Artist biog

Gabriella Cilmi

Her school didn't get Gabriella, wouldn't even let her have a part in their musical. So she teamed up with some boys from another school in the Melbourne neighbourhood and practised in the drummer's garage. They played Jet covers, Led Zeppelin and Kings Of Leon songs, but it was when she got up to sing at a local festival that things started to happen. "I sang Jumping Jack Flash at this Italian festa, the kind of place where the old people sell their wines. They usually have opera singers. I got on the stage and they were like, WHAT?!"

A year on, and she's making her UK debut in a London club. Between songs she smiles, seems a little nervous, but when she sings Sweet About Me, she's an explosion. Looking and singing like she knows life inside out, like she's truly seen everything there is to see.

"My dad liked Blondie. My mum absolutely loved Sweet. And my uncles used to play in a garage band so there was always music going on around me. I grew up in the same kind of area of Melbourne as AC/DC - they used to practice around the corner from where I went to school."

Now the girl who had danced around her front room to Shaggy's Oh Carolina when she was three, and bought her first record - Silverchair - when she was seven, had inadvertently got herself noticed. Someone from Mushroom happened to be at the Italian bash and was very impressed indeed. Pretty soon she was signed to Island in the UK and landed herself with peerless eccentric pop collaborator Brian Higgins.

Her voice is equal parts animal snarl, vocal might and jazz slyness, and she has looks to melt. At his idyllic studio in Kent, in a house where Alice Liddell - the real life Alice In Wonderland - lived, Gabriella wrote the songs for Lessons To Be Learned. "Einstein is about stuff that I don't understand, like how they can send people into space yet there are so many sick children in hospital."

Sanctuary was personal, too. "We filmed me singing it and put it up on YouTube and a friend was like 'is that about me? It's about me!' and I'm like, NO!" Teen traumas, unpolished thoughts, lessons learnt. One of her earliest songs was called Teenage Outrage and that pretty much adds up. Days were spent in the studio, as final touches were layered onto the single Sweet About Me –“from the start I was saying this track needs harmonica – and it’s there”. In the evening she listened to Cat Stevens ("Tuesday's Dead is my favourite song right now"), watched Pocahontas over and over, and cried every time.

Gabriella misses her friends, misses decent coffee, but otherwise reckons "London's cool. I saw Queens Of The Stone Age last week. I liked going to the Big Day Out every year – the best was in 2006, with the Stooges -but there's a lot more going on here. The weather's even worse than Melbourne, though." With the breezy confidence that only a teenage girl with the world at her feet can possess, she already has plans beyond pop. "I fancy myself as a bit of a photographer…..but I haven’t won any prizes yet…maybe one day…pffft…!"

So she doesn't regret the move? Doesn't think she should have stayed home and written that book her Nonno tried to convince her to write about his wine making? "Err, no. My Nonno’s always forcing me to drink his wine! 'It's good for you' he says. He won't drink anything else. But you know what? It tastes like nail polish remover."

Nonno's loss is our gain. She's a star. You'll be gobsmacked.

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