All is calm and all is bright backstage at St Pancras Old Church as Izzie Yardley lays her guitar in its case and sits. “Matt’s audience is lovely,” she says, smiling.
Inside the chapel, we can hear the buoyant mood snake through the pews in the immediate wake of Yardley’s lambent opening set, tonight having eschewed her regular band for a singular kind of communion. Hand-picked by Matt Deighton — who nearby is readying himself for the evening’s main event — it seems that Yardley’s humble star has begun its quiet, emphatic ascent.
Matt describes Yardley as having “a thing which is natural and digging deep, musically”. A necessary armour then in this age of great change, where navigating the musical lay of the land has become a preoccupative act for artists. Having stepped outside into the light, post-lockdown, musicians first took baby steps, followed by strides, followed by great pauses of uncertainty. How to make sense of a world that has ceased to make sense. How to sing a song when it may well be the case that those who are now listening have been struck deaf and dumb. Or else stunned into acquiescent imbecility.
“The contemporary music industry is full of stuff that has been made to sell, rather than made out of any artistic intent,” she says. “So it doesn’t matter that no one in the industry right now pays any attention to me. It doesn’t matter that there aren’t thousands of people cheering me on. If I lived in a bubble, I would be sitting, writing and playing. But it has taken me a while to realise that.
“When I was younger, I understood ’90s pop to be what music was, that music was meant to sound a certain way. So yes, when I first started writing, I was taken in by an apparent need for external validation. Or with the idea that I needed to get on a TV or radio show. Or get signed by so-and-so label. But I’m done with that thinking. It’s not healthy and it’s not productive.”
The marketplace she wisely skirts has become a loosely demarcated space of illogicality where dartboards are sold to the sightless, solely because new markets must be identified or created, before being rudely exploited. Such voracious exploits won’t end well for those asinine enough to take part, and Yardley knows it. She’s a Karousel Music artist having met CEO Chris Sheehan at The Great Escape Festival in 2015.
After lockdown — a period, she laconically refers to as “stressful” — she reached out to Sheehan for support. “Chris has been great in supporting musicians. But before, when I reached out to labels on my own, it was a horrible, sterile experience. Karousel is definitely not part of ‘the machine’.”
It was through her connection to Sheehan that Yardley was able to take to the touring road with Matt Deighton. “Matt uses all the devices he can when making and recording music, and I find that exciting.” So there’s kismet? “Yes. And we both love good, new music and also people like Nick Drake and John Martyn.”
She calls herself an indie folk artist, but that’s merely for the purposes of holing the pigeon. “I realised this year for the first time why some people have said that [making] music is not for them, because there is so much other stuff involved in the industry, and music is simply a tiny part of it. But ultimately, I think people play music primarily for themselves. Music is just a means of communication or expression.”
London open-mic spots set the scene for her first foray into music, but it was soon afterwards that a flirtation with the venal pop world disabused her of notions of swimming in it with any modicum of freedom. “But I was lucky enough to meet other people who wanted freedom to create and who were also insanely good. I realised there was more important stuff to do than getting on a TV show. Or even playing that festival slot.”
But does aspiring to the aristocratic landscape of a programme like Later Live… makes sense to her? “Well, there’s so much bullshit in the music business that I don’t think anyone could survive if they made music for that reason. There’s a hell of a lot of good music out there, but no one will have heard of it because it isn’t backed the way other music is. I would really like the whole landscape of music to change in this country.” This idea makes her laugh. “Perhaps I’m too idealistic.”
A curious outcome of lockdown saw her being able to make a living from music. “I don’t know how though, to be honest. I can pay my rent each month. But also, I really need a holiday. Not a long one. Just a week. Because I’m so tired.” Because of writing and performing? She nods. “I wrote my dad a letter informing him that it was time I had to try to seriously give music a go. I told him I was going to keep going and not stop until I wanted to.
“During lockdown, musically, I freaked out for a year. It was difficult. I was writing. I tried new producers. I did an online songwriting retreat with Chris Difford, who is a very sweet person. I did a lot of live streaming, every week, to be disciplined. I did it for four months. I didn’t like doing it but did manage to make money from it, surprisingly. And then I stopped hating it. People started coming back to me every week online and so I managed to create my own community, my own fanbase. With the money I made, I suddenly had a budget to be able to record.
“I moved from London to Frome in Somerset at that point and used a studio there to record, but I was a bit of a mess. Panic attacks and what not after lockdown.” But the beginning of a creative period borne of pent-up energy which has produced a debut EP (Imposter) and that now finds her half way through the making of an album. “I’m essentially an independent artist, I don’t have a team. What I’m trying to practise now is how to step back from it all and see the bigger picture of what I’m doing. I’m incredibly busy, but it is exactly what I want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was little.
“But at the same time, no one has heard of me, I don’t have industry support, but I get to make music…” A cheer goes up, loud enough to wake the pipistrelles in the belfry as Matt takes to the stage. “…and with some wonderful people. And because they want to get involved, for the music. And so, really, I feel like I’ve already won.”
Photo: © Matthew Williams Ellis
Izzie’s debut EP, Imposter, is out now. Click here for more information