1 March 2019

Words…Imogen Ryall


My childhood was chaotic, exciting and a bit emotionally unstable at times. Both my parents were actors (my mum still is!) but my elder brother and I were loved and were always encouraged to do what we wanted to do. I remember lots of laughs, and my dad played the piano, we grew up singing round the piano, literally! 

There were a series of events that led to my becoming a jazz singer. I went to a drama school called Arts Educational when I was 11 and thought I wanted to be an actress, following in the family footsteps and all that, but we moved to the south coast just after my 3rd year there and I went to the local comprehensive school in Lancing, West Sussex, which I thought would be like Grange Hill! I went a bit off the rails and pretty much dropped out, although I liked drama and art. In my 5th year I went to a careers event, just so I could skip a maths lesson, and I talked to a representative from Chichester College. I decided there and then that I wanted to do the Jazz and Popular Music course when I left school and that’s exactly what I did!

Drama school was a blast…dance, drama and singing in the morning, and academic lessons in the afternoon. Drama was my favourite thing, as well as ballet, but I was not really the right shape for it, i.e. slim!

I completely lost all confidence I had when I changed schools but my parents were also splitting up at that time so I guess there was a lot of change and uncertainty which I didn’t really have the tools to deal with.

I took a year out after Chichester, and then went to Salford to study jazz, then on to do the Post Grad course in jazz at the Guildhall School Of Music & Drama. It was an incredible year and I got to meet and study with some of my all-time heroes including Norma Winstone, John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler.

I was a bit lost in my 20s. I was living in London, doing gigs and hanging out at the 606 and Ronnie’s, but didn’t really have a terribly strong sense of who I was, nor what I wanted, especially when I compared myself, usually unfavourably, with other more successful singers.

Through my 30s and 40s my partner Rod and I did a lot of ‘paying our dues’ as musicians. We did a 4 year residency at the Dorchester Hotel followed by stints in Dubai, Oman and South Korea, which was actually fantastic for learning repertoire and basically honing skills as a performer.

The music has always been my motivation, especially in recent years when I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing and inspirational musicians. I think I’m essentially a bit of a show-off (aren’t all performers to some extent?) and I don’t really feel that live performance should be about being judged by an audience, it’s more a case of it being a two-way street where we try to draw the listener into our world and take them on a journey.

I feel very fortunate that I’m still over-the-moon with the career choice I made all those years ago, even though it hasn’t always been a walk in the park, to say the least, but I know I’m in the right job!

I have an album coming out soon with Julian Nicholas and Mark Edwards and I have contributed lyrics to Claire Martin’s recent Tribute to Wes Montgomery album and on her forthcoming CD for Linn Records.

I try to keep everything in the day as much as possible otherwise it’s easy to miss out on what’s happening in the now! A wise person once said, if you’ve got one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’re pissing on the present!


Words: Imogen Ryall

Photo: Lisa Wormsley


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