REN Harvieu has come a long way from the 17-year-old from Salford who was signed to Island Records and who had no intention of becoming a singer-songwriter.

Now aged 29, Ren has had to overcome a run of bad luck that would have tested even the most determined performer with the prospect of releasing her comeback album during a pandemic the latest obstacle to overcome.

"I've been through many emotions and initially I was devastated," said Ren, who released Revel In The Drama on April 3. "As the weeks have gone on I've tried to look for the positives because it's the only thing you can do."

 

Ren's spring tour to promote the album has been postponed until later this year, but she admits it has given her something to look forward to whenever live music makes its welcome return.

"It will be absolutely amazing," she said. "I was planning it for months but what can you do?

"When I knew the lockdown was going to happen and people started to quarantine, a group of us, who are all musicians, decided to stay together, so my days are actually being spent making music and that has been an amazing focus for me.

"I've written loads of songs already and I'm very grateful as I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have this. We have loads of instruments and all the mics set up and we just spend the whole day and night in there.

"It feels like one level deeper than just listening to music - we're creating and it's what's keeping me sane at the moment."

Revel In The Drama is a brilliant and bolder take on Ren’s timeless pop classicism, and provides a compelling diary of a struggle with self-belief and a celebration of liberation and survival, seven years after her Top 5 debut album and having overcome a life-threatening injury.

"It was a horrific accident and something I'm still getting to grips with," said Ren, who broke her back in May 2011 after a friend jumped over a hedge and inadvertently landed on her.

"The magnitude of it was so enormous, but it was actually the years that followed which were harder. I've had to deal with a lot of long lasting injuries and it's an absolute miracle this second album came out.

"I was just 22, but I was dropped by my record label, I was injured and I had to get rid of the manager I'd been with since I was 17 because he wasn't a good person.

I found myself at the ripe old age of 22 just done with life and feeling that I didn't really want to do this anymore. It took me all my 20s to heal and only now am I starting to feel happy from where I've been.

"With this album, I had no label, no agent and no money at all. We were scraping together pound coins just to afford the train fare down to Eastbourne where we recorded to it.

"It took a few years to make as well so the fact it has actually happened and has now come out blows my mind - things were s*** for years and years. It does go to show that good things are possible."

Salvation came in the form of Romeo Stodart, the Magic Numbers frontman and songwriter, who emailed Ren after seeing her perform on Later… With Jools Holland, to ask if she’d consider writing together.

“When we started, the energy was immediately different to anyone I’d worked with before, there was this insane instant musical connection” she said. “I loved that Romeo really embraced who I was and encouraged it, I was starting to realise that I didn’t have to be anything other than myself.

"He is such an accomplished musician and there's nothing he can't play. At times in the past I would feel quite limited because I would go for a note and it would take ages for the person to find it, but Romeo can play everything and he's an artist.

"It wasn't like when you play with session musicians when they are really good and slick, but there's no heart and soul there. Romeo would play amazing things, but there was also so much emotion to go with it. The two of us together just seemed to work.

"For him to walk into my life at the lowest point...he's like my little angel!"

Given her experiences it's hardly surprising that Ren needed the reassurance and comfort that Romeo provided.

"I've been around a lot of people who have been so cold but from the off with Romeo it was totally warm," she agreed. "He was really giving and nurturing and I found I thrived with that."

The pair spent the next two years co-writing with Ren gradually rediscovering her love for music.

“I wasn’t in a massive hurry, because at last I was having fun” Ren said. "We’d stay up all night drinking, dancing and playing music, I felt like I was re-discovering a girl who had been hidden, quietened. I’d tell Romeo, I don’t just want to paint pretty pictures I want to revel in the drama of my life, the good and the bad, before I was afraid to say something in my lyrics, but no longer. I felt free.”

 

On her debut album, songs were provided by Howie Payne of The Stands and Zutons songwriter Dave McCabe, but this time around Ren found a new confidence in her own abilities.

"I didn't really collaborate before because I just couldn't sit down in a room with them," she laughed. "I would have been terrified! The whole songwriting experience was horrific for me first time around but now I really enjoy it. Things have changed and it's great."

Ren first sang on stage when she was 12 at a talent contest run by her high school, St Monica’s in Prestwich and she has fond memories of growing up in Salford.

"I lived in a bungalow in Lower Broughton with my mum," she said. "We had an interesting and colourful life. My dad was a local musician who used to play the pubs around Salford like the Flat Iron. I didn't see him much, but when he came to visit he would bring his guitar and a couple of friends and it would always be a party.

"I'd see him play and it would have quite a big affect on me. When my mum heard I could sing, it was her mission to get everyone to hear me and I did this competition called Salford Superstar on Mocha Parade.

"There was me and a little boy singing Whitney Houston and an MC and I ended up winning £500 - it was the most money I'd ever seen in my life, but I hated doing the competitions because I didn't fit in at all.

"I wasn't a stage school kid and I was really shy and odd but people were always telling me to go on X Factor and I used to think there must be another way.

"People from Salford are hilarious - they're so witty and dry. I always used to think there was a lot of stereotyping about Salford - it wasn't like we were all standing on cobbled streets staring into the distance. It was a very creative place, but could also feel dull and boring and when you put all those things together you can't help but be inspired."

Despite everything that has happened in her short career, Ren's memories of the good times in Salford remain.

"To this day I can't remember how we got a meeting at the record company, but we saw the head of Universal David Joseph on the top floor of this enormous building," she laughed. "We played him the demos we'd done, which was just me singing into a phone, and he wanted to sign me on the spot. He was so excited about it and that night I got the train back to Manchester and went straight to The Eagle pub in Salford and my mum said 'let's get some champagne' and I remember really clearly the said they only had Buck's Fizz."

So what now for Ren?

“I’ve created a second chance for myself“ she added. “And I will keep creating second chances for myself, because this is my life and I’m not afraid to revel in it anymore."

Ren Harvieu's new album Revel In The Drama is out now via Bella Union.