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Gregory Porter on Britain's love of soul

Do Not UseDo Not Use 3/05/2016
Gregory Porter performs for Strictly Come Dancing © BBC Gregory Porter performs for Strictly Come Dancing

Gregory Porter was born in Bakersfield, California - but has had more chart success in the UK than the US. The soul singer talks to the BBC about playing Glastonbury and duetting with Disclosure.

Gregory Porter at the 2015 Grammy awards: Porter won a Grammy award in 2015 for best jazz vocal album © Getty Images Porter won a Grammy award in 2015 for best jazz vocal album

Gregory Porter is not a fan of the British diet.

Gregory Porter plays Glastonbury: Gregory Porter played West Holts Stage at last year's Glastonbury © BBC Gregory Porter played West Holts Stage at last year's Glastonbury

"I love being in the UK, but you've got to sort out your breakfasts," the singer jokes while on stage in London on the final night of his tour.

Gregory Porter and Laura Mvula: Porter has sung with Lizz Wright, Jamie Cullum and Laura Mvula (pictured) © Getty Images Porter has sung with Lizz Wright, Jamie Cullum and Laura Mvula (pictured)

While the culinary tastes of Britain may be slightly different from what he's used to at home in California, Porter is still clearly a fan of the UK. And the UK is clearly a fan of him.

Gregory Porter playing live for BBC Radio 2: The soul singer's music has become a firm favourite on British radio stations © BBC The soul singer's music has become a firm favourite on British radio stations

But it hasn't always been.

His debut album did not chart. His follow-up album did not chart. His third album, however, became a radio favourite and reached the top 10.

"I do know that we had a better platform in terms of allowing people to hear what it is I was doing, and subsequently people went to buy the records," he says of the success of Liquid Spirit.

"But I think the UK audience has a real connection to soulfully expressive music, maybe that came out of the 1950s, '60s and '70s and they perhaps hear that retro sound in my approach."

He's speaking to the BBC during a sound check for Later with Jools Holland, one of a plethora of promotional appearances he's making during his visit to the UK.

Porter is in the country for an 18-date tour in support of his new album, Take Me To The Alley.

"Now, when I walk the streets of London, cab drivers scream out my name. It's a beautiful thing and it happens a lot. So the acceptance has been extraordinary," he says.

He is of course no stranger to playing gigs in Britain. One of his biggest audiences to date was at last year's Glastonbury festival, where he played the West Holts Stage.

But if he isn't keen on the British diet, it's unlikely he was a fan of the British weather either.

"Typically for the UK, there was bright sunshine and then pouring rain. But it was a good vibe," he says.

"The UK audiences do festivals differently to anybody else. They come prepared and they go hard for days at the time, so it's amazing to step into the arena of that."

But surely the mud and rain is a drastically different environment from the smaller venues he's grown accustomed to playing?

"All of these experiences - Glastonbury, Ibiza or a concert in Hyde Park - are very different experiences to what I might have in a small jazz club, which is why I'm coming out of them," he says.

"But in these massive places you can still create a musical intimacy with people, not with space, not with the walls or the building, but with people.

"I can still create the same type of intimacy in a small club that I do in the Royal Albert Hall and I think it's about the people, not the space but the people - they lean in and they're into the music."

The list of artists Porter has collaborated with is long and varied. In the past year alone he's worked with artists as diverse as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, soul singer Lizz Wright and dance duo Disclosure.

"Clearly I'm all over the place," he jokes, when recalling some of the guest appearances he's made on other artists' records.

"Disclosure came to me and they were very cool and they said 'Let's go into the studio and write a song'.

"They didn't try to compartmentalise me and tell me what to sing. They were like 'What would you like to say? How do you want a dance song to feel?'

"That's why I put the song in my live set, and on my record, because I like the message of irrepressible love finding its way in a dance song with a heavy backbeat as well as a jazz style."

The song in question is Holding On, which Disclosure chose to release as the lead single from their second album Caracal.

Collaborating with other artists on request is one thing, but it's another story when it comes to his own albums.

On his new record Take Me To The Alley, Porter has solo writing credits on nine of the 12 songs. It's far cry from, say, Beyonce's latest album Lemonade, which has 72 writers credited across 12 tracks.

"The thoughts come to me singularly, the melody and the poetry," he says, explaining his choice to mostly write music without assistance.

"There's plenty of time to continue to collaborate with different people, but I think sometimes artistically you have to think about what it is that you feel, and how you want it to sound."

On the new album, the 44-year-old largely sticks to the sounds that his fans know and love, and by his own admission, he doesn't plan to set the world on fire with his music in future.

"I know many people who say I want to change the world - I don't want to change the world.

"But I do want to at least be the voice of something thoughtful and positive and to continue to write about the human experience and just to be a regular guy making music."

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