It all began when she answered an ad in Melody Maker. A band in London needed a backup singer.

English chanteuse Julia Fordham still does backup vocals -- but to her own leads.

"I {sang backup} for about five years," she says of her apprenticeship in the early '80s, "and all that time I was writing my own material and making my own sound."

Two years ago she released her own sound on a self-titled solo album on Virgin Records, and the critics went crazy. Melody Maker said of her, "This one will be an icon." Others predicted she'd be "one of the superstars in the '90s."

All this excitement over a creamy-voiced lovely from the south of England who claims there wasn't a radio or record player in her childhood home.

"I had a musical family," Fordham says. "My mother would go around the house singing, and so would I. And I started writing as soon as I got a guitar at age 12."

Her songs are revealing, as she expresses her vulnerabilities publicly. Some are touching confessions, such as the gentle ballad "Girlfriend":

Don't tell me to stop crying

Please hold me while I do

Soothe me with your silence

And cradle me to you ...

Don't tell your girlfriend about me ...

"I wrote that one in a hotel room one miserable night," she says.

And some are explosive paeans, such as the rollicking "Lock and Key":

When there's comfort in pleasure, and pleasure in pain

And I'm wondering if I'll see you again

No tangled emotions, dragging us down

And the texture of your voice, the sweetest sound

I'm going to wrap you up and take you home with me.

"They are autobiographical, pretty much," Fordham admits. "They tend to fall out of the sky and hit me on the nose."

Julia Fordham is performing at the Bayou on Thursday at 9 p.m. Tickets are $12.50 and available at TicketCenter and PhoneCharge at 432-0200. For information, call 333-2897.