London R&B singer Izzy Bizu gets lift to the big time from Coldplay
Public endorsement from Chris Martin led to the up-and-coming singer/songwriter opening for his band on North American tour.
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Few thrills for the up-and-coming young musician can compare to getting a public endorsement from a pop star of Chris Martin’s stature, but it’s safe to say that subsequently getting invited to open up an entire Coldplay summer stadium tour probably wins in the end.
This is the dream world in which 23-year-old London R&B singer Izzy Bizu finds herself suspended at the moment. Scarcely a year after Martin took to the @Coldplay Twitter account in July of 2016 to declare her fleet-footed soul-pop jam White Tiger one of “three things I love at the moment,” she — along with fellow fortunate openers AlunaGeorge — has been drafted to ride along for the entire North American leg of the superstar U.K. quartet’s A Head Full of Dreams jaunt.
Not a bad way to introduce oneself to this side of the Atlantic, really. Bizu’s first two gigs ever in Toronto, for instance, will now be at the Rogers Centre on Monday and Tuesday, putting her in front of as many as 45,000 or 50,000 fresh faces a night. A bit of a daunting prospect, perhaps, but probably a more preferable introduction than staring disconsolately out at a half-empty nightclub.
“It’s been a really cool journey. I really didn’t expect to be in North America right now and you guys have been so welcoming. It’s been so lovely,” gushes Bizu — née Isobel Bizu Beardshaw — from a hotel room in Chicago, confirming that there have indeed been worse moments in her life than when she got the call that Coldplay wanted to take her on the road overseas.
“Yeah, it was a great day. I kind of dropped to the floor when I got told that. But I was also a bit cautious. I was, like, ‘Am I gonna be in debt after this tour?’ because some tours can be like that — it can be a bittersweet thing where you’ve got to do certain things. But this has been so chill. This is the happiest I’ve been in awhile.”
None of this success has been particularly “overnight” for Bizu, mind you.
After spending her childhood bouncing around between Ethiopia and Bahrain with her English father and Ethiopian mother, she did a brief stint as a teenager in a wannabe-Sugababes girl group called SoundGirl that wound up unceremoniously dumped by its record label after one minor chart appearance with the frothy, Carly Simon-checkin’ single Don’t Know Why in 2011 and a tour supporting Canada’s own Justin Bieber.
Disenchanted, the then-17-year-old Bizu decided to go to music college to see if she still wanted to stay in the game and, despite dropping out after just one year, walked away from school with a hardened determination to keep writing and singing her own music — not to mention a new friend and songwriting partner in guitarist Mika Barroux, her right-hand man and bandmate to this day.
Early success at the open-mic competition ILuvLive, from whence Ed Sheeran and Jessie J both previously emerged, led to a singer/songwriterly EP entitled Coolbeanz in 2013, which earned Bizu early support from the BBC. And that support has remained unwavering; the network has since put her on a couple of BBC Presents touring bills and got her to record a version of Edith Piaf’s La Foule as the theme song for its TV coverage of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament in France.
Later that year the Beeb eventually rewarded her with the Introducing Artist of the Year Award at the 2016 BBC Music Awards, just a few months after her debut album, A Moment of Madness, was released: a peppier affair than its predecessor that finds an inviting space within Bizu’s love of jazz, ardent Amy Winehouse fanhood and misspent youth as a raver.
In hindsight, then, all that early bad luck with the girl group was just a momentary hiccup.
“I’ve always loved rising to the situation ... every time s--- like that happens; it just gives me extra motivation,” says Bizu. “But also, with the girl band, there were some good things about that, too. I did learn how to write songs — very poppy ones, but I learned how to write songs — so that was an education for me.
“I feel extremely lucky. That was like school, in a weird way. There’s no music-industry college that kind of prepares you for the real industry, y’know?”
Facing down tens of thousands of Coldplay fans a night for three months in the States and Canada is an education in and of itself, too, naturally.
Bizu has been delighted to find the band’s audience both attentive to and appreciative of her material since she joined them for her first date in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 1. The members of Coldplay are also, she’s happy to report, “lovely” and “so chill.”
“It’s been such amazing crowds. I didn’t really know what to expect because we’ve stripped down the set so much — there’s just three of us and we’re not using any tracks — but actually the audience has been very receptive and it’s been such an amazing time, and it’s a lot less scary than I thought it would be,” she says. “I didn’t have, like, massive stage fright before, but I would get it sometimes, and this has really helped me get over it because you’re in such a really big room you almost feel like you’re alone in it because it’s so big you can’t actually see everyone.
“I was just saying to a friend a couple of days ago I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this. It’s actually the most chill tour we’ve ever done.”