“The best feeling is when you can take people on a journey with storytelling,” Purdy tells me over her peppermint tea on a Fulham morning. “Everything that I do comes from a real life story from my heart. I had a lot to get off my chest not so long ago, so I wrote the album, Diamond In The Dust. I was heartbroken.”
Lost suddenly in thought, she pauses. “But it was a cathartic experience for me, the writing of it. I am lucky to have a creative outlet, a vent, because a lot of people contain their feelings.”
At her gig at the 606 Club the week before, Purdy had taken to the stage with her four-piece band and with her song, ‘Dream In Colour’, had managed to arrest and then still the audience. It was that type of song. It touched everyone, and with its writing Purdy has elevated herself – whether she realises it or not – into a group of writers who are able, through a combination of focus and assiduousness, to reach out and touch the wider public. While possessing the stage presence, liquid eyes and angularity of a noir siren, it is evident she is attempting something different, unwilling for herself to become caught up in a pell-mell rush towards the treacherous mainstream.
“We seem to forget that overnight successes don’t happen overnight,” she says. “It takes years for people to hone their skill and realise where their style fits in or what they’re trying to achieve. It was when I did the tour with Jools Holland and sang on stage at the Royal Albert Hall that I realised I deserved it. I realised I was good enough.” But these are tough times for the business. “Yes, it’s a difficult time in music with digitalisation and quick, passing trends. It’s not how it used to be. I think even the big artists are struggling to keep on top. People are continually having to reinvent themselves, but the thing with me is that I can’t do anything else. This is what I have to do. It’s my passion.”
Purdy grew up on a farm five miles outside Henley in the village of Nettlebed. With her dairy farmer dad and mother raising their family of three sons and two daughters, they afforded their children an upbringing far from the madding crowd. Theirs was something of a pastoral existence and one from which Purdy still draws her languor. “I’m from the country, so I love my space and solitude.” So she’s something of a loner? “I am a bit, yes, but I also love socialising and being around people. It’s a strange, but nice juxtaposition.”
Yet her brothers were musical and were signed to EMI and Jive, so drawn to the neon of London she was, albeit with a modicum of wariness. “I got into TV production work early on in London and did some running. Then a friend of mine in Henley, Amy (the daughter of the late Jon Lord of Deep Purple) told me that a singer was needed in Zermatt in Switzerland. She knew that I loved to sing and I’d done a bit of singing with the Oxford Jazz Company for fun. So I went out and did a whole season in the après ski bars. I realised then just how much I loved to sing. But at first I was shy about it. I wasn’t the most confident of singers to begin with so it has taken me a while to get good. We all doubt ourselves to a certain extent and I knew I didn’t have a big soul voice, so I needed to find out what suited my style of singing, and with experience and being a professional working singer, I’ve got better.”
“The real life narrative going on with me somehow plays itself out as a film script… in a funny sort of way,” she laughs. She says she loves Americana, such as the sound of a lone Ennio Morricone scored guitar, the style of Nancy Sinatra, of Peggy Lee, the musical taste of Henry Mancini and the melancholy of Julie London. It’s a mélange of attitude, style and soundscape – in short, a distillation of a fast receding American culture which once held the globe in its soft grip – from which she draws sustenance and unending inspiration. “I appreciate songs rather than performers,” she tells me, and as well she might for to slavishly follow icons and not the art produced is to get lost in the labyrinth of celebrity worship from which there is rarely any escape.
“I have managed after many years to find a group of people I trust. Like Andy Wright, who produced my album. He’s a decent, kind and no-nonsense man.” So she’s wary of the industry leeches? “Oh yes, I can sniff a rat a mile off now,” she laughs. “You have to be true to yourself. There are people in the industry who want an artist to compromise their integrity. But I never have. If you don’t care about the way you’re being represented then you don’t value what you’re doing.”
A new EP is on its way on 1 June and she and the band will be launching it at the Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush. “I can get nervous during a show but, usually, two songs in I have settled. There are moments sometimes of real nerves, but not enough to stop me. We all suffer from self doubt at times, but I talk myself out of it. I have the devil and the angel on my shoulders, but the angel has to win otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go out on stage at all.
“I’ve been singing for nine years and it’s taken me a long time to be comfortable on stage. One thing I’ve learned is that people like to see a performer’s imperfections. It makes it easier to perform knowing that it’s OK to mess up. And then you can get better in an environment like that. You’re then free to grow. I love doing the big theatres on tour with Jools, but the most enjoyable gigs are small and intimate.”
As a resident performer at the 606 Club on Chelsea’s Lots Road, she has for many years received the unconditional support of the club’s proprietor Steve Rubie, a man, she says, who is one of the great supporters of live music in London, and with her own four-piece band with co-writer Jamie McCredie on jazz guitar, she calls the set list and sets the tone. “I think my voice has grown richer over the years and I’m more experimental and playful with it. I’m not afraid to try different ways of vocalising. But that comes from listening to a lot of jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and my favourite, Nina Simone. And like many others, I loved Amy Winehouse. She had the same wow factor of the old greats.”
With touring remaining essential for an artist to maintain her profile, Purdy is busy making plans, her resolve firmer than ever. “I pride myself on being a professional singer who goes out to work, so I’ll be getting together a tour of my own. I’ve made my album, Diamond In The Dust, but promotion can sometimes be a struggle. You get these great highs from being on stage, but then afterwards come the lows. I liken it to being put back on the shore and sending out an SOS after riding the crest of a great wave.”
Then she sips her tea and smiles. “Today, people are realising now that nothing will ever happen for you as an artist… unless you do it for yourself.”