Younee is back in the UK for a punishing schedule of live gigs, radio interviews and broadcasts. LKL is her first interview, two days after landing at Heathrow. We meet, together with her manager, Anthony Steinberg, at the now familiar rooftop bar at the St George’s Hotel, next to All Soul’s Langham Place.
Last time she came, her visit was mainly about promoting her album, True to You. But she made no secret of wanting to build an international career, and maybe to stay in the UK longer term. So this time, the visit is more about Younee herself. “The album is one aspect of me, so of course I’ll be playing music from it. But this time I’m doing classical as well.” Rock, jazz and classical, Younee transcends the genres.
She has two big public gigs in her London calendar: 7 April at the 100 Club and 17 April at Pizza Express Dean Street. And she’s doing a private industry showcase as well, with invited representatives of the record industry and music press.
Last year she went along to check out the atmosphere at the 100 Club. “It’s a crazy place” she laughs. “What I liked was that it was really loud, but there was this old guy there. He looked really cool. In Korea, you wouldn’t get old guys going to a gig like that. And he wasn’t dressed like an old guy.”
“It was Jimmy Page,” said Anthony, nonchalantly. “One of the bands featured Ronnie Woods’s son, so Page must have been there to support him.”
“Yes, and you didn’t tell me till afterwards,” scolded Younee indignantly.
Younee’s gig at the 100 Club is titled “The Rock side of Younee”. It will feature some of the tracks from her album and covers of some of her favourite rock tunes. She will be accompanied by drums and bass.
Her gig at Pizza Express Dean Street is part of the Steinway Piano Duo festival. The festival extends over 4 days and features 22 pianists. The format of the Saturday lunchtime event is two piano duo partnerships playing two sets each. Younee will be partnering with up and coming jazz pianist Alex Hutton. “I come from a classical background, and he’s from a jazz background. Hopefully, we’ll make something different together” she says. The Younee / Hutton sets will include Gershwin, Grieg, Bach and more, and will be broadcast on Radio 3’s Jazz Lineup, apparently the only duos from the festival to be so featured.
Since the interview, Younee has already appeared on Three Counties Radio based in Cambridge for a 25 minute interview and a live performance which included a Rhapsody in Blue which morphed into a rock number. With Younee, you never know what’s going to happen. Her upcoming solo gig at the 606 Club (25 April) is the first time that classical music has been featured at that Chelsea jazz venue. But it will be classical with a difference. Some of the music will be played straight, but there will also be improvisation. “I never know how it will end,” she says of her improvisations. “At some point I take off and head in a different direction.”
She’s also keen to get outside of London. As well as the Stables in Milton Keynes – home of Cleo Laine and the late great Johnny Dankworth – she’s playing venues in Kent, Oxford and Bristol.
Why Bristol? “Well, I heard that one of my favourite bands, Portishead, came from there.” It’s as good an answer as any if you’ve got a whole country to explore. Younee is keen to make a name for herself in the UK, and regards Nah Youn Sun as a great role model, as a Korean musician who has succeeded in France. “But I don’t want to be regarded as a Korean musician, I want to be regarded as a musician who just happens to be Korean,” she says.
Which gig is she most looking forward to? I ask. “All of them,” she laughs. “They will all be so different. Each one will show a different side of me. I’ll even be wearing different outfits.”
Younee seems to have come a long way in a short time with the assistance of her manager, Anthony Steinberg. Without the corporate muscle and cash which launched the Wonder Girls in the US, Younee has got BBC interviews and gigs at prestigious venues, while retaining artistic freedom to play the music she wants – to bend the genres. “Belief is our main asset. While cash would be nice, it’s our belief which has got us this far.”