The Singer, February/March 2009
One… two… three… four. I am counting the seconds until I deliver my pronounced, received and full throated mini-lecture to two nylon-clad monster teengirls who have wrenched open the car door to a shocked and frightened Charlotte. Here's the scene. We are slowly and I guess, illegally, reversing down a chocker side road in Notting Hill. They are demanding an apology for reversing into them. They have a point. But I hate them on sight and count my blessings that I have an education and manners. And they don't. And then I hate myself and count my blessings that I am able to discern between sheer gut reaction (normally I turn into Kenneth Williams, affronted and plum-toned) and measured calm. Oh the pointless-car-in London sketch again. The albatross that costs so much in blood pressure and late congestion payments.
Charlotte convinces me we should drive to a nicer area to look for potatoes for mashing that night for my Joan Crawford Evening. I count my blessings that my manager is my best friend.
It's been a strange few months. The abject horror and mind-numbing realisation that someone is capable of systematically torturing a baby. The almost unacceptably fabulous reversal of fortune that was the election of a seemingly intelligent human being whose compassion and dentally intact glamour has cocklewarmed the hearts of a despairing world. Oh, and replaced eight years of shame and misery with hope and pride.
I think then, that 2009 is the year where I count all blessings. One… two… three, here I go. Firstly the job. Jazz Singer mostly. Mustn't grumble, but do. Well, not really grumble but… whinge in a grumbly way. Wimble. It's the travel you see. Gone is the thrill of meeting my daft band for a fry-up and a Guinness at Terminal Three. I'm mostly solo now, so am swished into a car the other end and ferried to a comfy hotel. Thanks to a surfeit of radio play in Canada, I have a large-ish audience there these days. Blessings like dear little chocs are counted and stored in the gratitude box to be savoured later – and will remind me that things can be good all over and not to complain when I play to the thirty two pensioners, a blind dog and some noisy students in the backroom of a rugby club in Sunderland. Don't get me wrong, these local jazz socs peppered across the country allow us to play to a lot of people who don't fancy the theatre gigs and without them, a huge chunk of our performing work would disappear. These gig are mostly graced with an overnight at one of less elegant hotels. Oddly, these great English bastions of pastel pebble-dash, ugly fire doors and the constant fug of cooked bacon, Glade and cheap aftershave (a marriage so pungently peculiar to the post heavy drinking post gig sesh the night before I don't even notice it's now familiar charm) fill me with a strange, deep rooted happiness. This fleeting joy is curiously absent when I am ensconced in the ash, glass and scented splendour of a "boutique hotel". Wimble. Guy Barker, my trumpeter friend and show cohort I know doesn't share this sentimental and slightly perverse love of lo-fi, no-star accommodation. His preferred overnights are plush and are a taxi jaunt away from the best nosherie in town. Guy can sniff out a decent family run Italian that favours truffle oil in their cuisine at ten paces. Praised and starred I a Good Eating Guide, it will sit incongruously in a strange town. And Guy will sit incongruously in it and congruously order the best Gavi de Gavi they can muster. In the grimmest, most unlikely outposts that the jazz life can throw up (no pun intended here) these chilled glasses have become a thrill to match the Egyptian cotton (or brushed nylon) in our hotel. He does love a good old pint of local though. I just don't want for pointless and constant housekeeping visits, coriander on my breakfast, designer water or anything on my pillow (apart from maybe chocolate or the head of my boyfriend). This type of empty luxury stems, I think, from happy childhood holidays in guest houses from Blackpool to Babbacombe. By association then, I am never happier than checking into the peach chipboard and Walker's Shortbread cosy haven that is a forty quid per nighter in downtown Leicester.
Toronto was a tad different. A polite, clean and arty city, there really is nothing to dislike. Ross Porter, a gentle handsome giant of a man runs Jazz FM, Canada's 24 hour station, and unlike our UK version, it does what it says on the tin… play jazz. My hotel is a Spa, I perform two sold-out shows to an audience who, thanks to constant radio play of my last two albums, are there in force. I first met Ross on a satellite interview I was doing at CBC in Regent Street. We were pre-recording a piece for his late show. It was early afternoon, September the 11th, 2001. the screens in the studio were showing my beloved Manhattan, where I had just recorded a second album for my US label. Something was clearly very wrong and we both watched, as the world became a disaster movie of such enormous proportion, that we all counted our private blessings and quietly prayed for families and friends of people. Here's To Life.
Nothing would ever be the same. Three years later, just before Xmas, my father died, He had been feeling rotten all night and mum persuaded him to get into an ambulance for the first time in his seventy years and go to hospital. He joked with the ambulance team that the only time he'd been to hospital was to collect my sister when she was born. He died three hours later. A good, simple man. My sister phoned me in London. "He's gone" she said. Charlotte was over in twenty minutes to drive me to my mother in North Wales. Joe and Biba, my recording pals gave me hugs and tea. I was desperate to get to my mother to tell her how important she was to everyone. Four years on she misses Dad and is as cherished as ever. Here's To Love.
Charlotte is still my manager and I still record and produce at The Cowshed Studio, Joe and Biba's place. Friends are all that matter. One… two… three… four. You don't need many. Those four will unflinchingly open the door at Four a.m, without judgement and with tea.
So come on 2009 if you think you're hard enough. We're ready for all you throw at us. The world seems suddenly a little better and my days are filled with music and laughter again.
One… two, three, four. I'm at my favourite gig, The 606 Club in Chelsea. All apart from Fletch, my drummer of eighteen years, the band are new. And preposterously young. I know that Fletch understands why I'm singing "Here's To Life".A life of excess, of "no complaints and no regrets", of still believing in "chasing dreams and placing bets". He chucks me the knowing grin and knows I can't coast or croon. He knows I can't pretend. On, or offstage. Here's To You.