Johnny Flynn, dressed in a crumpled plaid shirt, jeans and well-worn tweed jacket, has the air of a young, sensitive academic rather than a pop singer. When we meet he's even clutching a much-thumbed copy of John Gray's gloomy polemic Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals.
Smiling tentatively, there is, however, nothing he can do about the fact that he is drop-dead gorgeous. Lantern-jawed, with a mop of blond hair, russet-red cheeks and blue eyes, no matter how hard he might try to downplay them, you can't scruff up looks like that. The 24-year-old Brit has what one would call movie-star good looks; no surprise then that he is, in fact, also a successful stage actor and movie star.
Flynn spent last year travelling the world with Propeller, a much-lauded all-male Shakespeare company. And the movie star bit? “Well, only in Holland,” he laughs, embarassed. In 2006 Flynn was the lead in Crusader in Jeans. “It sounds as though it must be a gay Eighties porn flick. In fact it was a cross between Back to the Future and The Last Temptation of Christ. It was very weird.” It was the highest-grossing children's film yet in Holland and Flynn's face glows beetroot when chatting about young female fans. “It is difficult, er, not that there are many but, er, it's hard. You don't want to lead anyone on.”
We are here to talk about his debut album, the folky, literate curio that is A Larum. Recorded in a barn outside Seattle with Gossip's producer, Ryan Hadlock, it proposes Flynn as poster boy to Laura Marling's poster girl in what is being described as a nu-folk scene. A rollicking yet bittersweet indie update on traditional sounds, the record showcases Flynn's gift for narrative and his prodigious musicianship. On it he plays guitar, mandolin, violin, organ, accordian and trumpet.
He is not, you see, your usual pop singer-turned-actor or actor-turned-pop singer. His father was the musical theatre actor Eric Flynn. One of his earliest memories is of his father starring opposite Suzi Quatro in Annie Get Your Gun. “They didn't get on at all. He thought she was the petulant rock star and she thought he was this stuffy old luvvie.”
His siblings are all actors and he recalls: “It was really special as a kid to see your dad on stage and then go through the stage door into the dressing room. It was very addictive.”
As a child, Flynn's father was interned by the Japanese during the Second World War. He died of cancer, aged 62, in 2002, and one of the stand-out songs on the album is the funereal yet defiant Hong Kong Cemetery.
Flynn explains: “I was in Hong Kong for the Shakespeare tour and visited my grandfather's grave. I'd never met him. All I had was a faded 20-year-old photo of my own father at the grave.”
Born in South Africa, Flynn moved to live near Winchester aged 3. It was a violin teacher who recommended that he try, aged 8, for a music scholarship to the nearby feeder school for Winchester College.
Flynn's memories of being a “Quirister” are mixed. “In retrospect, I think some of the teachers were quite abusive. We had choir rehearsal for up to three hours a day, plus instrument practice. Our whole lives were lived within the cathedral cloisters. On the other hand, it was very atmospheric. But I was ready to leave.”
Aged 13, Flynn won another music scholarship to Bedales, the boarding school. Currently vying with the non-fee-paying Brit School as the premier hothouse for chart talent, the school's recent alumni include Lily Allen, Luke Pritchard of the Kooks and Patrick Wolf. “It's small but they have a lot of funding and are very supportive. While I was there people set up a film society, ran gigs and founded a weekly newspaper. People come out ready to get on with careers.”
His father fell ill during his gap year and he returned home to Wales to look after him so that his mum could continue to oversee the B&B they ran. “I will never stop missing him but I'm grateful we really got each other in those last few months. We hadn't been getting on but that forced us both to a point of surrender.”
After that he moved to London and threw himself into acting but was all the time recording in his bedroom and putting on nights. After the Propeller tour, he got together a band, which includes his younger sister Lillie, and suddenly landed a record deal. “I wasn't looking for one but it's amazing. I've been able to buy a house with my mum. The B&B is my brother's and he'd had to take it back.”
One should mention that this stepbrother is Jerome Flynn, of Robson and Jerome fame. It's something that is noticeably absent from his press release,
“Is it?” he says flustered, “Well, I'm not consciously keeping it under wraps. We are really close but I'm aware that it can be unhelpful. He's 20 years older, my path musically hasn't really been anything to do with his.”
So, what next? “Music is the most important thing in my life but there is so much I want to do. I want to write, to travel. Just last weekend, on a whim, some friends and I went and climbed up Snowdon. I realise I need more of that in my life. To feel humbled by the world.”
Such distractions might not be music to his record label's ears but you can't help thinking all power to him.