It is safe to assume that Amy Macdonald will not follow her former idol Pete Doherty nor her namesake Amy Winehouse into the annals of tabloid infamy. The 20-year-old Glaswegian, with a number one album under her belt, takes a remarkably level-headed view of pop stardom.
“It’s not that bad, actually,” she says when we meet at her record label’s offices in London. “You get used to it extremely quickly because you’ve got to work so hard.” Sparkling silver make-up around her eyes hints at some undisclosed double-life of glamour and revelry – but no, it turns out to have been the legacy of an earlier photo shoot.
The hard work is paying off. Macdonald is one of a number of young female singer-songwriters storming the British charts, though unlike hyped London-based rivals such as Kate Nash or Adele, her rise has been almost invisible. This Is the Life has sold almost 500,000 copies in the UK, a greater total than Nash’s album, but the buzz surrounding it has been muted.
“With a lot of artists, everyone knows who they are before there’s even any music out,” she reasons. “It happens every year, when people predict who’s going to be big in the next year. I was never part of that little gang, the ‘Next big thing’ or ‘Watch-out-for’ ... I just had my album released and it was left to do well on its own.”
It is an old-fashioned route to the top. Macdonald’s success owes nothing to MySpace or television talent shows but instead is founded on major label backing, extensive gigging and radio-play – the old-school approach to breaking an act.
Her songs have an old-fashioned air too. Solidly enjoyable pop-rock with hints of Celtic folk and strong, pure vocals, they have the unfussy stamina of a hill-walker. This Is the Life came out in August but did not reach the top of the charts until last month, following the play-listing of one of its singles by the UK’s most popular radio station, Radio Two, home of adult-oriented pop.
The same week as she reached number one, she learnt that she had been overlooked in this year’s Brit Award nominations. She professes not to care. “If someone asked me, would you want to be nominated for a Brit or have a number-one album, then I definitely know I’d prefer the number-one album,” she remarks shrewdly.
Her melodious, folk-tinged songs are reminiscent of her compatriot KT Tunstall, though Macdonald bats the comparison away with the airy dismissiveness of youth. “I don’t think we sound similar at all. I don’t think we write similar music, and she’s a good bit older than me too.” Then her sensible side rallies. “But I never complain about comparisons like that, because she’s sold over 4m albums and has been incredibly successful, so to be compared to somebody like that is only a compliment.”
She grew up in a Glasgow suburb, listening to Michael Jackson with her sister, but remembering little from her parents’ stereo other than “Octopus’s Garden” (“by The Beatles, or whatever”). Inspired to take up guitar by the Glaswegian band Travis, she wrote much of This Is the Life as an ardent teenage music lover. One song is addressed to Pete Doherty, of whom she was a big fan “before he descended into complete chaos”, and another fantasises about playing at Glastonbury.
Macdonald deferred a social sciences place at university to pursue a music career. “I’m quite logical like that, I like having something to fall back on. But I’m still really young, so if this all ends tomorrow it’ll be no problem for me to just go to university again.” She takes pride in working hard – “I don’t know, I’m just like that” – and is censoriously Calvinistic about the frivolities of modern celebrity culture.
“Now you have people like [reality television contestant] Jade Goody and whoever’s getting married to Wayne Rooney getting classed as celebrities and I just think it’s a real shame, because they’re in the public eye for being completely talentless. When I see so many unsigned bands and struggling musicians who will probably never make it, then you’ve got these girls that just flaunt themselves,” she laments.
Surely it is worse for the likes of Winehouse and Doherty to waste their talent? “I don’t think it’s a choice they’ve made to waste their talent. I see them as having a really difficult life, because it is difficult – people don’t know how much work is involved. It makes it 10 times worse when you’re someone like Amy Winehouse, who is working so hard and constantly has a cameraman following her about. I couldn’t cope with that, I think it would send anyone nuts.”
Amy Macdonald’s UK tour opens in Belfast on February 4