IT took some crossings of the Irish Channel and a £1 CD from Harrods to help Michael Stafford on his way to becoming Maverick Sabre.
Now one of 2011’s most talked about new names, the 20-year-old Londoner, who was transplanted to Ireland’s south-east corner as a kid, has finally landed on pole position of pop’s monopoly board.
The past 12 months have seen him tuck into the top 20 with the Isaac Hayes-sampling Let Me Go, tours with Chase & Status, Snoop Dog and former flatmate Plan B, blitz all the festivals worth talking about and make an album that re-writes a few rules.
But it took a few shunts and wrong turns to finally nail his blend of hip-hop-inspired soulful folk.
“I feel comfortable as myself for the first time ever,” he says ahead of a busy Leadmill headline fixture on October 18.
“I want to be that artist people come together for, connecting audiences and genres. And I want to show all young people it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how small the place, or how little the opportunity, you can only be kept down by a small mentality.”
Inspired early on by Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and Aretha Franklin, it was Ben E. King’s Stand By Me that glued him to music enough to accompany his dad to performances, to teach himself guitar and to write his first song at eight.
His older sister’s love of R&B and hip-hop opened his eyes to a wider range of music – So Solid’s 21 Seconds, The Streets’ Let’s Push Things Forward and More Fire Crew’s Oi, the only CD he was allowed to buy in the Harrods sale.
“By that point I’d lost touch with myself – it was Tupac and Dizzee that made me sit up again,” recalls Mr Sabre. “Tupac bought a really key element to music for me – he made me want to write and write better.”
Teenage years saw our man performing on the Irish hip-hop scene, opening for the likes of The Game, Lethal Bizzle and Plan B, the latter suggesting a move back to London.
Having been encouraged to focus on his singing, studio sessions with Chase & Status and Footsie ensued, reigniting his love for all things dark, wobbly and bassline related, such as earlier single Look What I Done, Run To The Roof, Where We Gonna Go and pirate radio-grabbing Inside, while also helping out the likes of Professor Green on his hit Jungle.
With his debut album Lonely Are The Brave, Sabre sought to capture his live vibe. As he sees the year out on a high, he adds: “I don’t want my album to get lost, I want it to be something that’s picked up in years to come.”