Meet a Lancashire girl whose voice will stop you dead in your tracks. Her name is Ren Harvieu. Her hair is heavy and shaggy, her eyes lined with kohl, her ways as down-to-earth as the streets of Broughton in Salford, where she was born, in a bungalow, twenty years ago. When she opens her mouth to sing, she reveals a voice, as extraordinary as it is effortless, as powerful as it is tender.
Ren Harvieu was born in 1991, the youngest by far of three girls. She was shy as a child, observing everyone while the world whirled around her, soaking up the music she loved like a sponge. Her dad was a singer, touring the area\\\'s dodgy pubs, singing Irish folk songs, James Taylor and Simon and Garfunkel; he\\\'d tell stories to his daughter about the local scallies who would carry him from his stool in the middle of his set, and pop him in the Ladies\\\' toilets. Ren\\\'s mum loved Stevie Wonder and John Cooper Clarke, stopping her car in the road one day to get out of it and kiss him, (the Salford Poet, not the soul genius) before getting back in, grinning broadly, driving off. Ren wasn\\\'t a diva kid in the slightest – she wasn\\\'t arsed, she laughs.
But somewhere inside her, a fire was burning. In her first year at secondary school – the same school that Elbow went to, she smiles – she entered a pop contest, although she had no idea why. She sang A Woman\\\'s Worth by Alicia Keys, swinging her “dead Salford” earrings as she did so. Then she started falling in love with music out of step with her peers – the country of Shelby Lynne, the voices of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, the poetry of local heroes The Smiths. She had a try at another local talent competition, Salford Superstar, among doilies of sandwiches and teacakes, and confused, ageing grannies. She remembers wearing her sister\\\'s jeans – far too big for her – and pulling them up, looking out across the trestle tables, shitting herself. She had no idea why she kept going, but something made her persevere.
And then came the hard knocks. At sixth form studying musical theatre, Ren was told she couldn\\\'t sing; she wasn\\\'t good enough for her school shows; she wouldn\\\'t get anywhere. She would stand at the back of dance class on Monday mornings, hungover, thumping about, not knowing why she was bothering, but not knowing what else to do. Then one day, she met a friend of a friend who had a studio. The 17 year old recorded a song in one take, and posted it on her MySpace. Paul Harrison, a music manager from Liverpool, had been trawling through the internet searching for a special new artist when he discovered the song on Myspace. He was overwhelmed, and in an instant, fell in love with Ren’s old-fashioned voice and lovely young blues. Ren took her mum and sisters with her to Liverpool to make sure he wasn\\\'t an axe murderer, (he wasn’t) and then the world really started turning.
Ren spent a year trying to nail the sound she wanted to make. She was a strange one, she knew that. She was happier in lock-ins with friends until 5 in the morning, than out on the street craving the flashy spoils of fame. She also loved Don McLean and Roger Whittaker, she laughs, as much as she loved modern artists like James Blake. Above all, though, she knew she liked atmosphere – the way that female singers in Disney films sounded like beautiful birds, the way certain songs, for some magical reason, just got you in the gut. The first song she made was Through The Night. She still hears a shy girl lurking in its old-fashioned swing. In Twist The Knife, she hears someone very young and very vulnerable, but a mood starting to reach out to the ears beyond the room.
We hear something extraordinary. In Tonight, we hear a young soundtrack queen finding her feet. In Do Right By Me, we hear a country soul set free. In Forever In Blue, we go back before the soft sounds of Dusty to the era of Doris Day, to the time of Autumn Leaves, sentimental journeys, flying to the moon. We hear an incredible instrument with no flounces or fuss; an effortless vocal that stuns us every time it soars.
One day Ren was in Liverpool recording into a computer, she boggles; the next day, she was in an office with the head of Universal Records. But she is only ready now, she says, raising her chin in the air. Now she has a band, something she has wanted all her life. She also recently played her first gig, and found out she didn\\\'t want to be shy anymore. She remembered her Dad\\\'s stories, his old lessons in stagecraft – back against the wall, chest out, hit \\\'em. She remembered the teachers who told her she couldn\\\'t sing.
She also remembered the 11-year-old girl at the talent show as she walks up to the microphone, opens her mouth, and starts to sing. As the stars break through the clouds, the angel of the north ascends.