Vocalist Edana Minghella is a regular performer around Brighton and this year she returns to The Brunswick in Hove for another concert as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Here she talks to editor Charlie Anderson about where it all started.
How did you get into jazz?
“I don’t really know. It’s one of those strange…I suppose it’s an evolution of things. When I was young we had a cafe. My family ran an Italian cafe on the Isle of Wight and we had a jukebox. From the tiniest tot I was exposed to loads and loads of music from day one. Also, my mum was an accordion player and we all learnt music so music was part of my life forever and a day. But I was always really interested in that slightly-on-the-edge of music, even when I was quite little. I remember watching Ray Charles on the telly when I about seven, going ‘I love this music’ and I remember going out and buying a Ray Charles album which was quite unbelievable, actually. I don’t know why but as soon as I started playing piano I started to improvise quite quickly. So I’d buy sheet music, take it home, play it and then think ‘oh, I just want to do my own thing’. As time went on I just got exposed to lots of interesting music, like Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and people like that, who my brother and sister were listening to. And then I sort of stopped listening to jazz for a long time. I stopped doing it and stopped singing, maybe just doing the odd thing, maybe singing at weddings and stuff like that. It was only really when my brother Anthony made The Talented Mr. Ripley, which obviously had a really big jazz soundtrack that made me think ‘oh, I really love this music and I really want to be listening to it and I really want to be singing it’. And I had the opportunity to sing with Guy Barker who had worked on The Talented Mr. Ripley. He had come to a family do with his band. They’d just done a residency at Ronnie Scott’s and they came to this family do and said ‘yeah, if you want to sing, come up and do some tunes’. So I did and that was it. So every time I see Guy I say ‘it’s your fault!’.”
So what are you working on at the moment?
“As it’s the Billie Holiday centenary this year I’ve been thinking about her and her music and looking more into her life and finding facets of Billie that I’m really interested in. I’ve been doing this show which is Billie Holiday’s songs that she’s performed and sometimes written, but not always. And telling bits of her story throughout the show. And that’s just been hugely popular and lovely to do. It’s been really brilliant to do and I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve been working with a really fantastic sax player, Lee Goodall, who is Prez. He’s just absolutely amazing and he’s inspired me too, just working with him. So my next project is to do an album of Billie Holiday songs. So that’s on my agenda and it’s my ambition to do it before the end of the year.”
“I read this fantastic article recently about Billie Holiday that was written in the 1960s, so not long after she died, by people who knew her. A couple in from New York who knew her. I think it might have been in the New York Review of Books. It’s an amazing essay about her and it gets really under her skin, rather than the usual stuff about her. It shows how hard-wired she was to do what she was doing in all bits of her life. And how almost glittering she was in her determination and her self-destructiveness. And I just thought ‘oh my god, this woman is just amazing’. I’ve become a little bit obsessed with Billie Holiday.”
What other singers are you interested in?
“I’m interested in a lot of different people. The usual divas, obviously: Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone (who I saw, which was amazing, at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester not long before she died), and Ella Fitzgerald. More recently, people like Carmen McRae, who I absolutely adore. I love that bluesy feel that some of those artists bring. And I’ve got that sort of leaning towards the blues. I do love the blues, and I love those kind of voices that hold the blues. An occasional man sticks in – Van Morrison. You think of him in terms of his songwriting and all the tunes that he produces but I really like his voice too. He’s got that amazing rocky, bluesy sound. I’ve seen him a few times too which is always a treat. Current, very current, is Dianne Reeves. I went to see her at Ronnie Scott’s about 18 months ago and it was probably the best singers gig that I’ve ever been to. It was just amazing. She is just so inspiring. What she could do, how she held the audience and her relationship with the audience. This is something which absolutely get me which is that I’m really into musicians and singers who connect with the audience and have an emotional quality to their work. That’s what I absolutely am myself – I’m very emotional. I’m not a kind of cool, tinker-up-here, go-down-there sort of singer. I’m more like ‘here I am and it’s raw’. And that’s what I appreciate in other singers. And she’s able to do that but also, technically, incredibly gifted and brilliant. And I went to see her again last year as well and she didn’t disappoint me. She’s absolutely amazing and I love her. And then of course there’s my lovely friend Liane Carroll who always inspires me. Talking of emotional singers! She always inspires me. I love her to bits.”
“I’m just inspired by people who connect. That’s the thing for me. There are some people that I’m just not moved by. Even though I can tell that they’re incredible singers, they just don’t do anything for me. Which is a shame but it’s true.”
What else have you done in your life that’s not related to jazz?
“I trained as a mental health nurse. I trained with my dear friend Jo Brand and another woman who became an actor so it’s interesting that the three of us went off and did other things. I did that for a while. I worked in different areas of mental health such as research, policy and all sorts of things, and I still do bits of policy work – it keeps the wolves from the door, but also I’m really interested in it and I’m interested in people and I love connecting with people.”
“I’m also a writer. I’ve written for telly with my brother Dominic: a show called Doc Martin on TV. I still do writing now. I write short stories, bits of drama. I’ve written for theatre. I’ve written music for theatre, too. I also run a writing retreat in Tuscany, which is very nice.”
“I’m lucky really. When I started singing and when I started to take the plunge and do my creative work, it was a huge risk, because I thought ‘oh my god, I’m giving everything up’ and I just jumped in. I haven’t looked back (even though I earn about a quarter of what I used to earn). I enjoy my life. I do all sorts of lovely things. I meet loads of lovely people. I work with great musicians and other artists. And I’ve had some great opportunities. So I feel very lucky and positive about life, even though times have been hard. Losing my brother was really terrible. Complete shock and a horrible experience. That kind of thing makes you re-evaluate your life. It may be a cliche but it’s true. I’ve got to do the things that I’m driven to do and I want to do and need to do. I’ve got relationships with people who are trying to do similar things so we tend to help each other out and work together.”
“A few years ago I did an interview on the radio. I think I was writing at the time and doing Doc Martin. The interviewer knew that I was singing but it was very early on in my singing life. They said ‘you like singing?’ and I said ‘yeah, put me in front of a microphone and I’m really happy. I just love it’. And somebody who had known of me and knew my family heard that and said ‘come and do a gig’. I was like ‘what?’ but it was great. And just building those relationships with people and them getting to know me has led me to lots of great opportunities such as gigs and jazz festivals. And all because of the relationships that I’ve got rather than people knowing my work. Because very early on, how do they know what it’s going to be like? I didn’t know what I was going to be like! And also I’ve changed a lot through doing the work and through life kicking me over the head occasionally and breaking my heart. It’s changed my voice and my music; probably for the better.”
How do you fit everything in to your day in terms of writing and practicing your music? Do you have a daily routine or do you only focus on one or the other for a certain period?
“I’m somewhere in the middle of those two things. I’m not as organised as ‘every single day this is what I do’ but rarely a day goes by without me playing the piano and having a sing because that keeps me sane. I can’t imagine any day going by without having a play and a sing. I would say that I probably practice about three times a week. I have a practice regime. I’m very sort of disciplined about how I learn a song and trying to understand the words. A really interesting person, Pete Churchill. I remember him saying at a workshop ‘people really worked hard to make these be the lyrics and how wonderful they are’. And it really made me think that the lyrics, especially with standards are just incredible, and the rhyme and the rhythm of the lyrics. Your job, as a singer, is to know those lyrics, not make them up because you’ve just suddenly forgot. So I’m really, really strong on remembering my lyrics and learning my lyrics and understanding them. And then go in to the tune. Because I think, if I didn’t discipline myself, the tendency would be to sing how I want to sing and not really think through the song before I’ve made it my own. I also have a series of exercises that I do. A person who really helped me with that is a woman called Deborah Brown. She’s an American and an amazing singer, very acrobatic. She got a job very young in a club, a residency singing every night. She’d been brought up in the gospel tradition. She soon realised that she would do this residency and she would wake up and she wouldn’t be able to speak properly. And she said that when people would call her on the phone they couldn’t hear her because her voice was changed. And she realised that she was doing something to her voice that wasn’t good. So she went and got help and learnt these very simple vocal exercises. And she’s shared them and they are really beautiful. And you just don’t think that you’re doing anything at all, but they’re great for keeping your voice healthy, supple and alive. So I do those and keep that going. And I’m a great believer in manuka honey!”
Do you live in Brighton?
“Yes, I live in Brighton. I’ve lived in Brighton for about 15 years and I absolutely love it. I was brought up by the sea so I’ve always hankered to be by the sea. But then I went to where work was which was London. I was there for a long time and then I had a big relationship breakup. And I thought ‘actually, I don’t want to be in London. This isn’t where I want to be. I want to be by the sea’. And Brighton seemed to me, to be the best place to be. There’s so much going on and it’s so full of energy and creativity and joyfulness. I love living here and wouldn’t want to go back to London, although occasionally you do feel a little bit out of things but just a little bit sometimes. I can’t imagine being away again from the sea. I need it. I even play the sound of waves to send me off to sleep. When I was a kid I used to be able to hear sea waves through my window so I think it’s that childhood being rocked to sleep thing.”
Edana Minghella appears at The Brunswick in Hove on Sunday 17th and Saturday 23rd May, 2015 at 8pm with Edana Minghella Sings Billie Holiday as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival.
For more information on Edana and her album Still On My Feet:
You can also follow Edana on Twitter: