Strike A Chord

Singer Olivia Dean discusses the powerful emotional connection between football and family, women’s confidence around sports, and why summer is all about rounders in the park

By Al Greenwood

Illustration by Cat Sims

The worlds of sport and music are often compared, blurred and held parallel in emotional power. To explore this subject, as part of a new playlist series, I spoke to East London singer Olivia Dean, who shares her life-long love of West Ham FC, a more recent passion for rounders, and the fundamental ability of music and sport to bring people together. A BRIT school graduate, Olivia has an eclectic music taste that shines through her music, which draws strong influence from soul and Motown. Although she is just 21, her music expresses a raw emotional depth that many artists fall short of across their whole career. Olivia’s seemingly inherent ability to marry intensity and playfulness through her work came across strongly throughout our Zoom call.

Prior to the interview, I shared my own experience with Olivia – how I came to find myself stepping out from behind the drum kit and writing on the subject of women’s sport. When my touring schedule took a hiatus, it was through exercise and moving that I found most fulfilment and sense of purpose. Yet the conversations that surround the world of sport and “fitness” are all too often daunting and intimidating – preoccupied with body image, rather than the simple joy of movement itself. This immediately struck a chord with Olivia.

“When I was approached to do this, I wouldn’t use the word nervous but I thought, ‘Am I even qualified to speak on this subject?’ But as I thought about it, sport actually has played a big role throughout my life. I’ve always loved football. Growing up, I went to West Ham games with my dad – he had a season ticket and always took me along. And I love playing rounders once a week with my mates. But I think sometimes, as a woman, you feel a sense of insecurity if you start to talk about sport.”

The parallels between Olivia’s experiences and my own are manifest, and after some reflection Olivia continued: “Thinking about it, what is it about sport? Throughout my life, why has it been a constant theme? Maybe it’s a cliché, but it really has been at times that have brought people together in my life. Whether that’s connecting with my dad by going to football games together every week, or inviting all my mates round to watch a big boxing fight.”

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