It’s a chilly Tuesday evening in October and Josh Tenor is frantically pacing up and down Boxpark. You’d think a small shopping park would be the ideal meeting place, but little do we both realise it’s going to take us precisely 24 minutes to find one another.
We dive into a Shoreditch coffee shop, where I congratulate him on being crowned the youth winner of Boris Johnson’s Gigs, London’s big annual busking competition.
Josh studies at City Academy, Hackney. The first thing the fresh-faced youngster blurts out is his crazy busy schedule. “I’ve got two exams tomorrow,” says Josh. “All I’m doing at the moment is studying and it’s so stressful. Revision, revision, revision.
“I still haven’t got over the fact that I’ve won,” he says. “It’s a big thing. I’m still getting people approaching me around school saying ‘Well done Josh, you’ve won’ every single day.”
After asking Josh about the competition, it becomes clear that it was quite a lengthy process. “I applied in June. Members of my backing band applied for it two years ago, so I thought why not apply for it myself.
“We had to busk at different places. So I had St. Pauls Churchyard, Waterloo Station and Westfield Stratford City. One act in each category was chosen by the public vote and another five acts were selected by the judges.
“I was lucky enough to be chosen by the judges.”
He wastes no time in telling me about the day of the Gigs final. “I mean it was terrifying knowing that I was performing first out of everybody,” he says. “More often than not it’s the last performers in a competition that go on to be crowned the winners. I don’t know how I won, but I won. I was overwhelmed. I’d been working a lot for this. My mind has been on nothing but that competition since I entered in June.
“I won a Roland busking amp. It’s an amazing piece of kit and I’m really excited that I now own one.” Josh’s busy school schedule delayed him in claiming his prize.
“I couldn’t claim a busking pitch as part of my prize because to busk officially in London you have to be 16 and over, and I’m only 15,” he says. “But I busk around my area anyway, just not in tube stations and stuff like that. I really want a license to busk in London, but you have to audition and they don’t open applications very often. I think next time it comes round I will definitely apply. It is clear that this is one small boy with a big dream, who has the strength and determination needed to succeed.
As cliché as it sounds, Josh was too young to even remember when he started singing. “My dad bought me my first piano when I was nine. And from then, when I saw that piano, I thought hey let me just play it for a bit,” he imitates playing the keys with his hands.
Since then, it’s gone from singing in the school choir to performing on some of the biggest streets in the world. We reminisce to when global superstar Justin Bieber hit the world by storm and released his first music. “That was when I started to realise I wanted to be a singer,” indicates Josh. “He was an inspiration to me. Because I’m not gonna lie, when he was 16 he was making bangers. Like, he was making top bangers.” He goes on, “And who wouldn’t want to say they’ve worked with Usher when they’re 16?”
Josh is incredibly versatile when it comes to producing and performing. He’s done it all from garage and house, right down to acoustic. “I love singing because it gets you on the stage,” he utters excitedly. “When you’re producing in the studio you’re just sat behind a computer and nobody knows it’s you.”
“This is the academic year where I really wanna make something out of my music,” Josh exclaims. He exclusively confides in me that he’s preparing to release his debut EP entitled Tenorism. “It will be a showcase of everything I can do as an artist.”
From our chat, it becomes very clear to me that the sky is the limit for Josh; he fully intends to achieve his dreams. “In five years time I want to have worked with someone who is at high industry level. I’d love to produce for someone big. That would be amazing for me. I guess if I become a well-known singer, that would be great too, but for me it’s not about the fame, I just like doing music because I can.
“I think it is kinda hard for teenagers to make it in the industry. To make it, you need to be unique. A lot of teenagers want to look like a specific artist, dress the same way, perform covers of their songs and I just think why don’t you be yourself? Be what’s you.”
Josh points out that living in East London has been an advantage to his musical career. “Where I live in Hackney there are a lot of opportunities. I know people in Lewisham, Croydon, South London who don’t have those same opportunities.” Hackney runs the urban development project for 11-18 year olds interested in a career in the music industry. “You can just do your stuff and they’ll help you get there.”
Reality TV show The X Factor has recently come back to our screens. I ask Josh if he would ever consider applying for such a show. “X Factor, hell no. X Factor, no,” he says strongly shaking his head whilst sipping on his drink. “Um.. so with X Factor it’s basically just entertainment, and when you think about it, when you look back at winners over the years, how many people can you actually say have made it? For me, there’s only Little Mix.” Josh is firm when he says, “When you sign a record deal, you haven’t made it. It’s just a bit of paper and it means you’ve got people in the industry to help you. And like people are not gonna help you if you don’t help yourself.”