Emeli Sandé

Plus Special Guests Alas De Liona


Doors : 6.30pm

Emeli Sandé - How Were We To Know album biog

Love can make you giddy. It breaks your heart. Makes you a little crazy. Sends you into dizzying highs and crashing lows. This is what Emeli Sandé dives into on her sublime fifth album, How Were We To Know.

By now, the world is well-acquainted with the Scottish artist’s spectacular voice. Whether you heard its power at the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2012 Olympics, or encountered it during one of her countless sold-out headline shows around the world, there’s no mistaking it. And on this latest project, released just a year after her critically adored fourth album, Let’s Say For Instance, Sandé is using that voice to its full, astonishing potential.

“I definitely got a lot off my chest on the last album – being with a new record label has given me so much more freedom,” Sandé, who recently signed a deal with the independent Chrysalis Records, says. “There was a lot I wanted to say about myself, and I hope that through the lyrics people will get to understand me on a deeper level.” There’s no doubt that her millions of fans will feel even closer to her after hearing How Were We To Know, which Sandé notes is “very much” about relationships. “These are tales from a hopeless romantic,” she says with a laugh. “I’m very romantic, and it gets me in trouble sometimes!”

How Were We To Know’s 11 tracks explore intimate encounters with love in all its forms, along with the risk required to pursue it. “Once you’ve been hurt, it’s very hard to pick up the pieces again and allow yourself to be vulnerable,” Sandé says. “So I think these songs explore the bravery of love, and loving others but also yourself. These songs were pieces of a puzzle I had to put together, and now feels like the right time to share them.” Into each track, Sandé has poured her heartbreak, grief and joy; there are lyrics that speak to the grief of a relationship that broke down, and to the bliss and heady rush of something that’s just beginning to bloom.

From humble beginnings as a shy teenager growing up in rural Aberdeenshire – the daughter of a Zambian father and a mother from a working-class Cumbrian family – Sandé has risen to become one of Britain’s most successful and respected artists, awarded an MBE for services to music in 2017. Even as a child, singing for her was freedom, and a safe space in which to discover her identity. She attended medical school in Glasgow before deciding to take the leap and pursue her dream of a career in music. Upon moving to London, she met producer Naughty Boy, with whom she wrote and contributed vocals for north London rapper Chipmunk’s irrepressible 2009 hit “Diamond Rings”, as well as Naughty Boy’s debut single “Wonder” in 2012.

Sandé’s own debut, 2012’s Our Version Of Events, arrived after she was announced as the winner of the Critics’ Choice prize at the BRIT Awards, in a blaze of critical acclaim and praise from legendary artists including Madonna and Alicia Keys. Featuring hit singles including “Heaven”, “Read All About It” and “Next To Me”, Our Version Of Events was the biggest-selling album of the year and remains one of the best-selling records of the 2010s.

In a way, How Were We To Know is Sandé coming full circle, as she found she was able to have full creative freedom on an album that is so personal, and be guided by her own instincts. “I think this is the first record since the first where I’ve had enough time to work out what I really want to say,” she explains. “Our Version Of Events covered everything that took place in my life before I moved to London, and so you had this slow marinating of the songs. This album is the same, with lockdown giving me time to let the music do its own thing, which is so exciting.”

For How Were We To Know, Sandé assembled many of the trusted producers, mixers and engineers who worked with her on her previous four albums. This includes Mac & Phil, who co-wrote and produced the majority of her second album, Long Live The Angels, and Ollie Green, with whom she collaborated on 2022’s Let’s Say For Instance. First single “There For You” was written with music manager and writer Daniel Caruana, with its origins as a piano-based track evidenced in the bridge. “Daniel usually writes for rappers but one night I was at the piano and I asked him to write a hook, he most definitely delivered! Love the chorus! Everything came together so naturally!” Sandé said.

It opens in a soft haze. Sandé’s voice is a diaphanous lilt: “Even though it hurts, I’ll still be there for you,” she pledges. The track is laced through with subtle Eighties references, from the thrum of the bass to the classic sound of the Yamaha DX7 and, of course, the euphoric saxophone solo. “The song itself is about how I’ll always have love for the people I’ve been with,” she says. “Even if I’m pissed off with them for a couple of years, I’ll always care for them – I’ll always want to know they’re OK. Because once you’ve committed to that love with someone, it doesn’t just go away.”

The title track contains one of Sandé’s finest vocal performances to date – one that will remind listeners why they fell in love with her in the first place. It’s full of drama and spectacle, as she masters the art of the slow-build by opening with a devastating wolf-cry of a falsetto, enveloped by soft keys and swooning strings. While she sounds fragile at first, her delivery grows steadily more resolute as she absolves herself, and her lover, of any blame for this fractured relationship. “We gave it all we had,” she soothes, “so come on don’t feel bad / ‘Cos how were we to know?” At the climax she unleashes the full force of her voice, letting it soar, belting with unfiltered emotion. The song is a triumph, showcasing an artist at the very height of her powers.

“This is one of my favourite songs on the record, and I wanted it to be the title of the album because… we never know,” Sandé says. “But that’s life, and that’s love. It’s how I’ve always lived my life, by taking risks and not being afraid to fall.” And while this will speak to anyone who’s dealt with the fallout from a relationship’s ending, “How Were We To Know” also touches on Sandé’s experiences of the music industry. “It makes me think of the naivety of those early days, then discovering the reality of getting into it,” she says. “It’s a harsh industry. It can be very cold, and very cruel.”

She delves into this further on “True Colours”, a defiant and dazzling expression of self-love. “I’ve been on such a profound journey to accepting myself in different ways,

particularly my heritage and mixed ethnicity,” Sandé says. “I feel like a different person now, but I also feel like the person I was before stepping into the music industry. For a time it felt like, where am I in this? It was success, but it also felt like I was wearing a mask. I don’t feel that way anymore.”

So on “True Colours”, she revels in the love she has for every facet of her being, and invites the listener to feel the same way: “Remember there’s no one quite like you/ Who shines quite like you do/ Baby you’re a piece of art.” Sandé’s lyrics will resonate with anyone who’s been told they’re “too much”, or pressured to dim their own light to make others feel more comfortable. It touches on a particularly painful moment in her career, where accusations of “over-exposure” began to creep in amid the adulation. “There was a point where I felt I needed to go away,” she recalls, “I felt like nobody wanted to see me.”

“All This Love”, another Mac & Phil collaboration, sees Sandé question what transpires when we’re unable to express our true feelings. “If we go through heartbreak, or experience unrequited love, we can end up channelling it in more destructive ways,” she says. “I’m very much an all-or-nothing person, so after a relationship ends, I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to do with all this love?’” Again, Sandé uses her songwriting talents to lend a universality to the lyrics. Yes, the song is about relationships, but it’s as much about the way we interact with one another in the wider world, as it is about romance: “We have so much energy, so much love as human beings that isn’t being expelled in the right way – we’re stressed, and we’re anxious.”

Fans of Let’s Say For Instance will have observed the tangible excitement Sandé felt upon being given the creative freedom to explore new ideas. From the sultry R&B influences of “Pleasure” to the funk and disco of “Look In Your Eyes”, and the gorgeous piano interlude “July 25th”, co-written and performed by her partner, classical musician Yoana Karemova – this remains one of her most inspired projects to date.

Never one to make the same album twice, Sandé has now ensured that How Were We To Know is beautifully cohesive – from the serenity of “Lighthouse”, about a period in Sandé’s life where she found herself rebuilding everything and looking for sanctuary, to the yearning of “Too Much” and the hopefulness of “End of Time”. She lends her strength to the listener on “Nothing We Can’t Handle”, with its tender guitar picking and rousing gospel harmonies, and sounds full of hope on the stunning, devotional “Love”.

We hear a completely different side to Sandé on the single “My Boy Likes to Party”, a Robyn-esque sad banger on which she sings in a husky croon: “You get some twisted kind of pleasure/ Is this what you call fun?” Produced by Henri Davies and Jonny Breakwell, it shivers and sizzles along a trap-influenced beat, while she faces up to a past habit of “choosing a certain type”. Sandé’s sister gets a shout-out as the voice of reason – “she says babe, you’d better run, run, run” – in a situation involving all the wrong kinds of drama. “When I was younger I was definitely addicted to that – I craved the excitement,” Sandé admits. “My sister always knows who I’m going to go after, she’s so wise!”

But don’t think for a second that Sandé won’t stand up for herself. “Getting my fire back, that’s what this song represents,” she says of the proud “Like I Loved You”. After going through a divorce in her early twenties, she found herself shouldering the blame. “It’s informed a lot of my other experiences and decisions,” she says. “I’d been listening to a lot of Tina Turner, and other women who have that grit, which I found empowering.”

Sandé is driven by the empowering words she sings on How Were We To Know. “It takes a lot, in this industry, to maintain hope and optimism,” she say. “What keeps me going are these kinds of messages... and being able to get them out there to others. Because if you hear a piece of music that touches your soul, it reignites your spirit, and awakens something within. I hope this album inspires people in the same way.”

Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult over 18.

Not suitable for under 14s. Under 6 years not admitted.

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