George Ezra's amazing voyages to Budapest
All he was doing was singing and playing guitar. But what made people stare - blinking to attention - was the way he did it.
With the solemn intensity of a chess player, his eyes focused straight ahead, head slightly on an angle, fingers nimbly flicking the strings.
British musician George Ezra, 20, spent one day in New Zealand this week.
In that 24 hours he did interviews and played at an invite-only Auckland showcase sponsored by Huffer.
When he arrived at his hotel room, laid out in a row were shirts.
"Huffer left them for me, they are really nice," he says, sounding genuinely chuffed.
The humble, talented and charming British newcomer from Hertford has created a sensation with his single Budapest.
It hit No. 1 in Britain and 10 countries in Europe. It is No. 3 on the New Zealand charts this week.
He posted the song online six months ago as a free download.
It has since been streamed more than 10 million times on Spotify and 7 million times on YouTube.
"I haven't celebrated it or anything," he says. "I'm not very good at treating myself."
BBC Radio One included Ezra as a top-five finalist in its coveted Sound of 2014 list. MTV and iTunes quickly followed suit.
It all began when Ezra set himself a challenge. He wanted to travel alone through Europe for one month.
"I've always been someone who needs someone with them to poke and annoy," he laughs.
"I'm useless at being by myself. I bought a train ticket to everywhere and I learned that I could be by myself. I nailed it."
As he travelled he wrote in his journals, guitar by his side. Occasionally, he busked but mostly he wrote about the places he saw and the people he met, from the impressively odd to the impossibly exotic.
"A lot of people say your first album can come from years of writing but about 70 per cent of my album Wanted On Voyage came from that one trip," Ezra says.
At 17 he moved to Bristol to study songwriting. At 18 he signed to Columbia. Landing a record deal while in his first year at college was entirely unexpected.
This year he played a sold-out British tour that took two months to complete, with barely a day off.
After that he headed to Europe, where Budapest was a massive hit.
In Italy he stepped out of a radio station to find fans holding up photos of him to sign.
"I don't buy into the hype. I love the fact that people love my music and to be able to play music is fantastic. But I have trouble with the whole celebrity thing. Some people don't care why they are famous, they just want to be famous and that makes my skin crawl a bit."
When he played the BBC Introducing stage at Glastonbury he watched, wide-eyed, as fans filled the tent and sang along to his lyrics.
Usually, before he goes on stage he gets "a special energy".
Backstage at Glastonbury he became physically nervous and began shaking with nerves.
"It was huge but when I walked on stage I was completely fine."
His voice sounds much older than he does.
"I never really thought I could sing but then one day, when I was about 15 or 16, I picked up an old Leadbelly record I had and on the back it said that Leadbelly's voice was so big you had to turn your record player down to hear the voices," Ezra explains.
"I thought ‘that's bloody cool isn't it?' I tried to sing with a big voice and I could do it. It was a conscious decision, I wasn't in the school choir belting it out at the back."
Wanted on Voyage was recorded in Clapham, south London, with producer Cam Blackwood.
"For three months we worked from 10am-10pm each day and had Sundays off. We deliberately didn't invite other musicians to come and play on the record, other than a drummer, because we are bad at drums.
"I approached each song production wise as their own thing, I didn't want them to all sound the same."
The funniest lyrics - and there are plenty to choose from - are probably on Drawing Board, a fantasy retaliation aimed at an ex when a relationship goes sour.
On Did You Hear the Rain?, two 1980s keyboards were used and the weird beat is actually distorted loops of beat boxing and a didgeridoo.
"It was fun to do in the studio but is a ball-ache to try to recreate live."
The song, The Da Vinci Riot Police, had strange beginnings.
In Milan, Ezra found himself beside an old music hall and a statue of Leonardo da Vinci.
"I stood and looked up at the man," he recalls.
"Then, around the corner, came a big march with lots of flares and shouting. The police were on their backs and it all kicked off. Da Vinci looked after me for a bit."
The album artwork features people in various costumes and each one references a song.
"My dad's wearing a police outfit, which references that song. The people on the cover are my little brother, sister, friends, people from school, and even the first manager at the pub I worked in."
Budapest is, in part, about not making it to Budapest.
Arriving in Malmo from Copenhagen, he met up with some girls he'd been put in touch with.
"They said ‘come on, we've got to go and watch the Eurovision song final, it's funny'.
"We went to a park and watched it on a big screen. It's illegal to buy alcohol after a certain time in Malmo so we found ourselves buying some rum off a man in a park.
"All of that rum ended up inside little old me and I missed my train, which would have led me to Budapest.
"Instead I went to Berlin."
Ezra has more travels ahead. Soon he heads to the United States for the first time.
"I don't know how I'm going to get on with America, we'll see."
George Ezra's album Wanted On Voyage is out now.
- The Press