9:59am Friday 16th March 2012
After jetting around the world, CLARE TEAL is ready to bring her own brand of jazz back to her native shores, as CHARLES HUTCHINSON discovers.
AFTER a six-week tour of New Zealand and a whistle-stop visit to Hong Kong, promoting her Hey Ho album, North Yorkshire jazz singer Clare Teal is back home, playing 24 dates around Britain.
Next Friday, the positive vibes of her Feeling Good tour will spread through York Theatre Royal, in David Porter’s first J-Night promotion at the theatre since he moved into a new office in the De Grey Rooms next door.
Despite being interviewed mid long-distance travels, 38-year-old Clare was feeling good when York Twenty4Seven spoke to her in February.
“I did a lot of sightseeing during my visit to New Zealand, because they have these lovely coastlines – and nice wine too! It’s all been good, and we arrived in Hong Kong at six o’clock this morning, so I’ve been up for two days!” says the Kildwick-born chanteuse.
No longer being tied to a major label has given Clare more flexibility over the release programme of her tenth album, Hey Ho, a celebration of the Great British Songbook.
“This is the exciting thing, as we now own our stuff – being the boss means you can release the record when and where you want. EMI have released it in New Zealand and a fantastic label called Evo Sound has taken the licence for Hong Kong and South East Asia.”
What about the USA? “I haven’t got that far yet. I need more holiday time to promote it there!” says Clare.
Her Hong Kong itinerary (February 21 and 22) gives you an insight into the diary of a jazz musician going about her career, wherever it may take her.
“Today I’ve had an interview with a magazine. Tomorrow I’ll get picked up early for some TV interviews, then do rehearsals with some musicians and a musical director, Jim Schneider, a pianist from New York, who I don’t know!” she says.
“We’re also being taken out for a lovely meal where film stars go, then more interviews, and then we’ll do the showcase performance in the evening at a lovely little club, very high up, where they’ll invite the media and we’ll do 40 minutes or so – it should be really good fun.”
Fun, yes, but it is also unpredictable.
“If I’m honest, I don’t know as much as I might like to about touring overseas, and it can be nerve-wracking to meet new musicians as a band is so integral to how you sound on the night,” she says.
“I remember working with a big band in Prague when no-one spoke English. Bizarrely because I’d studied Russian for five years, right up to A-level at my comprehensive school in Crosshills, South Craven, and because Czechoslovakia had been taken over by the Soviet Union, we talked in Russian, even though they don’t like to do so because of the Velvet Revolution.” Clare set out on her British tour on March 1, maintaining the brisk pace of her year. No sooner had she returned to Britain than she had to fulfil recording commitments for her BBC Radio 2 shows, Clare Teal On Sunday on, you guessed it, Sundays at 10pm and Big Band Special on Mondays at 9.30pm.
“Normally I record two weeks of shows at a time to fit into my schedule, and the tour works out at about three concerts a week, so it’s manageable,” she says.
As well as her British dates, Clare will continue to promote Hey Ho for the rest of the year overseas, and she hopes all these air miles will have a long-term benefit.
“The whole reason for trying to incorporate more travel and more life experiences is to get creative with more songwriting,” she says.
Wait and see what emerges. In the meantime, Hey Ho will play its part in next Friday’s set. “The album focuses on the Great British Songbook, and initially because my cover versions of the Great American Songbook run from 1900 to the 1960s, I thought I’d use the same parameters again, but as I get more involved in the research, certain themes popped up,” says Clare.
“The songs span 122 years, and I guess all the songs on the record are pop songs, so it’s not only a celebration of the Great British Songbook but also popular music.
“It goes from The Sally Gardens in 1899 (when WB Yeats wrote the poem that Herbert Hughes then set to music) to Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars, to show that even though popular songs may have 100 years between them, not much has changed, certainly not the sentiments and maybe not the chords.”
Clare admits her first instinct had been to steer clear of modern pop songs but she ended up interpreting not only Chasing Cars but Annie Lennox’s Why too. “Jazz can pretty much adapt to anything, but with modern pop it can sound a bit naff and I’d worried about that, but Grant Windsor, my very talented Australian producer, has managed to avoid any cliché,” she says.
“As a singer, I know pretty quickly whether I can bring something new to a song, but also, when I’m working with a producer and arranger, he’s doing the same as me. Where I might say I want to do (Van Morrison’s) Moondance because I’ve got a handle on it, he might say, ‘Well, I’m not sure I could do a fresh arrangement of that’.”
From 50 songs Clare and Grant selected the ones they agreed they could present anew. “I remember singing Why in Annie Lennox’s home country of Scotland, where it felt appropriate to do it, and I stopped thinking about it around about the second verse and decided ‘Yes, I can do something with this’.”
So many of the songs that Clare has sung through the years are by songwriters no longer with us – “I’m never going to have Cole Porter coming to my door,” as she puts it – but this album has plenty of living writers.
“I haven’t heard anything from the Snow Patrol boys about Chasing Cars, but I did meet Rod Argent from The Zombies. I’ve covered their song Care Of Cell 44 and thankfully Rod loved it and decided to come to the album launch,” she says.
Clare applies a policy of being “really honest with yourself” when assessing whether her jazz interpretations of songs have worked or not. “I often say one of my favourite writers is Paul Simon, but for some reason I can’t sing his songs, so I just listen to them instead,” she says.
“Some voices are more attuned to rhythm or tone or melody; everybody sings differently, and the thing is I’ve been doing it for long enough, I know when I have something to say.”
Next Friday, Clare will be performing with her trio in York. “It’s a brand new show with songs from previous shows and albums but this year I’ll also be working up the next record, so there’ll be some new material in there that I’m writing as we speak, and some re-worked things with a whole new take on songs that we’re listening to,” she says.
“It’s my favourite time for touring, when you’re trying things out and there’s no pressure.”
• Clare Teal, Feeling Good tour, York Theatre Royal, next Friday, 8pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
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