LUKE FRIEND is a very modern singer-songwriter.
The teenager came to public attention when finishing third on The X Factor and admits he is hugely influenced by current pop stars.
Yet the young lad got his start in music in a very traditional way – busking for loose change with his guitar on the streets of Devon.
“I was busking from when I was 15,” says Luke. “The first time I went was a Saturday in the winter and it was bloody freezing.
“There were always people playing in Exeter, so one day I grabbed my coat and went. It really was just great fun and I had people complimenting me and it immediately gave me confidence.
“It became more serious and I started getting my own gigs and playing acoustic shows. But I still had to busk to try and fund where I was going to go for the gigs. I needed petrol money. From then on I didn’t stop!”
Luke, who has an infectious smile and trademark hairdo he admits is inspired by Bob Marley, was born in Leeds. Though he’s still got a soft Yorkshire accent he moved south to Devon aged 13. His dad is a sports therapist (“helpful for any touring injuries”) and mum an ex-dancer and aerobics teacher, and there was always music playing when he was growing up.
Luke recalls: “We had a record player when I was a kid and I used to put Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones on it every single day. I also loved James Brown when I was growing up, I’m still obsessed with Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag now.”
Perhaps inspired by those famous James Brown beats the first instrument Luke played was the drums.
“I tried the drums when I was an angry 13-year-old and then I started playing saxophone for a bit, I tried to learn the oboe and weird instruments like that. I’ve still got my saxophone somewhere,” he admits.
“Then I picked up the guitar when I was about 14 years old and I started learning Ben Howard tunes first. Then I decided to go and get lessons, I got my mum and dad’s friend to teach me songs by The Stones and The Who. All that came flooding in at an early age.
“It didn’t take long for me to realise I loved singing and playing guitar. So I decided to devote myself to doing it for a living.”
A stint in a school band came first, before Luke decided to ‘go solo’.
He says: “It was great we had such great fun in the band. We wrote our own songs and did the odd cover.
“We were quite rock-y and started getting a bit of a following in Devon. But as much as I liked being in a band my heart was in a different place, even then.”
Then Luke, who also counts Ed Sheeran, Eddie Vedder and Paolo Nutini as influences, started busking and playing gigs on his own.
“I was coming up to 16 when I started gigging a bit more seriously. My dad was like my roadie, he looked after my guitar and drove me around,” he says.
“My family couldn’t have been more supportive when I decided to audition for XFactor and we had no idea how much it would change my life.”
Unsurprisingly Luke, who made it to the final three of Simon Cowell’s talent show at the end of 2013, has no regrets about the choice he made.
“I’d always loved the show, I’ve been watching since I was 7. What I love about the X Factor is that you get to know the contestants who are passionate about music and you follow their journey. You feel like you really know the people by the end of the show.
“The week everything turned around was week three when I sung (Seal’s) Kiss From A Rose. From then I think people saw me as the dark horse on the show. I was really blessed with so much support.”
The show helped Luke figure out how the music industry works, and make important friends.
“The X Factor was amazing but it made me aware of how serious the music world is and how stressful it can get,” he says. “It was great meeting famous faces that you’ve seen everywhere and realising that they’re just like everyone else.
“Singing with Ellie Goulding on the final was one of best moments. I still talk to Ellie now and she gives me advice. She’s lovely and so down to earth.”
Now he’s getting used to meeting his heroes. Luke’s co-written songs on his debut album with Scouting For Girls’ Roy Stride and members of rock band Lower Than Atlantis.
He says: “Weirdly when I was in my old band we watched Lower Than Atlantis as fans. There’s a tour diary video of theirs that I’m in with short hair and a band t-shirt on. Mike Duce (frontman with LTA) is one of my heroes. So when he got in touch and asked if I wanted to write with him it was incredible.”
Luke adds: “I love being in the studio and writing songs. Perhaps you start thinking about ‘a certain someone’, and there’s a song at the end of it. It’s one of the most beautiful things you can do.”
Luke will perform in Leeds at Leeds University on the 20th April, his tour dates are below.
Saturday 18th April Barrel House, Totnes
Sunday 19th April Deaf Institute, Manchester
Monday 20th April Mine – Leeds University, Leeds
Tuesday 21st April King Tuts, Glasgow
Wednesday 22nd April O2 Academy, Bristol
Thursday 23rd April Borderline, London