The story of Jodie Marie starts off something like a joke - "man walks into a pub..." - and ends up like a fairy-tale. It's the kind of thing that only happens in films, or dreams. But happen it did, and here she is, the brightest new star of 2012, already. After all, outrageous fortune often happens to those with outrageous talent.
Four years ago, Roy Langley was holidaying in Narberth, Pembrokeshire. He walked into... well, not a pub exactly, but a little bed-and-breakfast in the small West Wales town. The landlady overheard her guest telling a fellow guest about how his son worked in the music industry in London; how his then 22-year-old offspring, Toby L, co-ran a label, publishing and management company, Transgressive. Then and now the indie consistently punches above its weight, discovering, signing and/or releasing the best artists around: Noisettes, Foals, Graham Coxon, Johnny Flynn, Two Door Cinema Club.
The landlady knew a singer. A 16-year-old local girl whose plumber dad was doing some work in the B&B. The teenager had sung at the Eisteddfod, the age-old Welsh cultural festival, and was a big draw at local weddings. She did a great cover of Patsy Cline's Crazy and her version of Bette Midler's Wind Beneath My Wings was to die for. Maybe her guest from London would like to hear her CD and give it to his son?
Roy, perhaps, raised his eyebrows. But it would have been churlish to refuse. The plumber fetched a CD from home and gave it to the landlady, who promptly played it to the holidaymaker. Then he called the kid from the management and record company...
The rest is herstory. Jodie Marie had lift-off. A preternaturally gifted singer-songwriter with an elegant yet piercing light-blues touch, she might be the third point in a triangle formed by Joan Baez and Carole King. Or she might be her own woman, a young artist who has spent the four years since her Big Break not chasing a pot of record company gold but working in the studio shadows, working with some of the best in the business, honing her songwriting craft.
"Probably because I was so young, I hadn't really matured in my songwriting," reflects Jodie Marie, now 20. So, encouraged by the interest from Transgressive's management, Jodie Marie bunkered down with Bernard Butler. The onetime Suede-guitarist-turned-producer is renowned for his empathetic and elevational work with new and emerging talent. "One of the first songs Bernard and I wrote, when I was 16, was Single Blank Canvas," she says of the song that, this summer, became her first single. A gentle drift of a song with piercingly direct lyrics, Single Blank Canvas showcases Jodie Marie's bell-clear, heartfelt, heartwarming voice. "And it's really the same today as it is when we first did it four years ago."
Working in Ray Davies' Konk studios, Edwyn Collins' studio, and in Butler's own place, the pair worked and worked at their own pace, the songs pouring out.
"Bernard really helped me - I'd never played, apart from my GSCE stuff, any of my songs to anyone before. I'd write them away in my room and just hide them. And playing him my songs was probably one of the scariest things I've ever done! But he got me singing a couple of cover songs first, just to ease myself into it. He was just brilliant at making sure I felt as comfortable as possible."
The finger-snapping I Got You was another gem from an early session with Butler - Jodie thinks she was 17 at the time - and is one of the most upbeat songs on Jodie Marie's debut album Mountain Echo, set for release early next year.
"I'd listened to some Sixties music when I was a kid, but it was stuff like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and this song is really far from that sort of style. I did listen to Aretha Franklin, but I can't say she was a huge influence... I've always wanted to have that... not Motown beat but just that happy rhythmic feel behind it. I tend to write quite sad songs more often," she adds with a smile, "but I'd written so many of them, I wanted to bring some uplift to the album - a song that people could be refreshed by. And just go, ‘ah, there is a light at the end of the tunnel!' But that was a really, nice easy song to write."
Jodie also worked with Ed Harcourt, the singer-songwriter whose rich, evocative Lustre album was one of the stone-cold classics of 2010. "Ed has a small studio but it's a hugely inspirational place 'cause it just has so much stuff, instruments everywhere your eyes go, on the walls, the floor. It's just such a great atmosphere and place to work. We were writing two songs a day when we started. He's just got so many great ideas, a wide variety."
A cornerstone song, and the one that gives the album its title, is Mountain Echo. As with another Jodie/Harcourt song - Like A Runaway - it reflects the then-teenager's homesickness as she travelled back and forth to London from her family home in Wales. But the gorgeous, battered-heart melancholy of Mountain Echo has deeper resonance still.
"Ed was really good friends with Mark Linkous from Sparklehorse, and we were in for a writing session the morning he found out he'd passed away. So there was a bit of a dark feeling to the day when I went in, and I suggested to Ed I that I go home and give him some space. But he wanted to write. So we came up with Mountain Echo - we wanted to write something that was really sad but really beautiful at the same time."
When she felt that she and her songs were ready, Jodie Marie eventually agreed, in September last year, to sign with Decca. She began recording her album at the beginning of this year. Harcourt and Butler were the producers, and the focus was on capturing the spectral beauty of Jodie's songs, and the moment - the entirety of the album was recorded live, save for the addition of strings at Konk.
But Jodie Marie, the girl who waited, who was "discovered" in the most unlikely of circumstances, is still open to chance. After all, it's how she got here... A couple of months ago, she had the opportunity to write for a couple of days with Jimmy Hogarth. She'd long wanted to collaborate with the Grammy-winning writer of songs for, amongst others, Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae and KT Tunstall. Her album was ostensibly finished but what the hell...
"Jimmy and I wanted to write something with a bluesy feel," says the girl who's been singing since she was six, playing piano and guitar for just as long, and been soaked in her parents' Bonnie Raitt and Elmore James' records her whole life. "Something quite powerful. And On The Road just came out of that session."
Scheduled as her next single, the song is the perfect pen-portrait of the end of relationship, and the beginning of something new.
"I wanted to write an album that people could relate to," says easy-going, hard-working, fully-focused Jodie Marie. "I've always loved music that I can turn to if I'm feeling sad, or needing a pick-me-up, and I'm sure everyone's the same. So I wanted to make an album that could tick on every aspect of emotion, and be as true to life as possible.
"My songs are about something that's happened to me, in my heart - Greeny Blue, for example," she says of the spartan, singer-and-her-guitar-and-her-tears gem, "is probably one of the most important songs I've written. I really wanted to put across how I was feeling, because it was not a great time... Or the songs are about something I've seen someone really close to me go through."
But in all of them, there's an undeniable, irresistible unifying factor.
"It's just trying to nail the emotion," says Jodie Marie, "and try and get exactly how people feel when they go through these situations. I just want everyone to really relate to my songs."