I was born in 1967 in Wimbledon which is where I grew up. Well actually I grew up in Colliers Wood, but Wimbledon sounds posher. I went to a stage school part-time from the ages of 5 to 15 and without doubt those years shaped me. My childhood was spent wishing I was a lean mean ballet queen when really I was a stocky little tapper with a loud voice.
We put on shows at Wimbledon Town Hall and on one fateful night one of the singers had tonsillitis and had to bail out of her ‘turn’ so I was chosen to replace her and sang Noel Coward’s London Pride dressed as a fruit seller pushing a barrow of plastic fruit.
I hated high school. I bunked off lots and sat in the Wimpy smoking fags I’d nicked from my dad. I always had a good work ethic though, even at the age of 13 when I got my first Saturday job in a fish and chip shop.
After high school I just did what my mates did, nobody I hung around with did A levels or even thought about University. We were all working class kids muddling through the system.
I went to Carshalton College and did business studies for a year, then got a job as a secretary in a swish ad agency in Covent Garden, which turned out to be my one and only real day job. I left a year later after a dancing pal saw an ad in The Stage for a singer in a holiday camp in Bournemouth. I auditioned and got the gig, left the ad agency and became a professional singer aged 19. It was SO lucky that she saw that ad and that things panned out.
After that stint I worked on the QEII and the Cunard Princess cruise ships. I sailed around for about two years and saw a great deal of the world. It was on the ships that I really knuckled down with singing technique and getting my repertoire together. Sailing into New York harbour with Pat Metheny’s First Circle on my Sony Walkman was a definite ‘moment’ for me.
Becoming a part of the jazz scene in my early twenties was like finding the gang I’d been looking for all my life. I’ve met the most incredibly gifted, funny and kind people within the community and felt AT LAST that I was ‘classless’ and came from the same stock as everyone else. This was a major relief.
I like to be busy and I like to try and be constantly creative with what I’m up to. Having a job where you have to really deliver the goods can be demanding and stressful. The singing, which is really only 20% of the job, is the easy bit. Travel kills me on the motorways these days and it’s the fatigue from the road which puts a downer on it all really. Once on stage something kicks in and I am lucky enough to work with hugely talented and inspiring musicians.
When you click with other musicians it’s magical. It can’t be forced and it just flows. I think when you connect with your peers you all just know what it takes to keep it all going and it feels like a deep unspoken connection. I feel like this especially when I sing with Liane Carroll. My new Swedish trio have an amazing synergy between them. It feels easy, free and most importantly it feels like it’s raising my game and giving me confidence to try new ideas out.
I think I’ve learnt everything from being accepted and nurtured within this community and I definitely owe certain people a great deal of gratitude for helping me along the way. Most notably Jim Mullen and Richard Rodney Bennett.
Next for me is a tour of the UK during May and June celebrating my 20th album release Believin’ It, which is out on my long-standing record label Linn Records. I do feel proud when I look at all the album covers and it’s scary how time has flown by so fast. I’m proud to have worked with such legends like Kenny Barron, John Martyn and Stephan Grappelli. Actually – I can’t quite believe it!!!
I am scared about the Brexit implications. I can’t say I’m confident that this will pan out well for us musicians who travel around Europe. But I’m confident that jazz will be in good hands as these amazing young players continue to appear and bring such brilliant fresh energy to the music we love.
Words: Claire Martin
Photo: Lisa Wormsley