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Monday, 5 December 2011

8 days...

Monday 7th November.

Time: 06:30.  Place: Peckham. Bus stand 436.  Destination: Victoria Coach station, for a 4.5 hour journey to Manchester.  Unfortunately the bus timetables never seem to account for traffic, so by the time I arrived in Manchester it was well past 1pm.

I had arrived to start a week of gigs based in the North West, continuing the promotion of my second album.  I am particularly drawn to the North West because my sister lives there, so I have a spare floor to sleep on whenever required.  Sadly, my sister will soon be moving to Cardiff... so South Wales, expect to see more of me!

The first gig of the week was at the Wilmslow Conservative Club.  I was treated to a fantastic local rhythm section, and although the place wasn't full, the select audience was appreciative and interested.  Unfortunately for me, I was coming to the end of a cold (which had started at the end of September), so singing wasn't very easy. Luckily, the band were happy to play plenty of tunes without me so I had the opportunity to rest.  Not what I wanted at the start of a busy week of gigs!

At the Royal British Legion in Llay - North Wales Jazz Society.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday featured a local band of my choice - some fantastic musicians I regularly work with when in this area.  We travelled to Wrexham, Kendal and Bury, sampling some excellent local ale, and being blessed with some great audiences and well-organised venues.

Underneath my poster at The Met, Bury.

Friday 11th November

Towards the end of the week, I travelled down to Cambridge for a concert at the Mumford Theatre at Anglia Ruskin University.  It was brilliant! (This venue has made it into my Top Ten this month).  A fab little theatre, with a good following for their lunchtime concerts - probably helped by the varied program of professional groups they program each week.

My picture was selected as the one to advertise the entire concert series!

I was lucky enough to spend the Saturday relaxing at Center Parcs for a friend's 30th birthday, as I had the night off, but Sunday launched me straight back into work again, starting with a 3-hour drive to Hull (following a 30-minute walk to my car - I don't know if you've ever been to Center Parcs, but the car park is miles away!)

First Stop: Pave Bar, Hull.  I had played here before during my last tour in 2010, and that time it was full of Tiger fans, waiting to go to their final game of the season before being relegated.  Luckily this year, Hull City were in no such predicament so we had a relatively peaceful gig with a great ambience and interested audience.

Pave Bar, Hull.  Gavin warming up.

Second Stop: Grove Inn Jazz Club, Leeds.

Again, this was another revisit.  Not such a great audience, but a great gig nonetheless - fantastic to play with my Northern Band who I don't get to gig with much, and good to be back in Leeds.  The only downside of this was that I had to drive back to Hitchin afterwards, which is 34 junctions on the M1.  I slept well that night!

Jersey 2011

Last weekend, we returned to Jersey for a Jazz supper concert at the Radisson Blu Hotel in St Helier.  Apparently, the hotel is one of the most hated buildings on the island, as it's got such a strange and large design that the locals detest it.  However, once you're inside it's wonderful - and of course, it's the best place to be on the island because it's one place that you can't see the hotel!

We arrived in the afternoon, ready for our concert in the evening, and departed by lunchtime the next day.  A flying visit, but plenty of time to take pictures...

Cool clouds from the plane.

You could be forgiven for thinking we were about to land on
an exotic Mediterranean island!

Jersey has an interesting history, and we had some
time to see the island.
On the red carpet at our gig.

To see more pictures, and to keep up to date with regular touring, find me on facebook:

Top Ten... Venues On Tour

Throughout September, October and November, I've been on tour with my quartet, promoting our new album "The Story So Far." (Stuck for a Christmas present? - buy it on Amazon or on my website!)

We've been high and low, far and wide, and have visited a great mix of venues all over the country.  It's a difficult task, but I've managed to whittle down all the gigs into my 10 favourite venues of the album tour 2011...

On stage at Cornerstone Arts Centre.

1. Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot

This was one of the first dates of the tour, and it was a wonderful venue to play at.  The fact that it was a gloriously sunny day and I arrived with 3 hours to spare helped the overall ambience, but we were exceptionally well looked-after, and the venue had done a fantastic job of advertising to ensure a good audience.  A thoroughly enjoyable evening!

Mumford Theatre.  This is not my 'nines' outfit!
2. Mumford Theatre, Cambridge

We played the lunchtime concert at the Mumford Theatre, which is part of the Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, on Remembrance Day.  There was an amazing turn-out - over 200 people - which was one of the largest audiences they'd had all year!  As it was a lunchtime concert, we had to fit all our chosen repertoire into only 50 minutes, and my band did a superb job of delivering slick arrangements in the allocated time.  It was such a special day in the tour and a very memorable one, although a little bizarre and disorienting to be dressed up to the nines at lunchtime (as my pianist said on the way home: “This is so weird… I feel like I should be heading to bed!”)

Outside The Met, Bury
3. The Met, Bury

As a touring singer, I play at quite a few theatres, but never before have I been featured in lights on the sign outside!  The Met, Bury, had done a fantastic advertising campaign, and as such had sold out the show, apart from 3 seats.  Add to this the fact that they served me the best Southern Fried Chicken I’ve ever had, (none of this KFC nonsense!) and this gig definitely has to make the top 3!

The Lion
4. Lion, Nottingham

This is the second tour for which I've played at The Lion in Nottingham.  The first gig, in June 2010, was great fun, and as such was one of the first gigs I re-booked for the 2011 tour.  The Lion is a fantastic Sunday lunchtime jazz venue - excellent roast dinners, great local ale (for my bass player fanatic, not me!) and free entry, it's a quality weekly gig.

Unusually, I didn't take any pictures in Kendal -
even though my band will tell you I'm addicted to my camera!
5.Kendal Jazz Club

I had tried to get a gig at Kendal Jazz Club in 2010 when on my first album tour.  However, they are such a popular club that they had been booked up well in advance, and so I had to wait until 2011.  Well worth the wait, though, and I can see why it's such a popular club.  Good room, knowledgeable and helpful promoters, and a great sound leant themselves to a lovely gig.  Being back in Kendal was great too - I used to live in Lancaster so there were quite a few locals who came along that I used to know 7 years ago.  Thank you for making the return so enjoyable!  (There's a review here - scroll down to the bottom and I'm under the December heading)

Me on the big screen at Stratford Jazz Club
6. Stratford Jazz Club

As with Kendal, Stratford Jazz Club is booked up months and months in advance, so I had been waiting for this gig for nearly a year when it came along.  Stratford Jazz Club is held at number one Shakespeare Street, in The Chapel ("A Shrine Of Entertainment") which is an inviting room with a good stage, good sound and various nooks and crannies for the audience to ponder.  The only trouble with this gig was the timing - we were playing at the end of the Stratford Music Week, so the potential audience had already had the choice of various superstars of the jazz world that week, and only a few of them turned up to see little old me!  Nevertheless, it was a great gig, and I'd love to return another time, when not competing with the best jazz names in the business.  (This gig was review too - catch up with all the tour reviews on

On stage at Black Mountain Jazz.  If you look closely there's
the sign indicating the Old Town Wall behind us - Circa 1200.
7. Black Mountain Jazz

A trip to Abergavenny is always right up my street, and this time I was looking forward to featuring my drummer Darren Altman with local musicians Dave Cottle (owner of Swansea Jazzland) and Alun Vaughan.  The difficulty of touring an album is that you're expected to - and I want to - play tunes from the album, some of which may be particularly difficult.  But that just makes it all the more exciting!  Two of my arrangements - an original called Busy Bee (listen here) and Gershwin's Fascinating Rhythm - are not for the faint-hearted sight-reader, and entailed a collective sigh of relief at the end of each.
Black Mountain Jazz is held in the back room of the King's Arms, which is an interesting place because the wall providing the backdrop for the bandstand is actually the ancient town wall.

Club 43 after our gig.
8. Club 43

This venue was another re-visit for my band, after playing a successful gig there in February.  I am always impressed with Club 43 in its food, ambience, and ability to set up the evening so that the audience really listen rather than chatting over their dinner - even without a compรจre to ask the audience to button it!  Club 43 is named after the 1950s Manchester Club, which was something of a late night hang for the jazz stars who had been playing in the city earlier that night.  The present day Club 43 is now a jazz supper club, but it still has bags of charm, and I hope to re-return one day!

Enjoying the Green Man.

9. Green Man Norwich

On entering the Green Man in Norwich, I was disheartened to find a low-ceilinged country pub as the setting for this jazz club.  (Nothing wrong with this - except that in similar venues, the ceiling has been so low that the bass player has got his bass wedged underneath the roof!)  I thought too soon, however, as on walking through the pub, a vast back room greeted me, with balconies adorned with all sorts of musical instruments, a piano on stage, and many seats set out jazz-club-style.  The gig continued to be fantastic from this minute on.

After the gig at NC Jazz.
10. NC Jazz

I have never sold such a high volume of CDs as I have at Northampton Contemporary Jazz Club (unless you count my sister taking them round and forcing people to buy!)  This is quite often indicative of a successful gig, so our concert in October was certainly successful.  We were playing in a small room off the main theatre, and competing with Ian Shaw supporting Rory Bremner, so I was thrilled with a lovely venue, and an attentive audience.

Roll on Tour 2012!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Top Ten... Songs for Hallowe'en

What do you sing for a gig around Hallowe'en?  A couple of years ago, I was performing with the Mark Armstrong Big Band on Hallowe'en weekend, and we managed to find quite a few numbers to fit the occassion: That Old Devil Called Love, That Old Black Magic, Spooky and Bewitched.  Here's my top ten of Hallowe'en-related tunes.

1. Spooky
A brilliant song made famous by singer Dusty Springfield, but starting off life as an instrumental by Mike Sharp.

2. Superstition
The first Stevie Wonder song I ever heard!  It wasn't until I was 17 that I first listened to Stevie Wonder - I had to learn this song for a jazz/funk band I had been asked to sing with (before showing any interest in jazz). And thank goodness I did!  The start of my jazz career.

3. Moondance

4. Bewitched
This is one of the first jazz standards I learnt for the Lancaster University Big Band - only the third big band I had ever sung with.  I remember being really struck by a Frank Sinatra version at first.

5. That Old Black Magic
One of my favourite big band tunes to sing.  I have recorded this with the Minden Band of the Queen's Division - on the CD Qunitessence.  Listen or buy it here:

6. That Ole Devil called love
Sung here by Carol Sloane.

7. Witchcraft
First written by Cy Coleman as an instrumental for the revue "Take Five," lyrics were added in 1957 by Carolyn Leigh to make a hit for Frank Sinatra.

8. Thriller
The ultimate Hallowe'en video.

9. A ghost of a chance
(1932) Victor Young, Ned Washington and Bing Crosby.

10. Devil May Care
Again, I make it onto my own top 10!  This great Bob Dorough is the fourth track on my first album.  I was lucky enough to perform it as a duet with Ian Shaw.  Above is a live version from the Imperial Wharf Jazz Festival 2010.  Listen to the album version, or buy it here:

October gigs: Norwich, Leigh-on-Sea, Manchester

So far the tour has taken us far and wide.  But none so far as Norwich, a solid 3-hour drive.  After I had booked the gig, I realised that it was further from London than Wales, so we were in for a mammoth journey there and back.  Lucky then, that we had been booked to play at a terrific jazz club.  To be honest, I hadn't been sure what to expect when we walked in because it was a typical country pub - low ceilings and comfy seating, but not quite conducive to a great jazz acoustic.  I needn't have worried though, because towards the back of the pub there was a high-ceilinged area with upright piano and a PA set up, lighting and atmospheric seating.  Perfect!
Proud to be playing at The Green Man

The following Tuesday we journeyed to Leigh on Sea, to play at Annie's Jazz.  Another pub gig, another weekly jazz night and another free event, this was just as good an atmosphere as the Norwich gig, although not quite so good acoustically owing to being crammed under a low-ceilinged alcove (Tom's bass barely missing scraping the beams).  Still, a very enjoyable gig, and Leigh on Sea will definitely be a place to revisit, probably in daylight next time!

Squashed but happy at Annie's Jazz
 The week ended with a second visit to Club 43 - a jazz supper club held at the Radisson Edwardian hotel in Manchester.  Always a popular event, Club 43 runs a monthly gig which pays tribute to the heydays of jazz in Manchester where the jazz greats used to take to Club 43 (previously across the road from the current hotel) to jam into the night.

The only similarity now is the name, and possibly the attentive audience.  Again, facing difficulties with funding, I booked a half local, half London-based group.  Rick, my pianist, joined us there from a previous gig in Bishop Auckland, and Dave Walsh and Gavin Barras made up the North West contingent.  With no time for rehearsal (punters were let into the room at 7pm although the gig didn't start til 8:30 so we had to be off the stage by then), the boys sight-read quite a few of my nigh-impossible arrangements.  Brilliant!  They did a fine job, and I'm looking forward to more gigs in the North West over the next few weeks.

The backdrop at Club 43 portrays jazz greats who would
frequent the club in the 50s and 60s.

October gigs: Newcastle, Nottingham, Stratford-upon-Avon

Performing at The Customs House, South Shields.
Photo by Lance Liddle

We had a full-on weekend planned for late-October, starting off with a journey up the A1 to Newcastle.  The A1 is a surprisingly pleasant road, but quite slow, so our enjoyable amble meant that we didn't have quite as much time to rehearse as we had wanted to when we reached the theatre.  Never mind, I got to take this brilliant picture of our pork pies when driving past Melton Mowbray!

Our destination was The Customs House, a theatre complex at the edge of the Tyne river in South Shields.  We arrived after dark - such a shame, as I'm sure the venue and surrounding areas must look great in the daylight.  In fact, throughout this tour I have lamented the fact that our gigs start later than the sun sets, meaning that we are travelling to so many interesting places, but don't actually get to see any of them.  Serves me right for planning an autumn tour!

The gig went really well, and our stand-in bass player Paul Susans did a fab job.  Read the review here:

On Saturday we had a rare night off, and decided to stay up in the North East as it was better than driving all the way back to London, only to drive back to Nottingham for our Sunday lunchtime gig.  So, after taking a lengthy walk on South Shields beach, we chilled out at Rick's parents' house, talking about home brew, jazz and the X Factor.

Darren and I enjoy the sun
Shadow play

Sunday brought two gigs: the first at The Lion in Nottingham, where we first played during our 2010 tour and loved it.  A very interesting little pub, with good value Sunday roast, a great selection of real ales (more for my band than me), and an enthusiastic jazz crowd.  After the gig we had time to relax before heading down to Stratford-upon-Avon, to play at Stratford Jazz Club.  SJC is such a popular venue with artists that I had booked this one nearly a year in advance, and will have to wait until Spring 2013 if I want to play there again!

The club is hosted in The Chapel ("A Shrine of Entertainment")! in the upstairs floor of a pub on, appropriately for Stratford, Shakespeare Street.  The only downer to this gig was that it was at the end of the Stratford Music Week, but not included in it, so the jazz fans of the region had already had a choice of three gigs that week.  Many of them therefore chose not to come to mine, which was a shame, but difficult to avoid.  You can read a review of the evening here:'s_review_sarah-ellen-hughes_at_the_chapel.html

At The Lion

Stratford Jazz Club

October gigs: Rochester, Wellingborough, Bristol

This mini-tour started off in Rochester at the 144 Club: "The Ronnie Scott's of Medway!"  Set-up and run by the Kearsey-Lawson family, with son compering, brother drumming and mum on the door, the 144 club presents fantastic guest performers with the house band each week.

On arrival I had to make my way up a long and winding staircase, passing by posters of past gigs all around, rather like a hall of fame.  And there was me right at the top!  I'm chuffed to think that each week that passes I'll be there, pride of place next to the jazz greats of this country.
Posters of Dave O'Higgins and Sam Mayne (bizarrely on a toilet)
in the Medway Hall of Fame.

The next night, we jetted off to Wellingborough to continue the album tour at The Castle, quite a large theatre in the town centre.  We pulled up to the foyer to find it packed with people - a mix of ages but mostly the older generation: a typical jazz crowd!  This excited us somewhat until we realised that they were all there to see Rory Bremner in the main auditorium, supported by Ian Shaw!  Oh well.

Our gig turned out to be well attended too, and a very appreciative went away with 17 CDs by the end of it!  Nearly a single-gig record.

Next stop Bristol, to play at the Bebop Club.  Run by local trumpeter Andy Hague, it's an incredibly popular weekly jazz night in the back room of a pub, which attracts many of this country's top jazz names.  The only problem with this gig is that it's in Bristol on a Friday night, so once you've got out of the ridiculous traffic in London (the world and his wife are trying to escape with you) you've got to endure the M4, then get stuck in Bristol as you enter during rush hour.  As such, we had about 10 minutes to sound check before trying to find somewhere to eat to scrabble down a hasty dinner.  Solution to finding a swift meal?  An Indian restaurant just around the corner seemed the best choice so we walked in I immediately told the waiter that we had only 35 minutes so did he think we would be able to have our meal in that time.  He looked around the restaurant as if surveying the diners to infer how busy the kitchen would be, and went over to an un-made table and started to dress it for us.  Why we couldn't just sit at a ready-laid table I have no idea, but nevertheless we were in too deep by then to back out now!  Finally, at 9:01pm, we beat a hasty retreat from the restaurant and managed to make it back on stage only 6 minutes late.  During this time, the sound guy had gone looking for us and was told we were at the Indian, missed us in transit and arrived half an hour late himself!

Band curry
Setting up at the Bebop Club
After an enjoyable gig we headed off to our 4-star hotel which we had got for an absolute steal, and made the most of chilling out in Bristol.  Good times.

October gigs: Monmouth and Abergavenny

October saw my second ever tribute gig to the great Shirley Horn.  I'm really struck by this tribute theme - it gives a cohesion to the gig that could otherwise be missing, and is a great way to find out about one's idol.  I'm going to think about doing this more once the album tour is over.

This particular gig was in Monmouth, at The Queen's Head, where regular gigs are every Wednesday.  The venue quite often attracts some great touring bands, and it was a pleasure to play there.  We packed the place out and it would be great to play there again sometime.  I have a growing fondness for South Wales!  So much so that I was back there within a month, this time at The King's Arms in Abergavenny for Black Mountain Jazz.

A jazz club run by local musicians, this venue attracts top-class acts monthly and no wonder - staged in the backroom of a pub, the venue is spacious and comfortable, sporting a midi piano (cross between a mini and a grand) well-stocked bar and complimentary tapas in the interval (for the band!).  The backdrop of the stage is even the old town wall.

For this gig I had booked a mixture of local and London-based musicians, to help ease the funding difficulties that the tour was presenting.  Darren, my drummer, and I drove down on the Sunday afternoon, and met Swansea based musicians Dave Cottle (who runs the superb Swansea Jazzland) and Alun Vaughan, one of the busiest bassists in the region.  The boys coped marvelously with my arrangements which led to an incredibly enjoyable gig for me.  Read the review here:
Hopefully we'll be back in 2012 for a one-off festival so watch this space.

Crossing the Severn Bridge.
The band perform... with the old town wall in the background
(here adorned with skeletons for Halloween!)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Top Ten Autumn Songs

It feels a bit weird writing about autumn songs when we're clearly in the middle of the summer that never was, but there're a lot of songs to celebrate in this category so here goes!

1. Autumn Leaves - performed by Miles Davis.
So many people have recorded this song, but I guess my favourite version has to be a Cannonball Adderley recording featuring Miles Davis.

2. Autumn Leaves - performed by Eva Cassidy.
This is definitely my second favourite version!  Amazing vocals.

3. Autumn in New York - performed by Sarah Vaughan

4. Early Autumn - performed by Anita O'Day

5. September in the rain - performed by Tina May.
I love the way that Tina does a verse or two in French.  It's on the album "I'll Take Romance."

6. September song - performed by Gill manly.
It's on the album "With a Song in My Heart," and features Guy Barker on the trumpet.  Gill includes the verse, and doesn't change the gender - which I think is great, because it keeps the scanning and rhyming exactly as the composer intended it.

7. 'Tis Autumn - performed by Carmen McCrae

8. Autumn Fires - by Alex Hutton
Alex Hutton is a London-based pianist and exceptional composer.  His latest album will be released this month (album launch on Thursday 6th Oct at The Forge in Camden).  This tune is from his second album "Songs from the Seven Hills."

Now, two songs that have to make it into this top ten.  These are songs I've loved teaching my primary school to sing in assembly because they were favourites of mine as a child... anyone else remember them?
9. Autumn days 
lyrics hint: (Autumn days when the grass is jewelled and the silk inside a chestnut shell, jet planes meeting in the air to be re-fuelled, all these things I love so well.)  
I remember even when I was an 8-year-old that my teacher said "Now, jet planes don't meet in the air anymore - that happened a long time ago."  Must be a very old song!
10. Paint Box
lyrics hint: (Cauliflowers fluffy and cabbages green, strawberries sweeter than any I've seen.  Beetroot purple and onions white, all grow steadily day and night.  The apples are ripe, the plums are red.  Broad beans are sleeping in a blankety bed)
One thing I love about this song is that on the opposite page to the music in the song book, there's a recipe for fruit fool.  How very healthy!


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Album tour ... South Wales

Wednesday September 28th: Cafe Jazz, Cardiff.

This week I had three gigs in the book - Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - so I decided to turn it into a bit of a holiday and get away from London for an extra day, so on the Tuesday night I took a train out of the big smoke to spend an evening in Appledore (North Devon) with my boyfriend and sister.  My sister, Anna, is cycling around the coast of Great Britain and has been travelling for almost 2 months so far.  She's got just 2 weeks to go.

(I joined her on the third and fourth day of her mammoth journey and wrote about it here:

(She's writing a superb blog herself, which is well-worth a read:

Anna arrives in Appledore

We arrived into Appledore at about 5:30 and settled down to a pint and cup of tea on the seafront, which I enjoyed for a full minute before getting a frantic call... "Sarah can you meet me off the ferry... Do you have £3?  I spent my last £3 on sweets!"  Oh, Anna!  So while my tea got cold I rushed down and struggled to find the ferry landing spot (there was no jetty), but got there in time to see a small (tiny) ferry being battered about by the wind and carrying a waving sister!  Hooray!  It was great to see Anna as I hadn't seen her since we waved goodbye in the rain on 5th August in Cromer.  Since then she's travelled all the way up and round Scotland, and back down to Devon via the bays and coves of Wales.  Now she's only a few counties away from home (Tower Bridge is the finishing point on Tuesday 11th October, at about 6pm... for those of you living in London who fancy joining her welcome home party.  I've been instructed to bring champagne!)

Outside the Cafe Jazz. 
So after enjoying a small holiday in Devon, James and I got the train to Cardiff for my gig at Cafe Jazz on the Wednesday.  With this weather like it is, it's easy to think of the whole tour as a holiday.  We had all afternoon to enjoy the city so wandered up and down the shopping street, enjoying our leisure.

I had performed at Cafe Jazz once before, and remembered it as being a friendly venue with an appreciative crowd and good sound.  This gig was no different.  Good staff, great sound, and a good amount of jazz fans in the audience.  I was joined by local musicians Dave Cottle on piano, Alun Vaughan on bass, and Tom Cottle on drums.  They did a great job coping with my difficult charts, and we had a very enjoyable gig.  A reviewer was there, who both bought a CD and added himself to my mailing list - always a good sign!  Read the review by clicking HERE.

Thursday 29th September: Porthcawl Pavilion

Porthcawl is only about 25 miles away from Cardiff, so I didn't have much travelling to do.  I could relax, enjoy the sun, and take advantage of the free wifi at Cafe Jazz, before getting a lift with the drummer to Porthcawl.  This was another seaside venue.  The last time I did a gig at the seaside was in February in Scarborough, and it had been raining, so it was brilliant to visit the seaside again on a beautiful day.  We arrived with the sun ready to set and I got my hotel organised, then wandered onto the seafront.  There is a beach here although it's not really for swimming - large rocks loomed out of the breaking waves, and an even larger sign saying 'bathing dangerous' accompanied the promenade.

The sun sets over Porthcawl.  Thank goodness for digital
cameras.  A few years ago, this would have ruined my film!

Children brave the waves then run away at the last minute.

Once again, we had a very enjoyable gig.  The jazz nights at the Pavilion are organised by Sue Scott, who does a great job at getting about 80 people in each time.  We had a few less this month (ironically, some had been kept away by the nice weather, deciding to take a holiday instead).  The performance was in the downstairs room which is set up like an intimate jazz club and everything, apart from the stage piano which had seen better days, was great.  An early finish meant that I could enjoy a drink in the hotel bar before bed, and prepare for tomorrow's gig.

Friday 30th September: Cornerstone Arts Centre, Didcot.

The quartet on stage.
After checking out this morning, I spent about 20 minutes sitting on the seafront, my hair being whipped up by the sea breeze and listening to the waves crash up to the beach.  It was so glorious; I can see why people retire to the seaside.  I caught quite an early train to Didcot so spent most of my day sitting in the cafe next to the box office, reading and working.  Every so often people would come in and ask what was on tonight and the receptionist would big me up massively, unaware that I was sitting right there!  This happened too at Cafe Jazz in Cardiff, when I was waiting to check in to the hotel above the club, and the receptionist was telling a gentleman next to me about tonight's gig... "Well, it's a very talented young singer," at which point I piped up and said "It's me!"  Very amusing.

The gig at Cornerstone was amazing; I definitely hope to return.  We had a great audience - about 80 people, and I sold and signed plenty of CDs at the end of the show.  Touring is great when you get gigs like that - appreciative audience, helpful venue, and a good lot of merchandise sold.  So here's hoping the next two months has lots more great gigs in store!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Tour begins...

Stonehenge through the windscreen
Friday 23rd September: Ilminster Arts Centre

I was particularly looking forward to our trip to Ilminster Arts Centre - I had been told great things about the venue, and I knew the journey there would take us past Stonehenge and through the lovely West Country.  The only downer was that it was a Friday, and traffic all around the country can be a nightmare!  So a few accidents, jams and rubber-necking drivers later, we glided into a peaceful Ilminster.  Thank goodness we had left London early - we arrived about 3 hours before the gig was due to start, but I would much rather have spent those 3 hours in Ilminster than on the M25.

What a lovely venue!  It's had its share of money troubles in the past, but things have improved over the last year, and we arrived with the Somerset Arts Week in full swing, showcasing the diverse range of arts that the centre presents.  We were greeted by Tony - the promoter and our host for the night - and we spent a relaxed our setting up the stage and wandering around town, picking up the local newspaper with a great big feature on tonight's gig.

The Meeting House Arts Centre has an interesting history - an 18th century Unitarian chapel, which was converted to a school in the early 1900s, then sat derelict for a few decades before it was taken over by the local council and converted into an Arts Centre.  It is currently up for being awarded £6000 for development, which it would very much benefit from.  If you would care to vote for the Arts Centre, please click here.  It's quite a long process, but very much worth it.

Sound-checking at the Meeting House.
The gig was great and we were properly looked-after - a superb supper before the show, and a lovely setting with a beautiful grand piano.  The band played great and, for the first gig of the tour, there were only a couple of hitches (how can someone forget the words to My Favourite Things?!)  It will only get better!

Playing with the dogs in the morning.

Our hosts - Tony and Christine - have a beautiful farmhouse in Ilminster, with enough beds to fit a travelling quartet.  It's an amazing house - it could be a museum, what with all the artefacts and brick-a-brack decorating the area.  The bathroom is full of original tins of nivea and other such ointments and the house comes complete with two old-style flush toilets.  Somehow, after having been in their amazing house for less than an hour, I had managed to break the chain pull off one of them!  You can't take me anywhere.

Rick enjoys the fruit machines.
Saturday 24th September: St Mary's Church, Aylesbury

We set off at a reasonable hour to head to our next destination: Aylesbury.  It wasn't an easy journey, as it is effectively a return to London and then back out again into Buckinghamshire, so it was a little frustrating doing the route that would have taken us home.  We forewent an expensive trip to Stonehenge for a delightful pub lunch in Berkshire, and arrived in Aylesbury 5 hours early.  How to entertain a group of travelling jazz musicians who are broke?!  Rick spent £10 and won six at the 'Cashino' and we won our money back on the quiz machine in a local pub.  Apart from that, it was a beautiful day weather-wise and we managed to make one cup of tea last over an hour.

Our quiz winnings.  Don't we look thrilled!

Our concert that evening was at St Mary's Church - a lovely picturesque building with delightful grounds and streets lining the church yard.  St Mary's is a popular venue for their classical concerts, but this was their first gamble at staging a jazz gig.  A gamble it was, for there was a disappointing 14 people there (15 by the end - my Dad had arrived half way through the second set.)  I hope they will persist with promoting jazz, as it would be dreadful if my gig were to be the first and last!  So if you're local to Aylesbury, keep an eye on what's going on at St Mary's Church.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Some tour amendments...

Three gigs have been cancelled on my tour.  They are:

Sat 29 | GOSPORT Alverbank House Hotel | 8pm

Mon 31 | TEIGNMOUTH Clifford Arms, Shaldon | 8:30pm

Mon 14 | LEEDS Sela Bar | 9pm

These are because of problems at the venue.  If you're planning on coming to any of my gigs, then please book ahead!  This will really help with keeping live music (and my career) live!

Monday, 12 September 2011

A Sunday evening in Hereford

I went to Hereford on Sunday for a gig at the Black Lion - an old pub (apparently it’s haunted along with quite a few other buildings in Hereford, including Sainsbury’s!?!), but a newish venue for jazz.  The Dave Price trio host a monthly jazz night and had invited me to be a special guest on this occasion.  The journey was tedious - a 4-hour stopping train from London, but at least I didn’t have to change, and it gave me some time to get Wikipedia working on my phone to prepare the spiel about my chosen dedicated artist (each month the group focuses on a different jazz great and deliver a tribute gig, so I chose to perform the songs of Shirley Horn, one of my favourite vocalists and a true jazz singer.)

Solar halo with a sun dog
to the left

With so much travelling to do as a touring singer, I prefer to travel by train - time to work, sleep or read, plus more chance to look out of the window!  Today I managed to capture a solar halo on camera (the picture’s a little dodgy because it’s taken through the train window).  
I have only seen one of these before - they’re very common but you generally can’t see them because the sun’s bright light overpowers it.  A slightly overcast day and dark sunglasses help.  To the left you can see a sun-dog, which is like a small vertical rainbow in the cloud.  
I remember once being on a train from Hitchin (my home town) to London and seeing a very bright sun dog, and calling my mum who I knew was home-tutoring a young autistic boy at the time.  I told them to look out of the window to see the sun dog and the boy said, “I don’t know about a sun dog, but I can see a sun crocodile!”

Anyway, I digress.... back to the music.  The only trouble with doing a Shirley Horn tribute is that she was most famous for singing ballads at ultra-slow tempos, and I didn’t want to fill a set - or even half a set - with slow numbers.  Fortunately, Horn recorded quite a few live albums and she, too, clearly didn’t want to fill a set with ballads so I had plenty of choice of swinging tunes.   I found it incredibly interesting to find out a bit of recording history of this amazing singer, and I enjoyed the research part as much as the singing part.  Now I have a tribute to Shirley Horn set all ready.  (Click here if you want to book me for it!)

Being a Sunday, the gig didn’t finish too late so I was heading back to my overnight stop by 10pm.  Then an early bus journey in the morning to catch the train home.

On paper, having to take a bus for over an hour to the nearest town with a decent rail connection to London seems like a ball-ache.  But in reality, it’s a great way to see the country.  I had stayed over night with family just outside Monmouth, and took the local bus to Newport in the morning.  Local buses are great - they rumble through sleepy villages and along crooked B-roads (sometimes ones that have since been replaced by trunk roads), supplying public transport to the corners of the country that are too small to have a train station.

Monmouthshire is a particularly lovely part of this island, and I enjoyed snaking through picturesque little villages, passing the odd tractor and a great many country pubs, with the Black Mountains a backdrop.  We meandered through a lovely selection of interesting places: Mitchel Troy, Raglar, Usk with its Castle ruins, and its bus stop in Twyn square, Coldharbour on the crest of a hill, the old city wall of Caerleon... It was so much better than bombing my way down the A40 in a car for one.  A great start to a Monday!
Through the Monmouthshire