Tim Hughes talks to sassy busker-made-good, Nikki Loy

A couple of years ago Nikki Loy was busking to a handful of people in the centre of Oxford. Now she is preparing to play her biggest show, yet – in the plush surroundings of the North Wall Arts Centre.

While not exactly rags to riches, Nikki’s continuing ascendancy is a touching tale of how single-minded dedication, coupled with a generous amount of talent, can pay off.

“It’s all down to hard work and perseverance,” says the sultry soulful-pop singer, who lives in Headington.

“This is the biggest show so far – and I’m very excited.”

Nikki, who is originally from Devon, moved to Oxford eight years ago. But while she was making good money in her day job as a property manager at a national letting agency, she knew, in her heart, she wanted to be a musician.

“I had a nice cushy corporate job but it didn’t really suit my soul. I had always wanted to do music, so I quit, and started busking and playing in pubs and bars to make ends meet.”

She took a regular spot in Cornmarket Street – treating passers-by to her seductive bluesy voice, to the delight of most shopkeepers. “I had some savings from my job, which kept me going for a few weeks, and carried on. It actually became quite lucrative,” she recalls. “And it’s a great feeling to be surrounded by a group of 50 people all throwing money at you. I set myself standards of how much money to make every week and also played evening gigs – which opened doors.

“I had fun. I met a lot of people and it was great to get to know everyone – from the shoppers to the shop-keepers. Some were lovely, and some not so lovely. There is quite a divide over how people feel about street performers. Some people see buskers as beggars, but there’s a lot of great talent and they deserve everything they can achieve.

“It was always my dream that someone would walk past and I’d get discovered, but it didn’t quite happen.”

So, in characteristic Nikki Loy-style, she started booking herself into proper gigs. Her North Wall show is followed, next Thursday, by a slot at the Witney Music Festival and, on May 16, with a show at the Unicorn Theatre in Abingdon.

“After three and-a-half years I knew enough people to get regular gigs. But there’s no substitute for leg work. I still play four nights a week, performing to hundreds and, in some cases, thousands, of people a month.”

She describes her music as pop. And, remarkably, she has no technical training. “I didn’t have any lessons at school,” she says. “ I was a bit shy and timid back then, but I always had a desire to perform.

“I came from a Christian family and there was lots of music around all the time, and I sang a lot.”

On moving to Oxford, she immersed herself in the city’s open mic scene, playing nights like the Catweazle Club (Thursdays at the East Oxford Community Centre) and at the Cape of Good Hope.

“The busking was very scary at first,” she says. “But it was an excellent training ground after open mic. And it was very rewarding.”

It also gave her time to concentrate on her writing.

“People have described my music as jazz, blues or soul, but I think I write pop songs,” she says. “They are fundamentally accessible and not just repetitive. Most of my songs are about the human experience, which means they are not about one thing. “Sometimes I am happy, sometimes sad or angry. My set goes through everything, but ends on a high with everyone dancing and enjoying themselves.”

Saturday’s North Wall gig will see her launching her EP All I See. The release follows her two previous albums: 2009’s Now or Never and 2010’s A Little Less.

“The North Wall is a great venue and I’m really looking forward to playing there,” she says. “Having spent months working on this new project, I knew I had to launch it with a really special concert for my fans, where they can experience the new tracks live and be the first to get their hands on a copy of the EP. In fact, every member of the audience will receive a signed copy.

“I’m very, very excited!” she says. “I have come a long way since busking on Cornmarket Street, but I am still proud of what I did.

“It has been hard work, but a lot of fun!”

Nikki Loy plays the North Wall Arts Centre on Saturday. Support comes from Jess Hall.

Tickets are £15 (£10 concs) from thenorthwall.org or from The Truck Store, in Cowley Road, Oxford