Welcome to Sarah's blog. Working hard on the jazz scene in London and beyond, Sarah shares tales of her travels around the UK, promoting her two critically acclaimed albums: Darning the Dream and The Story So Far.
Catch up with Sarah's gig list on her website www.sarahellenhughes.co.uk
Darning the Dream promotional tour: North East Leg
Monday 28th June
I’ve been teaching all day in London, so the journey started with a mad scramble on my bike up to King’s Cross, with 4 days’ worth of stuff with me. I look a bit like a pack-horse.
The train stopped moving for about 3 ¼ minutes at Darlington Station. I did my make up in 3. A desperate dash into a taxi at Newcastle Station, and I pitch up at the gig with 5 mins before ‘baton down.’ There might have been less stressful ways to start the tour.
Lance Liddle – a man I met after doing an impromptu guest spot with Tina May at a Worshipful Company of Musicians gig and who put me up to this one – was there. A lover of jazz and food, he blogged the evening accurately and elegantly: read his review here.
Tuesday 29th June
What a lovely place Bishop Auckland is. Of course, it helps that we were treated to a full day of glorious sunshine but nevertheless, BA managed to fulfil all our needs: beautiful weather, charming streets to walk around, a Superdrug for those forgotten items, a library computer to catch up on my blog, and a pub in which to witness Japan being knocked out of the world cup.
We’re happy to be here – as you can tell from this picture – well, Rick is clearly happiest (I’m no cameraman – this was the only picture of about 10 where I managed to capture anyone off the ground. The rest look like the one below.)
So, as you can see, our gig is at Bishop Auckland Town Hall (BATH). I don’t normally sing in the bath but this gig was great!
Pictures of me EVERYWHERE – how many Sarahs can you spot in this picture?:
The gig was lovely - helpful sound guys, friendly staff and attentive audience.
Wednesday 30th June
We've spent the day sunbathing and relaxing in Rick's parents' garden. Check out this lovely picture, complete with singer's and drummer's feet, to prove we were actually there!
It's been lovely - time for relaxing, socialising and reflecting. We're feeling quite sad that this is the last day of the tour.
And what a last day!
We playedthe best gig of the whole tour at The Lescar in Sheffield. The crowd… well, I say crowd, but it was somewhat diminished owing to a fairly large jazz event happening in town. I commented on this to the audience – something along the lines of “I understand there’s a major jazz event going on in Sheffield today…” “It’s HERE!” piped up Darren. Of course!
Anyway, the crowd were attentive and knowledgeable, and cheering for more at the end. Gosh! Why hadn’t I planned an encore?! Perhaps it’s because on the last two nights we didn’t need one; perhaps it’s that our regular encore is the same style and tempo as the last tune of the set (appropriately: That’s All). So I chose to sing I Will Survive over a blues. Somehow it works (but don’t just take my word for it – check it out on my WEBSITE for proof…)
A reviewer came up to me at the end. “Excellent!” he said. I wonder if his review agrees – click here to view it.
Today would have been my mum's 65th birthday. The title track of my album is a song about her. When we got to that number in the set, I suddenly realised it was a hard ask for me to sing it. I welled up a few times, hoping that the audience would understand what was going on rather than thinking I was singing it badly. Afterwards, I explained to them the significance of the day. A fitting way to finish a tour promoting an album dedicated to my mum.
We had planned to stay the night in a hotel for a knees-up. However, Darren has to teach in the morning, Gavin is only a 20 minute drive from home, and Rick wants to go back in the car with Darren. So I’m left alone. Why didn’t I go home with them?! My hotel is… budget. An old bar of soap, no TV remote, but of course a trusty bible. I can’t get much sleep because there’s a pub on the ground floor and it sounds like the DJ is IN MY ROOM. I should have been suspicious at the two packets of earplugs on the bed. A good night’s sleep? No dice. A good end to a 2-month tour? Despite the noise and discomfort, I’m extremely happy, proud and satisfied to have been the organiser and performer of a successful trip in upwards of 20 locations all around the UK.
The shuffle setting on the iPod is a marvellous thing. It’s not always totally random – the iPod will lean towards artists or albums it’s already selected in the current shuffle. Some shuffles can be a dud; some can be ideal. Here is my ideal iPod shuffle: iPod Top Ten.
Sting All This Time (album)
Silje Nergaard Paper Boats (from the album Darkness Out of Blue)
Stevie Wonder Natural Wonder (album)
Gill Manly Daydream (from the album With a Song In My Heart)
Tuck and Patti Tears of Joy (album)
Shirley Horn Here’s To Life (album)
Kurt Elling Nature Boy (from the album The Messenger)
Avishai Cohen Trio Gently Disturbed (album)
Neil Yates New Origins (album)
Sarah Ellen Hughes But Not For Me (from the album Darning the Dream)
1) Sting All This Time (album)
Recorded on September 11th 2001, this album was released as a dedication to all who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on that day. Despite the newsof the tragedy reaching the band before the show, concert went ahead as a tribute. You can detect some melancholy, but it’s an amazing testimony to how music can suspend ordinary emotions and take the listener and music-maker to another – better – place.
In the setting of his home in Tuscany, Sting treatsan intimately-sized audience to a wicked melange of Sting/Police classics. Most have a jazzy twist – heaven for a jazz singer looking to freshen up a set full of Gershwin and Cole Porter.(Not that there’s anything wrong with G & CP, but with songs approaching 100 years old, it’s good to inject something new from time to time.)
An assembly of musicians from Jason Rebello to Christian McBride indicate to the audience that they’re in safe hands.
2) Silje Nergaard Paper Boats (from the album Darkness Out of Blue)
A friend recommended this singer to me about a year ago and I’ve never looked back! This, her 9th album, is entirely original material – (some other albums include jazz standards) – words by Mike McGurk and music by Nergaard, proof indeed that here is a wonderful musician as well as captivating singer.
The start of this particular song is irresistibly simple – one note repeated 8 times, the harmony changing beneath, effortlessly resolved through the rest of the phrase. A pairing of lyrics and melody: beautifully woven together as if they were composed by the same mind.
3) Stevie Wonder Natural Wonder (album)
A treasury of astonishing vocals and a collection of some of the most important songs ever written, this double CD album captures a live concert in Japan, depicting Stevie Wonder at his genius best.
The joy of a live gig is to hear familiar songs in new, innovative arrangements. This recording doesn’t disappoint. It changed the way I both sing his repertoire and listen to his music.
4) Gill Manly Daydream (from the album With a Song In My Heart)
Whilst wandering across the concourse at Kings Cross Station one day, this gorgeous tune came on my iPod. I stopped, turned up the volume, and listened intently, thoroughly happy. At the end, I skipped it back immediately and listened all over again.
Gill Manly does a wonderful show: a tribute to Nina Simone (read my review of the show here) – so I’m going to use some of this column space to talk about Nina too. Despite being one of the world’s most important singers, I don’t really enjoy listening to Nina Simone, a feeling quite a number of singers I know share. However, there are four recordings that I can’t get enough of: Little Girl Blue, I Loves You Porgy, He Needs Me and, predictably, My Baby Just Cares For Me. Timeless.
5) Tuck and Patti Tears of Joy (album)
The first professional work I ever did as a jazz singer was a guitar duo in Lancaster. Since then, I’ve continued working with wonderful guitarists including Mark Townson, John Moore and Chris Allard. The ultimate guitar/voice pairing is Tuck Andress and Patti Cathcart. Tuck’s guitar playing defies belief and Patti’s vocals leave the ear wanting nothing, despite the lack of other instrumentalists. Check out the haunting Mad Mad Me, the rip-roaring I’ve Got Just About Everything, and a romantic version of – appropriately – My Romance.
6) Shirley Horn Here’s To Life (album)
Despite not being a jazz fan, my Dad bought this album for me on recommendation of Shirley Horn being a “jazz singer’s singer.” I fell in love immediately with the glorious strings – particularly an inverted pedal on violins at the beginning of the title track (an inverted pedal is a high note held for a significant length while the harmony changes beneath it). I was captivated by what Horn sang – or rather didn’t sing. Simplicity and silence speaks volumes.
Upon listening to the album twice in a row, it made me want to immediately quit my job as a teacher and embark upon a jazz singing career. A few months later, that’s exactly what I did.
7) Kurt Elling Nature Boy (from the album The Messenger)
My shuffle wouldn’t be working properly if it didn’t land on one of the six Kurt Elling albums I have. This man made me rethink not only the way I was singing and performing, but what I wanted to achieve as a vocalist, as I’m sure he has for many a singer. I can’t pick a favourite album, but Nature Boy from The Messenger is worth listening to with undivided attention and the volume full-blast.
8) Avishai Cohen Trio Gently Disturbed (album)
I bought this album because it was playing in the jazz room at HMV. I was immediately captivated by the ambient sound, and on closer inspection I found it to be a fantastic collection of innovative compositions and brilliant musicianship, not only from bassist Cohen, but also Mark Guiliana on drums, and the brilliantly named Shai Maestro on piano.
9) Neil Yates New Origins (album)
Neil Yates is not only a terrific trumpeter, he’s also a brilliant composer. New Origins is an album largely inspired by places around where he lives on the North Welsh coast. It fuses jazz, folk and Celtic music, using the sound of the Bodhrán (pronounced bor-an) and whistles alongside more regular jazz instruments.He also sings on the last track. Magic.
Neil doesn’t visit London often, but when he does, I always try to see him. The last time he was here, my sister Anna and I went, proudly wearing our t-shirts (think about it). Neil was well chuffed! We got a photo and a hug!
New Origins is one of those albums I’ve listened to so much that I know it by heart. Certain chords make me swell; certain passages make me beam; certain solos make me gasp… still. The sound guy at The Crypt in Camberwell (www.jazzlive.co.uk) has been just as taken with the album. He’s played it every Friday in between sets for about the last 3 years.
10) Sarah Ellen Hughes But Not For Me (from the album Darning the Dream)
I would be doing something wrong if I didn’t take this self-promotional opportunity by the scruff of the neck. So the final track in this list is from my debut album Darning the Dream, available on Amazon, iTunes,HMV (are you clicking the links to buy it yet?)
It is the curse of any jazz singer, and perhaps any musician, to be dissatisfied with a studio recording. It will never be good enough! At some point you have toclose the lid and say “That’s as good as it’s going to get.”
So it came as something of a pleasant surprise to report that when a recent shuffle landed on But Not For Me, I actually enjoyed listening to it! Perhaps it’s the drum solo, the wonderful contribution from Dave O’Higgins’s tenor, the lush vibes gluing it together, or perhaps it’s the fact that it’s not half bad! This particular track, above the rest of the album, made it on to the list because it was the first one that, when selected by shuffle, I didn’t skip it on. Instead, it made me smile. The others are growing on me too!