Meet China Bowls: singer songwriter, festival lover, maker of sequinned capes, and the first signing to all-female youth record label Saffron Records.
24-year-old Lucie Bowles aka China Bowls has just released her debut EP Talk on the Bristol-based label. It’s a punchy 3-track neo-soul record, or in China’s words: ‘Jazzy, soul-y, bluesy-ness from a small ginger with a big red guitar’.
The EP takes its name from the subtly hip hop-infused lead track Talk, but we’ve been particularly charmed by the more nostalgic jazz number, Wonder. There’s also a distinct feistiness that comes as part of the China Bowls package – it comes across whether you’re hearing her sing, or chatting over a cappuccino, as we are when we meet to talk about moving to Bristol, The People’s Front Room, and not hating men…
China was ‘discovered’ at Boomtown festival, when after being denied the microphone in the early hours of tiny festival tent, she belted one out anyway.
She recalls: ‘They said no, as they get many a drunkard asking to sing at 3am. But a lady working there persuaded me to have a go anyway without a mic… Thankfully they let me stay with the mic on, and I had a jam with some of the musicians playing there. I was invited to Bestival with them that year and then they kept asking me back!’
Late-night revelers and those in search of a main stage respite will know this haven as The People’s Front Room, a mobile festival tent styled on a 19th century salon, complete with Persian rugs and charismatic hosts.
Late-night revelers and those in search of a main stage respite will know this haven as The People’s Front Room
China began gigging with the collective, who are regulars at Glastonbury, Boomtown, Shambala and Bestival. It was the perfect habitat for China, who when she’s not making music, spends her time creating elaborate sequinned capes. Her creations can be bought from her aptly-named Capes Capes Capes stall, which is part of the Fash Pack – a collective of artists, makers and face painters who can be found at festivals up and down the country (just follow the glitter).
‘I’ve always been making stuff, whether it’s art or music,’ says China, who studied theatre and costume at university in London. Although she was doing open mic nights and small gigs while she was studying, it turned out that a move away from the capital was the kindling she needed to get her music career going…
‘I moved to Bristol with the intention to give all my energy to music,’ she says. ‘I found it impossible to do that in London.’
‘Saffron isn’t a man-hating organisation’
It wasn’t long before she caught the attention of Saffron Records and began connecting with the famously-welcoming music community in Bristol, including mentor Eva Lazarus and busker-turned-world-famous beatboxing, looping and sax virtuoso Mr Woodnote, who features on the Talk EP.
‘The reaction to the EP has been super positive which is always nice, it’s funny how intangible it is though – you never really know because you aren’t there with people when they’re listening to it. I’m really proud of it though and that’s all you can do – make something you are proud to share with people. Now I’m thinking about the next single and also planning a few live videos of new tracks.’
On signing to a female-only label, China says: ‘Saffron isn’t a man-hating organisation. There are different pots of funding for different things and Saffron has chosen to specialise in supporting young women – which just means they can tailor their opportunities to be the best for young women.
‘That doesn’t mean they won’t work with men. We work with lots of men – my band are guys and I worked with Mr Woodnote on my album.
‘I listen to a lot of sassy strong females, so classics like Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Amy Winehouse, but I’m also influenced by a lot of male artists – I love Fat Freddy’s Drop, Hiatus Kaiyote, Tom Misch and Loyle Carner.’
If all that sounds like your cup of tea, we bring very good news… You can catch China Bowls in her natural festival-esque surroundings next weekend in Bristol, when People’s Front Room take over The Old Malt House for a 5-hour winter installment of non-stop live music, poetry and theatre from the PFR family of performers including Lady Nade, Little Thief, Toyface, Mr Fitz, ALBA, Cat Brooks, Chaz Thorogood, DBH, The Flat Pack Horns, Tom Fryer, Issa The I Man, BOMBS, and of course, China Bowls.
The People’s Front Room takes over Bristol’s Old Malthouse on Friday 17 December. Head over to the Facebook event page for more info.