Tom O’Dell still has fond memories of the year he spent in New Zealand.
The BRIT’s Critics Choice Award winner, who recently released his debut album Long Way Down was still a youngster when his dad was offered a job as a pilot for Air New Zealand.
“I lived in Ellerslie, Auckland,” he says. “I was about five and the thing I remember most was going to school and wearing no shoes. That was so different from going to school in England.”
Although O’Dell hadn’t at that stage started any formal training he was definitely under the spell of music.
“Right from the age of three I was always fascinated by music,” he says.
“My grandmother had a piano and whenever I visited her I’d just play around on the keys. I couldn’t play anything but I was fascinated by the idea of it.
“I took formal piano lessons for seven years and then when I was 14 I sort of gave up because I never really met a teacher who believed in me. I was no good at classical music and none of my tutors saw much of a future for me in music.”
Fortunately, for O’Dell who had become obsessed with the music of Elton John and Ray Charles and how they structured songs, found a mentor at the school he was attending in Brighton, England.
“When I was about 17 I met this music teacher who happened to move to my school,” he says.
“The day I met him he asked me to sit down and play something. I played him one of the songs I had written. I was very embarrassed about singing but when I finished I could tell he was sort of really into it. He told me to write a new song and come back the following week.
“He really pushed me. If I hadn’t have met him I would have done it but it would have taken a lot longer. The most valuable thing I learned from him is that a song has to come from complete emotion and a complete lack of fore-thought. That’s the key for me. If I don’t feel that emotional connection with something I’m listening to then I switch off and I think most people are like that.
Already a veteran traveller, O’Dell heads to the US next month on the back of the release of Long Way Down and, yes, if the stars align New Zealand is on his radar.
“I’d love to come back to New Zealand,” he says.