Zak Abel - FREE ENTRY - Reserve your place
This Friday night join us for intimate gig with Zak Abel OVER 18's ONLY
Time & Location
24 Feb, 20:00
Bournemouth, 14a Commercial Rd, Bournemouth BH2 5LP, UK
About the Event
Don't miss this intimate live show with Zak Abel
To guarantee your place, please register
Doors at 8pm
Last entry strictly 8:45pm
OVER 18's ONLY
Zak Abel can hear what a great song needs.
It’s propelled him to multiple collaborations with some of the world’s biggest dance producers, in which the singer-songwriter has crafted some – to use a technical term – absolute bangers.
Freedom with Kygo (193 million streams). Beautiful Escape with Tom Misch (88 million). Ten More Days with Avicii (29 million). Unmissable with Gorgon City (26 million). Bad with Don Diablo (88 million). The Power with Duke Dumont (51 million). Those names, and those numbers, speak to both the appeal of the Londoner’s emotion-tapping and soulful vocals, and to the flexibility and range of his compositional skills – and, frankly, easygoing but weapons-grade niceness as a human being.
“When you're writing dance songs, it's quite general in the lyrics,” says Abel. “Because, oftentimes, you're singing to people who just want to dance. So what's more important is the melody and the simplicity of it, to reach the most amount of people in a very immediately impactful way. Whereas in my own music, it's more about me and my story.”
And on that point, Abel can also hear what his own music needs.
It’s there in What Love Is, the 27-year-old’s sparkling debut single for BMG. Think: George Michael for Generation TikTok, an all-rounder with an instinctively soulful, funky feel and ability to fast-track an ear-wormy chorus. In vocals recorded in the high-tech surroundings of his living room of his former flat in southwest London, it showcases, too, Abel’s incredible singing range.
“Lyrically, it's a statement that I feel proud to put out first," he explains. “The first line is: 'I'm about to lose myself in the big bad world.' And now that I'm releasing this music, I feel like I'm properly putting myself out there. In the past, maybe it was like, 'ah, I'll put this music out but it's not really me…' So if I failed, it wasn't actually me who failed. Whereas now this music is exactly what I want to be putting out. And if I fail, it's me – I have failed.”
That, to be honest, seems unlikely, especially judging by the other tracks Abel has waiting in the wings – wait till you hear the appropriately titled Dance With You (Comeback) (hint: a sublime Tom Misch collab that will drag you, effortlessly, to the dancefloor) and Woman (clue: it was written with Jamie Hartman, hitman co-writer for Lewis Capaldi, Celeste and Rag’n’Bone Man – and those are only the last three artists he’s won awards with). And these are songwriting skills that Abel has been honing for half his life. What did the tunes written by 14-year-old Zak sound like?
“Rubbish!” he laughs. “Amy Winehouse made on GarageBand!” he adds (which, tbf, sounds quite intriguing). “I don't know why I started writing songs. There's no reason for it. But I love singing, then when I was 14, I started playing piano. And I got a Tascam, where you could record yourself.
“I wasn't sure what school to go to because I used to play table tennis for England,” he adds in glancing modesty. In fact, Abel was so gifted at the sport that, for a period in his mid-teens he lived in France, alone, training full-time and at a level where, if he’d kept it up, he’d likely have made the Team GB Olympic squad. It meant he had his pick of sports bursary offers from boujie schools. Also having Olympic-grade melodic skills, though, meant he kept going back to music. Still, he acknowledges that, for his adolescent self, “the whole process was quite overwhelming, so I wrote a song about that phase of indecision.”
Many, many more songs followed, eventually landing Abel a deal with Atlantic while he was still in his teens. He could still hear what made a hit, but the brutal truth was: he was losing his hearing in his right ear.
Aged 21, before he’d had a chance to release his debut album (2017’s Only When We’re Naked), he was diagnosed with otosclerosis, which is essentially the overgrowth and brittleness of the stapes bone, and what befell both Beethoven and all-time-great vocalist Frankie Valli. That means it can't vibrate, which means you can’t hear… anything in that ear.
For a kid at the start of his music career, the diagnosis was devastating. As he puts it now: “As someone who was already dealing with the stresses of the music industry and record label pressure, starting to lose your hearings was fucking dark. It was a really tough time.”
He decided to go for an operation to replace the stapes bone with an artificial implant – a high risk bet for anyone, far less a musician, “because you have no idea what the results are going to be. While it may restore volume, pitch can be really affected. And in fact, once I'd had the operation, for about six months to a year afterwards, I couldn't tell if I was in tune. I had to learn how to hear pitch again. That's something the doctor doesn't tell you,” he adds with a wry smile.
He sighs heavily. “It was so scary, man. I was 21, shaking, and my mum was cradling my head. Just so traumatic. Not knowing if I was ever going to be able to make music again.”
The outcome, on the one hand, was great. “About 95 per cent of my hearing on my right ear came back, in terms of volume. But music isn't just about volume. Non-musicians, most of the time, can hear volume. But the actual retraining of pitch and stuff, that took a while. Even now, it's not necessarily as good as it used to be. But I'm still generally able to sing in tune.”
On the other hand, the push behind his debut album, and his relationship with his label, were massively set back. To cut a familiar story short, album came out, young artist was dropped… but quickly picked up by Universal/Island… before staffing changes there left him high and dry again.
Every cloud, though: by now Zak Abel had a brace of great songs, a bucketload of ambition and a long-stoppered desire to get back out and play his songs. He knew from all those club-facing collaborations with DJs and producers that his vocals, lyrics and top-line melodies could move a room. Now he needed the entirety of his songwriting skills to have their moment.
So, since signing with BMG last summer, Zak Abel has been hard at it, working on his genuinely long-awaited second album, a set of songs that channel his life, loves and influences like John Legend, Sam Smith and Paulo Nutini. After all this time, there’s no rush. But at the same time, troublingly, there is: he’s starting to lose the hearing in his left ear, too.
But we’re not getting into that right now, because neither is Zak Abel. He’s focused on his art and passion. For him, what love is, it’s doing what you love. What Love Is – it’s the sound of a young artist radiating passion and uplifting, electronic soul.
“The song's about trying, even though you've been hurt before, or let down and your confidence may be a little bit low, to put yourself out there to try and find love."
For someone who’s faced more than his fair share of darkness and silence, the single is, too, genuinely life-affirming – a clarion call of positivity.
“For me, within music, the most positive thing is that you're making music that you love, and other people love,” he concludes. “As opposed to making music that you don't love to make other people happy. What Love Is, it's a statement that I'm making for this album, which is: I'm putting out the music I genuinely love. And I hope that other people love it, too. That to me is the absolute ideal. That is love."
He is Zak Abel, a reborn star for 2023, and hearing is believing.
OVER 18's ONLY
** Please note, the show will be filmed and recorded for later release. So, by booking tickets you agree to be filmed as part of the audience **
Standing ticket - Age restriction 16+ (16-17 years olds, must be accompanied by an adult) Max 3 under 18's per adult ** Please note, the show will be filmed and recorded for later release. So, by booking tickets you agree to be filmed as part of the audience **
+£0.38 service fee
Booth seating provides a private area as a base, views of the stage are restricted. Age restriction 16+ (16-17 years olds, must be accompanied by an adult) Max 3 under 18's per adult. ** Please note, the show will be filmed and recorded for later release. So, by booking tickets you agree to be filmed as part of the audience **