Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your performing background?
I think I’m so interested in the voice because I come from a family of voices – my mother was a trained opera singer, my dad and uncle are both broadcasters for the BBC and my grandfather Richard was nicknamed “Voice of the Nation” for his broadcasts on the radio during the war.
I started singing at school in a barbershop group (we won Sky Star Search, the BGT of its time!). I moved into Jazz and Blues at university in the early 90s and haven’t stopped performing since (apart from a year or two living deep in the forests of Canada where I learnt to write songs by listening). My first one-woman show “Fever! The Making of Peggy Lee” took me around the world. I’ve continued making shows about women singers and their stories – most recently about the amazing life and songbook of the 70’s songwriter Dory Previn. Recently I’ve moved into totally solo performance, layering my voice with a vocal looper – my sixth album and 9th show “Songbirds” was released last year and is full of original songs created entirely with my voice, without instruments.
Tell me about your show, what it is all about?
Its about singing, having fun, letting it all out and using your voice. I bring the audience into the show and we sing together, so it’s different every time – with covers from the 50s and 80s and present day created with voices from the audience and the looper.
It’s also a true story about what I’ve learned about my own voice through singing the songs of other singers, about singing for health and happiness, and encouraging other people to find their voice. That’s all sprinkled in there somewhere amid the fun – I guess I’ve reached an age where I can let go of all the questing and angsting I used to do.
It’s been so great to reunite with my old friend and director Cal McCrystal (Paddington, Giffords Circus, One Man Two Guvnors). If anyone knows how to have fun, it’s him!
How long have you been working on this show and what is it that makes it relevant to audiences in 2018?
I really feel as if this show has been my whole life in the making, in that it includes some 50s and 80s pop classics I loved when I was growing up, some hits from my other shows and some originals – all done in a completely new way.
My acapella album “Songbirds” (of original material) was released in 2017 and was reviewed in the pop and folk sections of different papers. I got to take my vocal looper and ironing board into live sessions on Radio 6 and Radio 2!
At the age of 44, I felt like I had finally been accepted as an artist who doesn’t fit neatly into a box having spent most of my career trying to explain myself to agents, bookers, venues…Audiences always got it but its getting to them that’s the tricky bit.
Acapella is now a huge movement. Everyone is doing it : kids online, TV shows, bands..I think its connected with the music industry changing. The people are claiming back music. It is for all of us. And we should all sing as much as possible wherever and whenever possible.
My way of creating the songs in the show (with my friend Roland Boss, the vocal looper) is quite personal and definitely not about perfection but there is a freedom in that. Also, there is literally a song from every decade so hopefully people of all ages can enjoy it. Audiences seem to leave inspired and keen to experiment and try things they haven’t dared to before which is the best result as far as I’m concerned.
Do you have any top tips for surviving the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – both for performers and visitors to the event?
Make a plan for what you want to see, and factor in lots of downtime so you don’t get overwhelmed by all the noise. Go and sit in the gardens every now and again or even head to the beach and enjoy a bit of quiet – it’s not that far away. Like any festival, accept that you will miss out on masses of shows. But you will also find some little gems that you never expected which you might remember forever (Daniel Kitson in 2001 was like that for me). Oh, and come and sing with me in Sing Happy at 12pm before a good slap up lunch.
This is my first proper Edinburgh in 15 years and I am bringing my family – I’m really looking forward to seeing the festival through my two daughters’ eyes – and not being too caught up in the madness like I was when I was in my twenties.
What has been the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?
I was asked to do a private gig for a famous and powerful man and his wife, for her birthday. I was asked to tell some funny stories from their past, but he misunderstood one of them and suddenly started yelling at me in the middle of the set in front of a small private audience of high profile people, in a very posh venue.
It was your worst nightmare as a performer. I remember being a rabbit in the headlights for a few seconds thinking “well, this takes heckling to another level” and “if I can handle this, I can handle anything” – and then I just had to apologise and carry on to complete the set.
He did me a favour in a way, because I genuinely felt bullet-proof on stage after that!
Oh, and then there was the time I turned up to do a gig and the pianist (who I had never sung with) had left all the music at home! We had to make the gig up on the spot – most of it on my own with the audience. You see? All these things happen for a reason. Now I’m choosing to make it up with my audience!
Who are your biggest inspirations in the industry and why?
People who remind you that its OK not to fit in. Singers would include Annie Lennox, Dory Previn and Kirsty MacColl. Performers include Victoria Wood and Miranda Hart.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Yes, I trained as an Alexander Technique teacher so I often lie semi-supine (a position invented by FM Alexander) – great for breath, focus, presence and calming down.
Putting on make up pre-gig is always quite therapeutic.
What other acts are you looking forward to seeing at Edinburgh Fringe?
Maureen Lipman who is doing a show with Jacqui Dankworth. They are both brilliant and I am excited to see how they work as a combo. Maureen’s daughter Amy Rosenthal wrote my Dory Previn show with me which I took to Edinburgh a couple of years ago. And I have known Jacqui on the jazz circuit for years. Also, Adele Andersen – who I have seen as part of Fascinating Aida – is doing a solo show. And Will Adamsdale, who’s always both very funny and thought provoking.
Why do you think people should come and see your show over the thousands of others on at the Fringe?
Because we’ll have so much fun together. Promise! Oh, and it’s pay what you like. So if they don’t, they haven’t lost anything!
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