“I really, really, really wanted to tour with an artist and I accidentally landed a tour with the biggest artist of that time, Adele.” So begins the story of Kelli-Leigh, a singer, songwriter and performer from Crystal Palace, South London. How did she land the tour? What was it like? And what happens when the lights come up, the audience leaves and you have to go home to an empty fridge? Listen or read on to find out…
Clichéd though it may sound Kelli-Leigh Henry-Davila has been singing since she was a baby and always knew that she wanted to sing for a living. She’s only ever had one “normal” job, in an office, which she took straight out of school to pay for a keyboard on which to write songs and teach singing. As a child she wanted to be an artist but no one in Crystal Palace knew how to do that so she took a more pragmatic approach as, first, a teacher then a singer in a function band playing corporate gigs and weddings. Working with other musicians exposed her to the “session” world where countless unsung heroes make their money playing on albums for other famous names. Kelli-Leigh entered this world as a backing vocalist, quickly gaining a reputation amongst producers as a great talent who was easy to work with, which is probably why, when Adele needed back-up for her Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen, Kelli-Leigh’s name came up. Being a total pro Kelli-Leigh crushed it and was invited to join Adele’s tour.
I really, really, really wanted to tour with an artist and I accidentally landed a tour with the biggest artist of that time.
“It was a mixture of feeling so excited, so humbled, so grateful, so proud of myself but then, when you go on tour, you’re never actually briefed on what touring is going to be like,” explains Kelli-Leigh. “You’re suddenly thrust together with a bunch of people you don’t know that well, that you’ve never met before…and then you basically live together and you go off travelling together and you see each other every single day. You’re on the tour bus, you sleep together on the tour bus…it’s funny, you are with lots of people but it can actually be very lonely.”
When Kelli-Leigh set out on tour it was in the wake of Adele’s first album 19, with her legendary second album still unreleased. No one could have prepared her, Adele or the rest of the crew for what came next; “Suddenly, on the tour, everything went crazy and then 21, the album that we all know, where Adele took over the world, happened. I think it was a massive shock for her and her management, for us and for me, it being my first official artist job.” Very quickly the tour buses multiplied, the venues got bigger and so did the paychecks. For the first time Kelli-Leigh wasn’t living the life of the starving artist but that of a successful, full time musician. “I’d never been to America before and I was being paid to go on tour so I was just like, this is amazing!” As Adele’s success escalated so did the opportunities as she and of course Kelli-Leigh and her fellow musicians were invited to play the Oscars, the Grammys and the Brits. And then…it was over.
Spot Kelli-Leigh on the far left of the backing vocalists.
What happened when you got home? “I came home to nothing and had post-tour blues…I got home and opened my fridge and there was a jar of mustard and some tomato sauce.” Having been away for many months Kelli-Leigh’s musical network, painstakingly built up over the years prior to the Adele tour, had to look elsewhere for a backing vocalist so her phone stopped ringing. However, her time on the road with Adele had inspired her, not to do more backing vocals but to become her own artist. “As a backing vocalist you are paid to do exactly what the artist wants you to do, which can mean suppressing some of your natural creativity or sound”, explains Kelli-Leigh. She was ready to create her own sound so decided to follow Adele’s example and take time out to produce her very personal first EP. The result, entirely self-funded using her Adele money, was co-written with guitarists Keir Moore (my brother) and Ryan Haberfield. She called it I Am Here and launched it with an event in London where she also sang a cover song; an utterly unique and powerful interpretation of the Foo Fighters’ Best of You which, fortunately for us, was captured on film:
That EP launch and then singing Best of You, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I needed to let my voice out, I needed to let my voice be heard.
Following the tour, the EP, a house move and the end of a long term relationship Kelli-Leigh was exhausted a needed to find her feet again. For several months she wrote nothing and then she got an invitation to go to Poland of all places. Tired of London, but contrary to Samuel Johnson’s opinion not tired of life, she thought Poland represented a new beginning for her so she departed with some fanfare. For 18 months she plugged away; a unique voice and look in the eastern European country, she even won a record deal with Universal Poland but eventually everything fell apart. At the end of 2013 Kelli-Leigh was involved in an horrific car accident that left her unable to walk for several months. An MRI scan revealed a severely prolapsed disk that was putting pressure on her right nerve and causing extreme sciatica. She tried to work through it, taking on BV jobs with school friend Leona Lewis and emerging artist Jessie J but after collapsing in Times Square, New York following a Leona gig she was put into a wheelchair and then onto a plane back home to London. Which is what finally prompted her to change her approach and, indeed, her whole life.
I was in a position where I couldn’t move so I had no choice but to focus on me.
Whilst still recuperating from her accident Kelli-Leigh was asked to do one more session by the guy who put her on tour with Adele. It was for an artist called Duke Dumont and the song was called I Got U. Kelli-Leigh still couldn’t stand, was on multiple painkillers including regular epidurals into her spine but she managed to get herself to the studio where she was asked to sing a Whitney influenced vocal…sitting down. Against all odds she managed it and the song was featured on the hugely influential Annie Mac show on BBC Radio 1 which led to a television appearance on the equally influential Live Lounge with Fearne Cotton.
At almost the same time she was asked to sing for another artist, Second City, on a song called I Wanna Feel. Within two months both I Got U and I Wanna Feel went to number one in the UK, which put Kelli-Leigh’s voice in a lot of people’s heads and led to her picking up a manager, former music journo and promoter Chantelle Fiddy of Hardlivings Management. Chantelle capitalised on Kelli-Leigh’s newly raised profile in the dance scene with a couple more singles by hotshot producers including So Real by Low Steppa, which won a Bass Music Award for best Deep Bass Single, and Be Mine by A-Minor, Ministry of Sound’s latest signing. So, what next?
“The vision for 2016 is becoming a name myself, becoming an artist myself, I mean I’m already an artist but in terms of the public perception of me as to not be the girl who sung those tracks but as Kelli the singer who has these great tracks out there.” But how does Kelli-Leigh the artist differ from the Kelli-Leigh the singer for hire? Well, these days she’s sings the way she wants about the things she wants and you can hear what that sounds like on the single Ain’t Got Nobody by Bizou presents Kelli-Leigh, available on iTunes right now.
2016 promises more releases from Kelli-Leigh with her name front and centre on the record sleeve! She’s booked for gigs from Spain to Dubai already and is looking for a promoter in Singapore so she can be heard around the world; after everything she’s been through she deserves to be. You can try keeping up with Kelli-Leigh on the links below, but you’ll need to move fast.
- Website: http://kellileigh.co.uk
- Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/kellileigh
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kellileighuk/
- YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/kellileighhd/featured
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/kellileighuk
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KelliLeighUK