Unguarded seems a pretty appropriate title for Rae Morris’s debut assault on the album charts.
The singer-songwriter is as refreshing as a deep breath of Blackpool sea air and doesn’t appear to even have a guard to be dropped.
Greeting fans, friends and family at Blackpool’s HMV store on Wednesday evening, there was a hug, a smile and a photo for everyone, as well as their signed CD.
Not once did the broad smile drop, and Rae’s demeanour stayed as bouncy as her trademark long curly hair.
It was only after signing 100-plus copies of her CD and vinyl release that Rae took a step back to reflect on what was happening and showing some of the emotion she was certainly feeling.
Taking in row upon row of her five years-in-the-making album, racked up in the store where she bought her first record, Rae suddenly went uncharacteristically quiet for a brief moment.
That first album was PJ Harvey, a cool songstress who also hails from the coast – albeit the warmer climes of Dorset.
Rae admits her choice was more about the cover image for Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea but Harvey, as well as another British pop icon Kate Bush, has been a constant influence for the 22-year-old.
“There’s not really any way to describe the feeling today, and I haven’t taken it in,” she said. “I’m looking at posters and the vinyl on the shelves, and literally cannot believe it’s happened.
“I bought my first CD here and just never dreamt of this.”
In an utterly unfussy fashion, despite being more than half an hour late for the store session, due to traffic rather than any diva-like issues, Rae’s team set up her piano with a little help from her super-proud dad Neil and she took to the stage in front of a hushed audience.
Opening with track Don’t Go, you could hear a pin drop as Rae’s very special voice rang out through the store. That was followed by an almost unrecognisable Under The Shadows – which in an acoustic format is very different to what fans have become accustomed to hearing on the radio.
Also on the song list were This Time, forthcoming single Love Again, Closer and title track Unguarded, all of which were greeted with rapturous applause to break the respectful silence that her pure, clean tones demanded.
“It was wonderful,” she said after the set.
“I kind of had to keep laughing as I was worried I would cry if I didn’t laugh. It was definitely one or the other.
“This week has been really emotional, Monday particularly as the release day, it was crazy.
“It feels like a weight is off now that the album is out, having prepared for it for such a long time. It’s here now and the reaction has been brilliant.
“For me, looking at what fans on Twitter are saying is really important. They are the people who have been here from the beginning and it means a lot.
“I’ve not been reading the reviews, but I think they’re good.”
Management are hoping for a top 10 chart position for Unguarded on Sunday – although she admits a top five would be amazing, and seems highly possible after hitting the spot in the midweek charts.
She’s up against some tough competition; Mark Ronson, Meghan Trainor and Bjork are also vying for the top spots.
So what’s next?
There’s a UK tour, under way in Liverpool on Sunday and next Friday’s Manchester date is already sold out, but beyond that Rae’s been so focused on getting Unguarded out there that she’s not had time to think.
“Now Unguarded is out, it’s almost like I’m starting afresh,” she explained. “One door closes and another one opens.
“I’ve set the tone now, shown people what I’m like and can do. It feels like I could do anything now, creatively, going forwards.”
With another HMV date lined up for Manchester last night, Rae was staying in the North West, but no fancy hotel was booked – Rae was leaving the wind swept Bank Hey Street HMV store to head for a family meal in St Annes and a night at her nana’s.
While mum and dad Neil and Lesley have now retired to live in the Lakes, Blackpool is still very much home for Rae – who was brought up near Stanley Park, and attended St George’s School in Marton.
Earlier this week, her local knowledge was put to the test, when Rae appeared on the Greg James drivetime show on Radio 1.
With the prize of a trip to the top of Blackpool Tower at stake, she had five local brainteasers to answer – including: “Name one local newspaper, covering Blackpool or the Lancashire area.”
And without a pause, Rae singled out the Blackpool Gazette and the ‘lovely people’ there.
Rae’s hugely grateful for the support she receives in her hometown, as are her parents, and are keen to pass on their thanks. Pupils from her old high school were showing their support at HMV, and she hopes her story can inspire them, too.
“I hope people coming from Blackpool can see that it’s possible to go forward and follow their dream,” she said.
“There were only a couple of people here I didn’t know, and even then I was thinking I knew them, too.
“It was amazing to see people, like those who gave me my first gig at Stanley Park Cafe and girls and boys from St George’s – although they have really cool, new grey blazers now.”
Owner of the cafe Sean Gallagher praised Rae’s development and the maturity in her voice, since her debut in the cafe for a charity coffee morning, and following gigs where he initially advised her to stick to covers.
“She did True Colours, it was beautiful, but after a few dates she didn’t need to do covers, they loved her own songs,” he added.
Mum Lesley failed to hold back her tears of pride as friends arrived at the store, while dad Neil even pitched in to help set up Rae’s piano – taking a step back in time to when they travelled the Fylde and beyond attending open mic nights and Rachel’s earliest performances.
They’ve heard every song so many times, some date back to Rae being just 17, but admit they’ve played it cool in the three years since she was signed (over fish and chips at The Cottage) to Atlantic Records and can now release the emotions they’ve felt.
Do they have any favourite tracks?
“Listening to them on the album, we were in tears,” she said. “It was like listening to them all for the first time.
“For You is the family song, it was played at Neil’s mum’s funeral, and Not Knowing makes me cry every time.”
“Hearing these beautiful stripped back versions takes you back to the cafe,” retired firefighter Neil said, before explaining where Rachel’s musical talents – and her stage name – come from.
“I’m terrible with music. But my dad was a singer, he won the rose bowl at Blackpool Music Festival as an amateur tenor singer, his name was Raymond Morris.
“When Rachel shortened her name to Rae, she hadn’t told anyone and it was a really emotional moment as I lost my father at 14, but she dedicates the album to Raymond.”