Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Maverick Sabre: Maverick in the making

Maverick Sabre
Maverick Sabre Maverick Sabre

Known for his eerie, soulfully haunting vocals and skilful acoustic guitar-playing, critically-acclaimed 21-year-old Maverick Sabre unquestionably emerged as one of the British music industry’s most distinctive new artists of 2011 via his two breakthrough Top 20 singles - the brassy, Isaac Hayes-sampling "Let Me Go" and plaintively swaying "I Need." Both of which consolidated a diverse fan-base he had already cultivated via prestigious support stints on UK tours with the likes of Plan B, Chase & Status and The Script.

This month, meanwhile, sees the release of Sabre’s highly-anticipated debut album "Lonely Are The Brave." Which - already hailed as “an album of almost modern-day blues songs highlighting the changes in the urban emotion of British Youth” - boasts musical moods ranging from the jerky bounce of the catchy new single "No One" and the sombre, hypnotic groove of "Open My Eyes;" to the darker shuffle of "Cold Game" and organ-accompanied, old skool soul of "I Used To Have It All."

… 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 did indeed finally return 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 early last year 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. For whom his first releases - prior to his August 2011 chart breakthrough with the aforementioned "Let Me Go"- comprised the November 2010-released, critically-praised 10-track free download "The Travelling Man Mixtape" and the equally-acclaimed, March 2011-released EP "The Lost Words."

… Cue a highly-talkative and affable Maverick reacquainting himself with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing in-depth 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.”

Titling his debut album "Lonely Are The Brave"

“'Lonely Are The Brave' was actually the title of an old movie that I first heard about when I was really young - around 12 or 13 - and I actually thought the feeling captured in that one phrase was amazing, because I feel everybody at some point in their lives need to be brave to get through loneliness. And so, because I thought it also summed up a lotta the emotion behind this album - particularly in terms of where I was at when I was writing a lotta the songs - I just felt as a title it fitted the project really well.”

The different backgrounds behind some of the songs on "Lonely Are The Brave"

“Subject-wise the album ranges from a track like 'Cold Game' - which is in a way almost like a message to myself about when I get drunk and get into fights and the damage it can do - to a song like 'I Used To Have It All,' where I wanted to express more of a general social observation. You know, I basically wanted to get across the point how, when you’re a kid, you always feel like the world’s a perfect place, where if someone smiles at you they’re happy or if someone pats you on the back they’re your friend. You generally have this very immediate and kinda unselfish view of the world, and you don’t really go too in-depth about things. But then, when you grow older, you learn about the injustices in the world and why the class system exists and the reason for a lot of the bad things that happen in society... Then on the other hand a track like ‘No One’ - which for me is probably one of the simplest and most straightforward songs on the record - is really just reflecting an issue I was going through at the time, where the lyrics are basically just talking about a cheating situation I was experiencing... So yeah, like I say, there’s definitely a lot of different themes and topics on there.”

Mavericks’s 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.”

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!”

Album "Lonely Are The Brave" is out now and single "I Used to Have it All" will follow on July 23, all through Mercury Records


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