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BBC Sound of 2011: Clare Maguire

By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

media captionSound of 2011: Clare Maguire on her favourite place in the world

The BBC Sound of 2011 list showcases some of music's most exciting emerging stars, selected by more than 160 leading critics, bloggers and broadcasters.

At number five, big-voiced singer-songwriter Clare Maguire is the first act to be revealed from the Sound of 2011 top five.

The other artists from the top five will be revealed in reverse order every day until Friday, when the winner will be named.

If Clare Maguire's career ever reaches a point where her life story is told in the form of a Hollywood biopic, or maybe a stage musical, it will start at one key moment.

It is around 2005 and in a Birmingham high school, a feisty 17-year-old Clare is telling her teachers about her life-long ambition to make it as a singer.

"There was a teacher who said: 'You've got to get all these pipe dreams out of your head, because you're never going to make it,'" the 22-year-old Maguire recalls.

"I said: 'Right, if that's what you think, then I'll show you', with all this anger and passion and everything, and said: 'I'm leaving.'"

The headstrong teenager marches off to confront the headmaster.

"I went in to [see] the headteacher and said: 'Look, you need to watch how you treat people with ambition and dreams, because that could ruin somebody's career or life by doing that.'

"And then I just walked out and left.

"It really is as clear-cut as that," she says. "That's how it happened."

The screenwriters can have that much for free. But with Maguire on the brink of rubbing those teachers' dream-crushing faces in her pop stardom, it's how the script unfolds from here that counts.

image captionClare Maguire supported soul singer Plan B on tour in 2010

She is finally ready to unleash her debut album after three painstaking years working with the cream of British songwriters and producers.

That came after she was rumoured to have signed one of the largest record deals for a new act in recent years.

The singer's biggest selling point is her voice - a forceful, deep voice imbued with drama, so loud she had to mime in her childhood choir.

At her most epic, she can only be compared to deeply unhip belters like Cher, Bonnie Tyler and Elkie Brooks.

Yet she is far from cheesy. At times she adopts a haunting, quivering tone that hovers somewhere between folk and opera - a bit like a female Antony Hegarty.

After walking out of school she set about achieving her dream, building up her MySpace following while holding down a day job in Top Shop.

Her online fanbase included the singer Primary 1, aka Joe Flory. His manager decided to mentor Maguire, leading to the deal with Polydor in 2008.

The label then paired her with one illustrious (and expensive) songwriting partner after another, until the formula was right.

Maguire worked her way through Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink, Gwen Stefani), Salaam Remi (Amy Winehouse), James Ford (Florence and the Machine, Arctic Monkeys), Eg White (Adele, Duffy, Will Young) and Richard X (Sugababes, Liberty X).

But she ended up making the album with Fraser T Smith, renowned for his work with Taio Cruz, Tinchy Stryder and James Morrison.

Maguire says she made the album with just one collaborator because she wanted it "to all sound like it's come from the same place, the same room, the same people".

"It's not that it didn't work out with all those people, because I'm still going to use tracks I did with them," she says.

"I'm still going to release them at certain points, because there are so many amazing songs that I've done with so many amazing people.

"But it's just me. I knew what I wanted and I wanted an album that came from one place."

Dark image

With her deep voice, dyed black hair and steely stare, Maguire has so far come across as dark and moody. But that is not a true picture, she insists.

"I always wanted the image to be more seductive and almost pin-up, rather than goth," she says.

"I think it went wrong where people weren't listening. But now they're listening more."

The video for her first single Ain't Nobody - which showed her sitting expressionless in a barren valley, stuck in a windswept maelstrom of her own hair and clothing - did not help.

"I said at the time I didn't particularly want to wear black," she says. "It was all a bit too gothic for me.

"But the next thing isn't going to be, believe me. I'll be there with my feather boas."

Aside from the costume requirements jotted in the margin, the next page of the script remains to be written.

More on this story

  • BBC Sound of 2011 list revealed

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