You’d be forgiven for thinking that Pownall – who has toured with Noah and The Whale, Marina and the Diamonds – was just another folk troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a John Martyn box set, but with ‘True Love Stories’ Pownall proves he is much, much more.
“I wanted the album to be like a jazz festival in the 1940s in the south of France, but set in some dingy bar on a rainy day – like, it would have all those picturesque elements, but slightly twisted as well,” says Pownall of his sunshine dappled debut. “It was a very cathartic and a real learning experience for me, both technically and emotionally. To be honest it’s the first thing I’ve ever finished in my life.”
And thank goodness he did, because otherwise we’d never have got to hear Pownall’s gorgeous way with a heartfelt melody and impressive approach to a heartfelt storytelling lyric.
On top of his easy-rolling guitar style, Pownall’s songs are fleshed out by a small, unfussy rhythm combo, plus occasional violin embellishments provided by Noah & The Whale and Laura Marling’s fiddler Tom Hobden, as well as brass and twinkling percussion.
With a warm, vintage sound – a homage to the Eddie Cochran, Billie Holliday and Elvis records his grandparents played to him when he was younger – there’s a timeless quality in the delicate oompa of ‘Too Many Holes’ and classic songmanship of ‘Life Worth Living’.
The ska-inflected summer’s day shuffle of debut single ‘Chasing Time’ provides an upbeat counterpoint to the lovelorn ballad ‘Colourful Day’, a song so cinematic and irrepressibly British that it feels like it’s been lifted off the end credits to a Richard Curtis rom-com.
“I wanted this first album to be simple romance. There’s a reason why I called the album ‘True Love Stories’ – it’s supposed to be about either being in love with someone who doesn’t love you or being loved by someone who you don’t really love. So it’s make-believe in many ways. I long for the day that I can love someone and they can love me back. I’m just too complex! As soon as they show an interest I’m like ‘oh no, forget it’.”
Complex this former flatmate of Mumford and Sons and Jay Jay Pistolet might be, but ‘True Love Stories’ looks like an affair set to last.
Pownall is clearly destined to be one of 2010s brightest new stars. There isn’t a single track aboard, which isn’t 100% irresistible, touched by magic. The whole thing tells the story of a quick-flowering natural talent, from the mournful folky beginnings of ‘Colourful Day’ (“My two main characteristics are overconfidence and insecurity and I like to think that the vulnerability and over-confidence meet a little bit in that song”), right up to the fully orchestrated present.
Mr Pownall himself is still busy, meanwhile, writing a song per day, hoping to squeeze a couple more brand new tunes on there, and setting his sights on Album No. 2.
More imminently, he’s to top the bill at Music Week’s Unearthed concert in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, and continues a residency at Puregroove Record Shop in Spitalfields. Puregroove’s in-house label. And with ‘Chasing Time’ named Record Of The Week by Fearne Cotton, it looks like Alan’s back in the right place at the right time again.
“Yeah definitely,” he grins. “I’ve always held things back, if things are going in this or that direction I’ve always put the brakes on. But this year I listen to that album back and I’m really proud of it. If someone had said to me two years ago ‘this will be your debut album’ I’d have bitten their hand off. I feel I’ve really got to grab the bull by the horns, it’s an amazing opportunity, I feel like there’s real direction. It’s being led by something bigger than me.”
That’s the beckoning finger of fame, and it’s not going to stop pointing Alan Pownall’s way.