, with me being brought up between England and Ireland, one problem I’d always had was an IDENTITY issue. Plus, in addition to forcing me to grow up quickly as a person, it’s also helped me to find my sound and what I try to represent MUSICALLY. In that it’s opened so many different doors that I felt weren’t gonna BE opened in Ireland, where at the minute I still don’t see a massive amount of support in the media for homegrown music… Whereas over here people have been a lot more open to what I’m doing.”

How he came up with his professional moniker

“I actually chose the name ‘Maverick Sabre’ the first day I started on Myspace, when I was around 14/15. You know, because I was a hip hop artist at the time, I just thought my real name Michael Stafford would be a bit bland. Plus, because I wasn’t too confident in myself back then, I kinda wanted to just have something that I could step AWAY from - so that I could be Michael Stafford in one life and someone else in ANOTHER! So I basically looked up my initials - M.S. - in a thesaurus. And, once I found ‘M’ and saw ‘Maverick’, I felt it really did represent my attitude to my MUSIC! In that, even at that stage, I didn’t wanna ever box myself into one GENRE. Then the meaning I found for ‘Sabre’ - which I’ve never actually been able to find again! - was ‘someone who puts on a show or a front of hardness to get through tough times’. Which I felt was something I was already doing in my MUSIC - trying to get across a message to people, while behind it all going through tough times in my OWN head!”

The role chart-topping UK rapper/singer Plan B (aka Ben Drew) has played in getting Maverick’s career off the ground

“I first met Plan B when I was around 15/16, at a gig in Dublin. I’d actually won one of his vocal competitions that he’d had up on his website, and basically got to know him from there. So, when I came over to London the next summer, he was actually the main person to say to me ‘If you really wanna do this, then DO it!’... You know, he offered me all his support, and he has done to this DAY! He helped me out, he brought me into his family, into his circle of friends - EVERYTHING!... So yeah, I do owe him a helluva LOT! Because, as I say, he was the main one to literally give me a helping hand, plus he was the first one to say to me ‘If you wanna do this, don’t make it your BACK-UP plan! Just go ahead and DO it!’... So I took his advice - and here I am TODAY!”

Maverick headlines at Jazz Café, London on June 9. He also performs at Beachbreak Live, Carmarthenshire (June 17); Glastonbury Festival (June 26); Wireless, London (July 2); Oxygen Festival (July 8); Lovebox, London (July 16); Lowther Deer Park (July 29); Global Gathering, Stratford-upon-Avon (July 30); Underage Festival, London (August 5); Relentless Boardmasters, Newquay (August 13); and Bestival (September 11)

The single ‘Let Me Go’ will be released July 25 through Mercury Records

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