Florence and The Machine: pop witch with the bewitching voice

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The Independent Culture

Seated in a hotel lobby, this season's British pop phenomenon Florence and The Machine suddenly breaks into song, drawing staff and customers close and stopping passers-by in their tracks.

The voice currently making a sensation across Europe is a show-stopper - powerful, thrilling and on an emotional tight-rope without ever being sappy.

"I was always singing in the house, along to the radio and around school, where I was told off for singing in class," said the 22-year-old musician. "I didn't really see it in terms of like 'I'm really good'. It was just something I felt compelled to do."

On a night of December, 2006 while pretty tipsy, she bumped into a famous DJ in the toilets of a London nightclub and started singing.

Mesmerised, she offered to be her manager on the spot.

Appropriately known as "Lungs", her first album being released across the continent by Universal sets her out as the next Kate Bush, but with her own special universe of passionate, dark and violent love stories.

"A lot of it is me diving into the dark recesses of my mind," she said.

"I just like to let my imagination take over. Usually it takes me to some dark place," added the slender redhead.

A former art student, Florence - born Florence Welch, with The Machine being her musicians - said she draws her inspiration from "art, architecture, buildings, the sky, conversations, post-its I find in the streets, books, church music, all kinds of things."

The visual aspect is an important part of her work.

At her concerts, which are always very theatrical, she scatters the stage with flowers and surrounds herself with old bird cages lit by lanterns.

"It's all about creating a landscape, an environment where you can lose yourself. I'm visually greedy, I always want to see new things, to see beautiful stuff and shocking things."

Put together by two star producers - James Ford (Arctic Monkeys, The Last Shadow Puppets) and Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Maximo Park) - her album goes against the current of returning to 80's electronic sounds.

Florence combines harps, cords, and brass bands across genres that span pop, rock and soul to underline - sometimes in a somewhat facile way - her voice.

"As a singer, you have to use your whole body, it's a very physical activity, it exercises every muscle in your body. I did take singing lessons, but I had to find my own way of singing because they wanted me to sing in a very controlled manner."

In Britain, where her album this summer directly went to number two in the charts, Florence is already a star. Paparazzi are endlessly on the heels of the whimsical "It Girl", women's mags like to analyse her look and love her charisma, and music magazines are predicting a bright future.

She dreams of a career like PJ Harvey or Bjork, artists "who are constantly creating new exciting stuff."

"I had an idea for this album and I did not quite realise it. If I had realised it, I'd probably stop making music.

"You're always striving for this perfect album and you never create it, but it's that frustration that makes you create more music."

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