Liverpool is, still, a city that is famous for its music and football. The birthplace of one of the most popular groups the world has ever seen, and home to two of the biggest football clubs in Europe, Liverpool doesn’t mess around when it comes to producing top talent for the stage and the pitch. There are few people from the city, however, who can boast to scoring goals and chart hits, yet CHELCEE GRIMES is one of them. Born and bred in Liverpool, the 26-year-old has grabbed all the city has to offer by the scruff of the neck and run with it, quite literally, with a football in one hand and a guitar in the other. Why pick one when you can do both?
Chelcee, a self-professed pop lover and huge Liverpool FC fan, not only plays professional football for Fulham Ladies, she also pens pop hits for chart-toppers, putting her name to many a Dua Lipa track. She also has credits on Kylie Minogue, Kesha and Olly Murs songs and recently lent her vocals to the track Wild for Jonas Blue’s new album. Most people would be content with a back catalogue as impressive as that, but, this year, Chelcee has dropped two singles of her own, I Need A Night Out and Just Like That, which have racked up nearly 500,000 streams on Spotify collectively in their short life spans. Let’s not forget, she does all of this while knocking in a couple of goals for Fulham on weekends. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Sitting across the table from Chelcee in the back of a pub a couple of hours before she takes to the stage at Arts Club for her first hometown headline gig, I can tell I am in the presence of someone special, someone about to make Liverpool very proud. Aptly, the football is on in the background, a perfect setting as she delves into how her football and music careers began. “I started playing football because it was the only thing I could do if I wanted to play out,” Chelcee recalls. “Everyone in my street was a lad and, if I wanted to play out, I would have to play football. I started getting better than the lads and I started thinking that maybe I was onto something.” Thrashing the lads at football ultimately turned into getting spotted at the Ian Rush soccer school and working her way up the ladder. “I didn’t even have my own pair of footy boots, I was playing in my trainers. [But] I signed for Liverpool FC at the age of 10 and played up to the under 16s, then I was at Tranmere and the Everton Centre of Excellence with England player Fara Williams.”
“As for getting into music, obviously with women’s football you usually have to have a second job because the pay isn’t the same as the men’s, so I went into music, which also takes up a lot of time. I couldn’t do it part time, so I had to give up football. By the age of 18 I was fully into music, but five years later I got back into football and now I’m playing at Fulham. It’s definitely different, when people ask, ‘So what do you do?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m a singer and a footballer’, they go ‘Oh, OK…’ and I’m like ‘No, I actually am!’”
She makes playing professional football and making music sound like they are the easiest careers in the world to get into, but then again, she’s a Scouser: football and music are embedded into our culture. As she casually reels off her impressive CV, we talk about how her journey up to this point hasn’t always been easy after getting dropped from her label at the age of 16. “It’s kind of like football,” she muses. “To use a football analogy, if a new manager comes in and you’re not really his signing or you’re not on his team, you might get dropped or sold somewhere else, it just happens.”
“It was crushing but it was almost like a rite of passage, you’ve got to pick yourself up. That’s where 90 per cent of people stop and actually the people who you see on the TV, they are the minority of people who have said, ‘OK, water off a duck’s back’ and gone back out again and done it. It was just one of those things, which again football has instilled in me – like Liverpool in the Champions League Final, you can be 3-0 down at half-time but still come back and win. That was my little half-time.”
Parting ways with her label allowed Chelcee to explore the world, mature into who she is today and keep writing songs in her spare time. She cites her biggest influences as the “ballsy pop females who have more to say than just standing there looking good” – think Beyoncé, Pink, Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga, the latter of which she claims inspired her to start writing music in the first place. “I love pop music, I grew up on it… when I got dropped, I thought, ‘You know what, I’m just going to write a few more songs, keep writing every day and see what happens’.” After throwing out some lines and messaging as many people as she could, Danish music producer Cutfather, who has worked with the likes of The Pussycat Dolls and Kylie Minogue, got in touch. “He asked me to come down after hearing the songs I had done and asked if I would be able to write anything for Kylie. I was like, ‘How am I going to write for Kylie? I’m just this Scouser!’ We wrote a song that day, sent it to her, she replied, ‘I love it’ and recorded it the next day.”
“It was crazy, all my family are big Kylie fans so when they saw on the list of credits, Pharrell, Sia, Chelcee Grimes, they were like, ‘OK, she’s actually in music’. Things changed for me after that song.” In a surprising decision to re-sign with her original label, RCA Records, she recalls how her unfinished business made her want to go back. “It was like I had a point to prove to go back to the same label and prove I could be a success there,” which she has definitely done. Ten years later she has gone from playing football with the lads to playing for Fulham Ladies and moved on from uploading covers of Lady Gaga songs on YouTube to writing for the biggest people in pop and releasing her own songs – a point has definitely been proved.
After having so much success in writing for other people, I was curious as to why she had now decided to release her own material. “I thrive being on stage,” her face lights up at the thought of it, “it’s where I come from. I’m not very good at just sticking to one thing, hence why I still play football. I thought, ‘Let’s have another go and put some records out’. I think I’ll always do it, writing songs for me will be something I do until the day I die.”
“Music is so important to me, it’s the one place I can really be myself. I can remember reading a quote from Lady Gaga, she said, ‘Music is never going to wake up one day and tell you it doesn’t love you’, and I love that. I don’t live with my family anymore, I’m in London alone. I moved there when I was 21 and when I was hungover or heartbroken or happy, I would always pick my guitar up or run over to the piano. It’s like putting a memory in a jar and keeping it, but it’s in a song for three minutes. I don’t think anything else in the world can do that.”
You can tell when Chelcee talks about music that she is living and breathing it, yet football also plays an important role in her life. So, if she had to make a choice between her two great loves, would she go for football or music? She laughs with a sly smile like she has a secret ready to burst out. “I mean, if we stay talking until next year there might be something I can reveal to you, but I think for me now, the focus is music and writing, that’s where my brain is at. But when it comes to a Sunday or in training, as soon as that whistle goes, it’s football. Also, for my mental health, football is so good for me to be able to switch off for 90 minutes three times a week and just forget about work, it’s really good to have something else going on.”
Chelcee’s relationship with music and football goes way back to when she was young so it’s easy to see why both of them are intrinsic to her life now. “One of my first and fondest memories of music and football together was when I heard You’ll Never Walk Alone at Anfield, that was something I’ll never forget, and it will always inspire me.” It only seems appropriate then that Liverpool will play host to one of her biggest headline shows yet and I stuck around to see what all the fuss was about.
If I can say one thing, when she said she thrives being on the stage she wasn’t lying. She is at home in the loft of the Arts Club, as a large group of girls who loyally turn up to all of her gigs fight for her attention from the front row; everyone wants a piece of her. Working her way through a collection of her own songs and a few she has penned for others, she also throws a stripped back version of Wheatus’ Teenage Dirtbag into the set which strangely isn’t out of place on her pop crusade. Not once does a smile leave her face and, in that moment, she is Chelcee Grimes the musician.
What I love most about what Chelcee is doing is how much she is championing women in football and pop music, being a role model for young girls and proving that women can actually do it too. “There are so many girls that I get messages off saying how they’ve never had a girl in music and football [to look up to]… I think as long as we keep on pushing as one it’s only going to get better.”
I also don’t think pop gets enough credit in Liverpool; overwhelmed by the plethora of indie bands in the city, it doesn’t really get a look in, but Chelcee has proven that it is something we should definitely be paying attention to, particularly when one of our own is leading the charge. “It’s like Liverpool [FC], I know we’re going to win the league, it just hasn’t happened yet, that’s how I feel about my music,” she laughs. “You never know, next year might be the year.”