He on the Culture desk, I often like to play a little game when colleagues are on the phone.
In case you ever find yourself in our office and want to join in, here’s a quick once around the very simple rules of Who’s On The Line Anyway?:
Rule 1: When a colleague announces they’re about to do an interview, ignore all of your instinctive curiosity impulses (cover your mouth with both hands if you have to) and refuse to ask who they’re going to be talking to.
Rule 2: As soon as they start talking (which usually involves the use of the interviewee’s first name) the imaginary clock starts and you have to use all your acquired experience to guess who they’re talking to.
Important note: Obviously if the star is of stratospheric stature and demands the ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ prefix, the game is usually over before it has begun. ‘Hello Mr Pacino’ or ‘good afternoon Mrs Parton’... you get the idea.
The same logic applies to the rare brand of star who possess one-name recognition rights. Music wise you’d be talking about the likes of Madonna, Elton, Kylie, and - until recently - Lulu.
The latter is not the case anymore, thanks to the headway-making efforts of South Shields’ electronic soul songstress, Lulu James. (This has been coupled, admittedly with a distinct lack of musical activity from the Lulu who isn’t afraid to Shout, but back to the new Lulu on the block).
Since making herself known a couple of years back, the 23-year-old singer, who was born in Tanzania before being brought up on Tyneside, has been making music - and waves - all over the place, enjoying a raft of radio play, TV appearances and critical acclaim.
She is currently spending time in London recording her debut album - planned for a 2015 release - while preparing for the imminent unveiling of a new EP in October.
“I’m flitting between three studios recording for the album, mixing the EP and working with some amazing people,” she says during a rare break.
“I’ve also been touring Europe and all sorts of other stuff... which is why I sound like a man,” she adds, explaining today’s gravel-sprinkled conversational style. “London’s great, but I always looking forward to getting back up to the North East.”
That’s why Lulu is particularly thrilled to be coming home later this month, thanks to a slot on the bill at the Soundwaves 2014 event in Bents Park, South Shields on August 23.
“I’ve made sure I’m getting a week up there... I’ve still got a house in South Shields,” she adds, aghast at the notion she could call anywhere else home.
“It’s not easy to get a week to do anything at the moment, but sometimes you have to put your foot down.”
The outdoor gig will see her appearing alongside Texas, Gabrielle and All Saints on the all-female bill, which includes singers who a young Lulu used to love singing along to.
“It’s one of those really mad things about what I do... these bands that you used to love when you were a kid... and then there’s me singing with Sharleen (Spiteri) on Jools Holland’s show,” she laughs.
“It’ll be nice to catch up with her, and lovely to play to a home crowd.”
Exciting though it must be to perform in your own backyard, I wonder whether the prospect comes with a built-in extra pressure?
“Tell me about it,” Lulu laughs.
“I’m so scared... very very nervous but so excited at the same time.”
Although she says there will be lots of family and friends in the crowd (“well at least I’m hoping there will be!”), it’s not the idea of them which is causing the butterflies.
“It’s because it’s my home,” she says simply.
“My music is quite alternative... it’s not your average pop or whatever, and I think some of my nerves come from that. I am a little bit strange and quirky, and I want to make sure I’m myself on the stage, but obviously want people to enjoy themselves.
“I love getting on stage and having fun... and I do go for it when I’m up there,” she continues.
“And although my music is a little bit different, it’s still really accessible. I tell a lot of stories in my songs, so hopefully I do connect with people in that way... even if I seem a little quirky and weird on stage, I’ll always give a little smile too.”
As well as hearing the songs which have created a buzz thus far (Closer, Sweetest Thing and new track, Beautiful People), the assembled masses can also expect to hear tracks from the new EP and possibly get a flavour of the album, which is tentatively scheduled for released before the end of next summer.
“It does feel like we are getting there - getting the album finished. We’re hoping for summer next year, but I’ve been wrong before,” she laughs.
“The most important thing that I’ve learned in the past couple of years is to take your time... rushing things is no good.
Without the right people around me, I would have been releasing songs every week - and probably still would be, to be honest.
“Like my new track, Beautiful - it’s still available as a free download... I haven’t taken it off even though my management keep telling me too,” she says without a trace of guilt.
“It has been slowly growing and I kind of like that about that song... people are discovering it and sharing it. It might end up being a track on the album. Let’s see... all I know is that when I do release the album, it’s really important that people get who I am, and hear the music which tells them that.”
It sounds like a pretty extensive track selection process.
“Ah man, I’ve written so many songs,” she laughs, “and there are so many of them that I’m still really connected to - even though other people maybe aren’t so much.
“That’s a bit sad and a bit hard for me, because I wrote them... you need to be so disciplined though.
“I couldn’t do it by myself and have built a really great team around me. I know when they tell me things - even if I don’t want to hear them - they’re only doing it in my interest.”
Mind you, when it comes to her live performance, Lulu is less likely to compromise.
“No-one can tell me what to do on stage,” she laughs. “Well they could try...”
Although she remains mistress of her own on-stage presentation, Lulu says she can’t wait to hand herself over to some top designers later this year when she takes part in London Fashion Week.
Although she is sworn to secrecy on the details of the part(s) she is playing in Fashion Week - these shows are all about the reveal, darling - Lulu can tell me she is providing a live soundtrack for “quite a few” shows, and is utterly thrilled about it.
“Fashion is a massive part of me and my stage presence,” she says.
“I love fashion and as I get older and have travelled, I’ve seen so many styles from people all over the world, I think I’ve started to find my own place. I used to follow fashion, and now I make my own up.”
Talking of travel, Lulu reckons she might have a bit of withdrawal from her summer of European gigs, including festival dates in Norway, Slovakia, Denmark, Germany and Finland.
“It’s been completely awesome. Last week I was playing to 30,000 people in Norway, who had all chosen to come and see me. That was just unbelievable. What an experience.
“The Europeans seem to like me a lot,” she laughs. “I’m a bit sad the tour is coming to an end in a way. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s been really hard work... the flights have been horrendous and there have been loads of things go wrong. But that’s all part of the learning curve that I’m on.”
And I’m betting she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
- Lulu James will be playing Soundwaves 2014 with Texas, Gabrielle and All Saints