Clare Maguire

Ever since Amy Winehouse released 2006’s smolderingly coal-coated Back to Black, the hunt has been on for the next big soulful voice to come out of the U.K. There have been plenty of contenders—Adele, Duffy, Estelle, and Kate Nash, just to name a few—but the next heiress to the throne might very well be the most promising: 23-year-old Clare Maguire, a college dropout whose ethereal voice is a little more Stevie Nicks than Bettye LaVette, but who nonetheless oozes a hard-bitten spirit. “I remember singing before I remember talking,” says Maguire, who grew up in a middle-class part of Birmingham in an environment where creativity wasn’t exactly encouraged. “At my school, they didn’t like you if you were even slightly artistic,” she says. “My teacher told me to stop with the pipe dream. When he said that, this anger and rebellion and obsession made me want to forget everything and focus on music. So I said to him, ‘Well, I think I’m going to leave.’ I left that day.” Undeterred, Maguire dropped out at 17 and spent several months “working at Topshop and putting demos on MySpace.” Not long after, she found herself taking meetings with the likes of Jay-Z and Rick Rubin as a flood of British and American labels queued up to sign her. Polydor, a subsidiary of Universal, won and will release her debut album, Light After Dark (Universal), in June. Shot through with a brooding, ’80s-influenced synth-dance sound, the record is lyrically “full of everyday situations,” as Maguire describes it, drawn heavily from her own life and struggle to prove that she could make a living making music. “I come from a big Irish family, which is very musical, but none of them sing,” she says. “They all find it very embarrassing. But I always wanted to do it as a career.” She adds, “I guess when you’re young, you’re never afraid, are you?”

Photos: Clare Maguire in London,December 2010. Dress: Gucci. Hair Products: Shu Uemura Art of Hair, including Muroto Volume Amplifying Treatment. Styling: Karen Clarkson/Punishment Ltd. Hair: Tomo Jidai using Shu Uemura Art of Hair/Streeters. Makeup: Hiromi Ueda using Chanel Spring-Summer 2011/Julian Watson Agency. Special Thanks: Koko London.

Click here to listen to Clare Maguire’s music.