Rising star musician and songwriter DECLAN J DONOVAN heads to London on headline tour
A musician and songwriter with musical antennae that are well-attuned, 21-year-old Declan J Donovan has a keen ear for a melody. The young singer-songwriter from Harlow has quickly carved out an audience for his direct approach: straight-to-the-point pop songs built out of simple ideas. His music paints time-worn experiences with broad brushstrokes, reflecting a musical vision that’s easy to relate to. Still early into his career, he’s enjoyed a rapid ascent to recognition, aided by a sharp instinct for a softly-sung hit.
His quick rise to prominence has been sparked by one of the first songs he ever wrote. ‘Fallen So Young’, written for his brother’s wedding, was performed in lieu of a best man’s speech. Probing love-lorn romance, youth and identity, it was a debut that – like all of Donovan’s music – wore its heart on its sleeve. He hadn’t planned for it to go any further, but when he uploaded the demo six months later, the response took him by surprise: it racked up over a million listens online. And all without a record label, a manager or any promotion
It’s propelled him to the enviable position he now finds himself in, where he’s been selected – alongside Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran – as Radio 1’s Best Pop of 2017, as well as clocking up 30 million streams for his first two songs, and receiving praise from supporters as diverse as Line of Best Fit and Rita Ora (who enthusiastically posted ‘Fallen So Young’ on her Instagram feed). He’s the only unsigned act playing at Radio 1’s Biggest Weekend, has made a celebrated appearance on Mahogany’s live sessions and has been included in innumerable playlists, including on Apple Music, Deezer and Radio 1.
‘Fallen So Young’ was written not long after he’d first started penning his own music. In 2014, the threat of failing an A-Level in music – owing to the course requirements, as enforced by one of his teachers – had forced him to try singing. Taking a shine to it, he’d quickly become fixated on writing songs, working out the ways to draw out the hooks which would resonate loudest. It’s a quality which still shines through in his music, despite the many things he’s learnt since.
He had a diverse musical upbringing, ranging from ‘00s R&B, courtesy of his sister, to the guitar bands favoured by his brother, like The Maccabees and The Kooks. He then discovered music on his own terms, like grime, à la Skepta and Kano, with friends in his early school years. Later on he discovered acoustic, folk-influenced artists, watching the rise of the likes of Matt Corby, and learning a lot of lessons from City and Colour, who he says has informed the whole way he thinks about playing guitar.
Picking up the acoustic guitar soon followed, playing it intermittently at first, before he properly caught the bug a couple of years later. It’s meant that he’s followed in a family tradition: his father, who passed away when Donovan was two, was also a musician. He says that he had never planned to launch a music career but it’s quickly become the focal point over anything else. “Music is the only thing I’ve ever taken seriously in my life,” he says.
Since that first outbreak of attention, he’s released two more songs, ‘Better’ and ‘Human Way’. They’ve continued the momentum he’s already established, with the latter looking set to be his biggest track yet. He’s also toured the UK and Europe, gaining whole new legions of fans in the process. Joining Jake Bugg for a series of dates in Ireland in late 2017, the intimate acoustic shows found him in front of attentively-gathered audiences, who were receptive to the more contemplative side of his material. His shows with Rhys Lewis were an enjoyably contrasting experience: riled-up young fans who wanted big crowd pleasers.
Focusing on writing music has sharpened his perspective. He’s spent time working with other people and, through seeing how they approach it, has learned more about what he’s looking for when he writes. He likes to talk about other people’s situations, rather than his own, as it’s easier to have perspective. And he prefers his songs to take the most direct route: the lyrics are conversational, the melodies chime with your emotions. The simplest songs are often the best, and that’s the way he likes it.
MARCH 2019 UK DATES
TUE 26 MARCH LONDON, OMEARA
WED 27 MARCH BIRMINGHAM, CUBAN EMBASSY
THU 28 MARCH MANCHESTER, JIMMY’S