SONGBIRDS

Thanks to a certain person in a certain big white building in the USA, women’s rights have never been more precarious.

At the recent Women’s Marches following the inauguration of Donald Trump the message, by both male and female demonstrators, was that women’s rights are human rights and that “women won’t be Trumped”.

Sadly though, it appears it's still a man's man's man's world within the music industry. Artists including Bjork, Lady Gaga and Laura Mvula have been vocal about sexism in the industry, with Gaga speaking out about sexual assault and the desire to be taken more seriously as an intelligent and talented musician rather than being associated just with body image. A recent Guardian article reported that although women make up 59% of entry-level business roles, only 30% of women hold senior executive roles. 

But, there could be a change on the horizon. Music experts and celebrities alike are calling for women to be recognised in all aspects of the industry and Madonna's acceptance speech at the Billboard Women in Music 2016 event last year may have been deeply moving but was also rousing.

PRS for Music have previously reported that their membership of over 95,000 songwriters and composers is only 13% female and allegedly, there have been cases of female writers pitching songs under a male pseudonym to give themselves a better chance (very 19th century female author, don’t you think?). So, Laid Bare founder Rami Radi has started a campaign via 38 Degrees called #takehername to coincide with International Women’s Day on 8 March 2017. 

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The campaign is a call for action to encourage male artists to change their name across their social media platforms on IWD - to a female version of their name, in support of female musicians and songwriters in the industry. For IWD this year, women are being asked to ‘be bold for change’ but Rami wants to go one extra and encourage men to ‘change to be bold’.

You can be part of this amazing movement too. On Thursday 23 February 2017, Laid Bare will be staging an exciting event called Songbirds at London’s 93 Feet East on Brick Lanein support of this campaign and to challenge attitudes towards female musicians.

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It’s not just about activism on the night though - the event is also, importantly, about showcasing and celebrating technically gifted women in music who are excelling in their field. The all female line up will comprise of five London based musicians, and celebrated DJ, Jenn Crothers will playsome great tunes late into the night.

Laid Bare’s newest signing Sula Mae will launch her excellent new single, “Blind” on the evening. East London singer-songwriter Sula cites Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin as vocal influences. Her EP of the same name is largely influenced by the Bristol-bred Trip Hop sounds of Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky. 

Also featuring are Cornish musician Polly Money who will showcase her melodious, sun-kissed voice and cheeky blend of pop and Bee Bakare whose upbeat, heartfelt tracks have earned her winner of the Future Music Songwriting Competition 2017. Completing the Songbirds all-female line up will be Brixton born and bred Elisa Imperilee whose debut EP is a melting pot of soul, R&B, jazz and hip-hop, and AutumnMusic who builds intricately-layered vocal loops live on stage, weaving her stories and experiences into songs that make her part singer, part producer, part poet.

It’s set to be an amazing evening - but with a purpose. “With almost 90% of the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame being made up of male musicians we need to move on from pigeon-holing female musicians by image and understand that good musicianship is all that counts” says Rami. 

Closing, with Madonna. In her BillBoard acceptance speech she called on women to “start appreciating our own worth, and each others worth” and encouraged them to “…seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to be inspired by. To collaborate with. To support. To be enlightened by.

Songbirds is a very good place to start.

Songbirds takes place on Thursday 23 February 2017 at 93 Feet East, 150 Brick Lane, E1 6QL.

Doors: 19.00. FREE ENTRY

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We're Raving, We're Raving

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Since our baby Evan was born life has been inevitably tumbled upside down. Late nights and bar hopping may have been replaced with even later nights and hopping from his bedroom to ours as we pray sleep will come soon, but I’ve thrown myself into parenthood head first and love every minute of it.

Yet since weathering the storm of the insane newborn days and finally mastering the introduction of solid foods (I NEVER WANT TO SEE A SWEET POTATO AGAIN), I’ve been relieved to discover it’s just about possible to do some of the old stuff we love to do with our little man in tow - just a slightly pared down version of it.

We’ve viewed some Bourgeois at the Tate Modern. We’ve pelted around breathlessly at Buggy Fit. We’ve perfected our downward facing dogs at Mums and Babies Yoga. Evan has even accompanied me to an interview on assignment for music magazine RockShot, for which I’m a contributing writer. But we’re yet to combine our love of raving/dancing/going to NIGHTCLUBS* with our love of Evan assuming, quite reasonably, that the two did not mix. (*I’m pretty certain they’re not called that any more).

Until now that is. A few weeks back we were invited to a Big Fish Little Fish event in my original ‘hood, South London, and we literally jumped at the chance. 

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BFLF is an award-winning event that gives adults the opportunity to take a break from the norm and ‘rave on’ with their family. It’s a creative and exciting music and dance party for the post-rave generation of parents with children aged between 0-8 years old. Not only can you expect big name DJs, fancy dress themes, a licensed bar and club visuals, there’s free glowsticks and transfer tattoos, a licensed bar and baby chill out areas. Oh, there’s also a licensed bar. Did I say that already?

It’s the brainchild of founder Hannah Saunders who realised there was nothing to take her children to that would be relaxing, entertaining and daft but also where the adults could enjoy themselves as much as the kids. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love taking Evan to the Toy Library but sometimes there’s only so much Five Little Ducks you can take in one week. By blending their experience of being seasoned clubbers and parents, the BFLF team have grown the event from a monthly party in Brixton in 2013 to a major player on the family arts scene and an expanding force to be reckoned with. It takes place in large cities all across the UK, at special events such as at Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street and this year will see them take their mini-festival experience to Camp Bestival.

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BFLF is always held in interesting and quirky venues and for our Sunday afternoon rave, we headed off to The Bedford in Balham, an old haunt of mine known for comedy and live music as well as booze. The main gig took place in The Globe Theatre, shaped “in the round” which is a remarkable space and the perfect setting for a party.

On arrival and once we’d made use of the baby change available (Evan makes me work for my free time), I literally could not believe my ears and eyes. The dance floor was illuminated and the room decorated spectacularly with technicolour balloons and glitter. There were bubble machines, glitter cannons and club visuals as a backdrop, including the BFLF logo which is a cheery, lime-green take on the discernible smiley icon. The glitter cannon spurted out a mass of sparkly ticker tape with one big bang and this elicited a huge cheer from the baby rave massive, and me, as I nearly cried with excitement at the sheer joy of BEING OUT SOMEWHERE WITH BEER AND MUSIC.

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Ah, the music. BFLF don’t mess about with the tunes. There’s no iPod on shuffle or muffled Spotify playlists from a tinny device here. The heartbeat of a BFLF event is a live DJ spinning an eclectic mix of dance music - like house, rave, hip hop, ska, techno, disco, UK garage, drum’n’bass, dubstep, grime - and big names such as J Food, Mixmaster Morris, Hatcha and Slipmatt to name many. At The Bedford, it was DJ Eddy Temple-Morris who treated us to deep baselines and whose highlights for me personally included  Origin Unknown’s Valley of the Shadows and Dead Prez’s It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop. I got a little too excited by NRG’s I Need Your Lovin and if Evan was old enough he definitely would have been embarrassed.

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Taking a break from dancing and embarrassing myself so my husband could glide through the bustling crowd and let loose on the dance floor, I went for a mooch around. I discovered a craft area with themed crafts, a giant colouring mural and play-doh table, a homemade cake stall with delights from Captain Cookie and a Villa Pia baby chillout with soft mats beanbags and ball-pool. I also stopped by the bar where two Dads had their daughters propped up on said bar, a baby in one hand and a beer in another, and were reminiscing about Bagleys in Kings Cross before Granary Square and gentrification arrived. As Eddie played another cracker, an overexcited Dad yelled ‘TUNE!' enthusiastically to his friend and I fought the urge to shout back in agreement.

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When I was a 20-something I hated it when the night was over and I’m no different now as a 30-something. Sadly it was nearly time to go home. We used to be 24-hour party people but now we must adapt and, thanks to BFLF, we’re 2-4 hour people. As the last tune played out, a marvellous parachute dance took place on the dance floor as Evan chewed on his glowstick and a bunch of scarily-cool young girls attempted to flog me a glowstick for one pound, the entrepreneurs of the future right there.

We put on our raving shoes and boarded the car, and miraculously my little fish slept all the way home back to E17. Me and my big fish Alex reminisced about our clubbing days and played Ratpack at a volume so as to be frivolous but not wake the baby.

BFLF work tirelessly to make sure each event is unique and this party was no different. It’s been described as ‘responsible irresponsibility’ and I think this is a fitting portrayal. It was quirky, loud-enough-to-be-fun-but-still-at-safe-volume-levels and a massive great heap of fun. I‘d read some reviews of the event for blog research and a 6-year old BFLF first-timer said it was, simply, “the best day of my whole life”.  I’m with the 6-year old on this one.

There were so many things I loved about Big Fish Little Fish; the music, seeing Evan grinning and looking around in wonder and dancing to old rave tunes. On reflection though, what I really loved the most was the opportunity to be out-out with my husband. To be like our old selves again, to be people as well as parents. Being sleep-deprived and passing like ships in the night, it’s so hard to carve out time for ourselves to laugh, dance and feel liberated. BFLF let us do that on a Sunday February afternoon in Balham and we had a blast.

I highly recommend it. Go get your rave on. 

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BORN AT DAWN: FOCUSED, EFFORTLESS, PERSONAL STYLE.

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I’m an adopted East Londoner, having lived in Walthamstow since 2008 (when I announced to my long-suffering husband, then-boyfriend, that I would be moving in with him for two weeks until I found my own place and NOT A WEEK MORE).

Fortunately for me, I never left and eight years later I’m still rinsing the life out of E17 and discovering exciting new things. Spaces including The William Morris Gallery, Central Parade and The Mill E17 have created a hub for creative thinking and working, and with the continued expansion and redevelopment it looks like the innovation just keeps on coming.

I thought I knew the ‘Stow quite well but I didn’t realise just how many creatively-minded folk actually hung out here. By the power of Instagram and my love of all things sartorial, I recently stumbled across womenswear website BORN AT DAWN and was excited to discover that (a) its founder, Lucy Knights (@magpie_fashion), is based in Walthamstow after migrating from the North of England (b) there were so many things about her style, her creative outlook and the impressive way she balances motherhood, work and general life that I could relate / aspire to and (c) the concept and thinking behind the brand is right up my street.

So what is BORN AT DAWN? It’s a multi-brand e-commerce website launching in early 2017 that promises to offer rising fashion and accessible luxury. With the current deluge of womenswear websites available - but with differing and sometimes questionable price, quality and style - BORN AT DAWN heralds the beginning of a new way to shop.

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There’s lots of things that made Lucy’s brand stand out for me and piqued my interest in its launch next year…

  • It will be focused. As a busy working parent herself with limited time but a desire to be on trend, Lucy knows all about the importance of maximising the time available to you. So BORN AT DAWN will be carefully curated to ensure only desirable, must-have items are stocked and align with women’s busy lifestyles.
  • It will be effortless and represent go-to, easy to wear pieces that we all want hanging proudly in our wardrobe. Lucy promises to hunt down pieces that are beautiful but versatile, and also allow us to glide effortlessly from day to night - always a winner. The collection promises items that can be worn ten times or more which in turn helps to decrease the cost per wear and justify the investment. Plus, they’ll match many of the staples most women already have lurking in their closets -  a huge bonus.
  • It will be personal. Lucy is offering a personal shopping element to the collection (available in selected areas) where customers will have the opportunity to book an evening to view the collection and receive expert saying advice, and host a trunk show in the luxury of their own home with friends round for a ‘Born at Dawn Night In’. (I hear prosecco corks popping).

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Lucy has spent the majority of her career specialising in luxury fashion retail, and having worked with Harrods on their womenswear sales and strategy prior to conceiving BORN AT DAWN, it’s safe to say she’s an authority on all things elegant.

So it comes as no surprise that one of the most exciting elements of BORN AT DAWN is the range of brands that feature as part of the collection, many of which are Scandinavian and French inspired and so naturally exude that timeless, effortless look.

Brands include Samsoe & Samsoe, Selected Femme and Mads Norgaard and the very cool Maison Scotch - based in Amsterdam and known for scouring the globe to discover unique pieces - which has me particularly animated. Eager shoppers can expect beautiful shirts, soft sweatshirts, easy embroidered kaftans and summer dresses when the brand launches for SS17. Also, 2NDDAY, the Danish progressive womenswear label whose foundation is denim, leather and tailoring and part of the Day Birger et Mikkelsen group features as part of the BORN AT DAWN collection for SS17 and will offer special leather pieces, jumpsuits and perfect boyfriend jeans. Simply heavenly.

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BORN AT DAWN and what it stands for spoke to me on many levels. I've reached a point where in my *ahem* mid-late 30s, I seem to be busier than ever and juggling a huge mound of stuff. This doesn’t mean my enthusiasm for fashion has dissipated, quite the opposite, but I simply don’t have time to embark on long shopping trips or spend hours browsing loads of websites. Sometimes, I’m lucky if I can have a wee.

I still want to be on trend but sometimes outfits need to be versatile as I mostly have a wriggly, dribbly baby attached to me and dash around at full pelt. I’ve always had a preference for the experimental and as I’ve got older and wiser my sartorial choices are (hopefully) a little more refined. I’ve never been a fan of the over-done look and favour a minimalist, clean aesthetic that labels like The Finery London and & Other Stories offer, or Jenna Lyons and those super cool Scandi girls radiate. Crucially, on a maternity leave budget I need mid-range prices but with undiluted quality and need to feel that by dipping into my savings to buy the odd piece it’s at a price and quality I can justify.

Lucy explained that the brand's woman is “…a strong, down to earth, creative, social individual. She is confident, accomplished and successfully balances the many different roles she has in her life”. It’s like someone has tapped into my brain and discovered what I’m aspiring to be.

BORN AT DAWN and Lucy’s vision could not have come at a better time for me. My little baby boy is now six months old and whilst he keeps me completely on my toes, I think I’m...gulp...ready to fully embrace fashion again. Yes! Bloggers like Dress Like A Mum and Mother Pukka have realised that many new Mums, like myself, struggle with their identify after having children and are striving to change the bad reputation of Mum dressing. The struggle is real - I’ve lost my nerve and am stuck in a uniform of feeding-functional, easy-to-fling on garb but I'm starting to rebel.

So, here’s to the power of creativity and accessible luxury. Wishing you all the best Lucy and I can’t wait to experience BORN AT DAWN when it launches next year.

I’m excited to dress like me again.

BORN AT DAWN LAUNCHES IN FEBRUARY 2017

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Don Letts at Punk London and a very special trip on the London Eye...

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Punk.London has crashed noisily into London, bringing with it a year of events, gigs, films, talks, exhibits and more. All in celebration of 40 years of punk, the genre-busting cultural phenomenon that allowed a whole generation to speak up without submission.

The capital’s cultural organisations will tell the story of punk through art, design, film, fashion, literature, photography and, of course, music - fantastic.

Fittingly, it's not without controversy; Joe Corré, son of late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and Designer and Businesswoman Dame Vivienne Westwood is planning to burn his collection of punk memorabilia, estimated to be worth around £5m, in protest that Punk.London has been backed by The Queen. “The Queen giving 2016, the year of punk, her official blessing is the most frightening thing I’ve ever heard. Talk about alternative and punk culture being appropriated by the mainstream". A true demonstration of anarchy or a bit of a spoilsport? You decide.

One of the many features that intrigues me the most is Don Letts Presents Punk on Film at the BFI on 1 August 2016. Director, DJ and musician Letts will host his curated season of exciting films that highlight the diversity of the punk movement, including the intersections between the Jamaican music scene and punk. Not to be missed.

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Last summer I took a captivating trip on the London Eye to hear him open his mind (and heart) about the iconic Joe Strummer, co-f0under of The Clash, as part of the 32 Londoners series on assignment for RockShot Magazine.

It seemed a good time to revisit my exciting trip...

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I’m ashamed to admit a mild fear of heights. On a supposedly ordinary Tuesday evening, as I gazed up at the gigantic Ferris wheel looming on London’s Southbank, all 135m of it framed by a glorious blue sky, I started to wonder if I had the stomach for it.

I needn’t have worried. Any acrophobic fears evaporated as I hopped on board The Eye just as the capsule doors closed and the sight of the indelible Don Letts came into view. It was clear this was no ordinary Tuesday evening.

I was embarking on a very special rotation for a preview of 32 Londoners, returning following last year’s sell out programme. The prestigious event features 32 talks held in each of the London Eye’s 32 capsules on 32 extraordinary Londoners. This year’s subject is Adopted Londoners, with expert speakers celebrating iconic figures, past and present, who were born outside of the city but came to be associated with it.

With its great history of cultural diversity, London has long been a beacon, attracting the great and the good to its streets. No more fitting a subject than the fascinating Joe Strummer of The Clash, punk rock’s most political vocal outfit, and whose story remains a permanent feature in London’s rich tapestry. Who better to captivate the audience with his story than British musician, DJ and film director Don Letts, born and bred in the city, and a strong influence on the band.

As we orbited, Letts opened his story with references to his Grammy Award winning film The Clash: Westway to the World and Julien Temple’s film Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten. We were introduced to Strummer’s exotic childhood spent in several different countries thanks to his British Diplomat father, a strained relationship with his non-musical parents and feelings of abandonment.

We got a sense of what built Strummer’s character – exposure to multifarious cultures from a young age, the rebellious streak caused by a loss of faith in formal education and subsequent immersion into music and a ruthless desire for reinvention inspired by the sounds of rock and roll and American folk hero Woody Guthrie. Letts asked the captive audience to draw our own conclusions from life-changing events in the musician’s life; like the correlation between the suicide of his National Front supporting older brother and Strummer’s lifelong fight against racism.

London didn’t disappoint with its magnificent views (as standard) and neither did the orator as he gave us a musical history lesson, bringing the lecture to life with vivid imagery. Strummer listening to Big Youth’s Screaming Target (supposedly on acid one Christmas in Wales) and his first proper band the 101ers, so called after the address of the squat they were living in, 101 Walterton Road.

We went back to 1976; the 101ers playing at the Nashville Room, supported by an unknown new band, the Sex Pistols, where Strummer first caught the eye of Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. History in the making right there and then, as they realised Strummer had the makings of a dynamic frontman and was possibly their missing link. We learnt about Strummer’s radical and ruthless move to join The Clash, including cutting off friends, band members and girlfriends and undertaking a legendary 200 plus drummer auditions to find the vehicle that would make him famous.

With an obvious interest in style (his London clothing store Acme Attractions enticed the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols and Chrissie Hynde in the mid-1970s), Letts remarked how Simonon was responsible for the most part with the look of the Clash which, to his mind, was inseparable from their sound in a very English way; ‘they looked like they sounded, they sounded like they looked and with Mick Jones, Joe had found his McCartney, his Richards’.

Letts had an articulate and thespian delivery; it was impossible not to be enthused as he referred to The Clash as ‘four sticks of dynamite. They looked good, oozed attitude, sounded f*cking awesome and importantly their songs were about stuff’. With songs like White Riot and London’s Burning, their music seemed like the soundtrack for the climate of the times; ‘music of the people, by the people, for the people’.

There was a noticeable twinkle in his eye as he talked about songs that dealt with politics, social injustice, cultural apathy. As The Eye sliced through the London skyline, Letts took us through important milestones in the Clash’s rich history; signing for CBS in January 1977 which the punk rock purists thought signified the death of punk, the eponymous debut studio album for the label which included a cover of Junior Murvin’s Police & Thieves) and the influence behind one of their most enduring songs (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais; written by Strummer after Letts took him to the infamous venue.

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He reminisced about their third album London Calling with lyrics he described as having a ‘musical reportage quality about it’ and their fourth triple album, Sandinista!, which they promoted in 1981 with a historic and exhausting 17-night back to back stint at Bond International Casino in New York. They were supported by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who the audience welcomed with boos, but Strummer and the band were quick to run out and defend theirs guests. They were way ahead of their game before the explosion of hip hop and rap a few years later.

By 1982, America was under their spell with the release of the last proper Clash album, Combat Rock but when Letts talked about cracks showing in the band’s exterior – drug habits, a relentless work rate, Strummer going into hiding and the eventual disbanding in 1986, he drew from his own personal experiences and appeared genuinely sombre. We heard about the formation of the Mescaleros in the 1990s and releasing Rock Art and the X-Ray Style and Global a Go-Go, and Strummer finding his mojo again by the end of the 20th century; something, Letts noted, he didn’t think he’d ever really seen.

Inevitably, the magic had to end. Strummer’s last stage performance in 2002 was a benefit for the striking fireman, at the Acton Town Hall in London, the show that would also see him play with Mick Jones for the first time in almost 20 years. Sadly, Strummer passed away a few months later with an undiagnosed heart defect at the age of 50. At his funeral, attended by two dozen firemen in full uniform who he had played for earlier that month, a stetson sat on top of the coffin adorned with the words Question Authority. Ask me Anything.

The event was undeniably informative, but it was the way Letts peppered the talk with anecdotes and personal memories delivered with a smile in that rich, distinctive London accent (like when Strummer ran off with his girlfriend) that made it so endearing. He gave us a unique insight into the real Joe; someone who spent all night after gigs talking to anybody that wanted to speak to him with a ‘never ending source of relentless energy that was absolutely infectious’. An interest in what punk rock could be, as opposed to what it was. Someone who was far from perfect but that was OK to Letts; that meant keeping Strummer’s memory alive in a practical and very real way – something to aspire to.

Most powerfully for me was how Letts presented Strummer’s legacy as a constant inspiration. ‘Because he believed in music as a tool for social change, not just a soundtrack to passive consumerism. Because he was living proof that music didn’t just reflect change, it could affect change too’. The audience enthralled, he asked us, to consider ‘…in this cultural climate that feels like punk rock that didn’t happen where are the Joe Strummer’s of today?’

As our very special rotation drew to a close and we touched back down again in 2015, Letts ended his speech with a simple denouement, gazing out at the city surrounding us in all its glory. ‘Strummer, The Don salutes you’.

As do we, Don Letts, as do we. Thanks for the memories.

This feature first appeared on RockShot here.

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London Event - Launch of Anatomy of a Soldier

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"It's marvellously told and this way of telling it ... giving the inanimate a voice ... is both engrossing and distancing and I know of nothing quite like it". (Alan Bennett)

Last night I braved the Leicester Square hordes (and swiftly ducked down Cecil Court to elude them), and joined Faber & Faber and Goldsboro Books for the launch of Harry Parker's Anatomy of a Soldier, Goldsboro's March Book of the Month.

Anatomy of a Soldier has gained recognition over the past few weeks, with deservedly glowing reviews, tweets and features on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Breakfast News to name a few. I had been lucky to read a preview at the end of 2015 and was deeply moved by this astonishing novel. I was waiting for it to be Parker’s time and with a US publishing deal and the book being translated into other languages, it looks like that time is now.

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Former Rifles Captain Harry Parker was on foot patrol in Afghanistan when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device) and lost his left leg. A subsequent infection later claimed his right leg and despite life-changing injuries, extensive operations and having to learn to walk again, he now moves confidently on prosthetics.

His debut novel is a work of fiction, rather than personal memoir, but draws on his own experiences in the conflict zone. It introduces us to Captain Tom Barnes, mostly known as BA5799, who is blown up by an IED while returning from patrol. We learn of the lead up to his injury, the aftermath, the local people and insurgents who planted the bomb and the friends and family that rally around him.

Yet, what makes Anatomy of a Soldier so extraordinary is the way Parker has chosen to narrate it - rather than offering us straightforward characters, instead forty-five inanimate objects provide the novel’s voice. These objects, including surgical equipment, his mother’s handbag and a pair of trainers worn by an insurgent cleverly show us the complexities and barbarity of war.

It’s unusual, I know, but it has to be read to be believed.

“It is a novel of concentrated ferocity and chilling accomplishments, tense and unflinching but alive to every nuance of feeling" (Hilary Mantel)

Generally speaking, I don’t tend to choose books about conflict, finding them a little too brutal and I can’t deny I had preconceptions when I started Anatomy of a Soldier. These assumptions dissipated by the end of the first chapter - Parker is a terrifically skilled writer, and his portrayal has great empathy and intelligence. Chapters seamlessly switch between the battlefield, the hospitals and treatment rooms, his family home and the pub with great effect.

Undoubtedly, the descriptions of Barnes’ injuries are shocking (‘the green blankets were flat where limbs should have been’) and there are heart-in-mouth moments throughout; exchanges between Barnes and other injured patients, when friends come to visit his family home to share a beer and he falls out of his wheelchair, and England, with its beauty, its tantalising familiarities and normality being so far away - surely none of us can imagine how that feels.

Parker’s depiction of the detonation (recounted by the bomb itself) creates a sad juxtaposition for the reader - the sky a dome of stars as the dry mud about the bomb flexes, cracks down and pushes its metal strips together, creating a circuit that filled its wires. It functions, and all thoughts of glimmering stars are forgotten.

The objects themselves allow you to get close to the action, but at the same time you remain comfortably distant; numbly removed from the horror. At times they sound hostile and dangerous.  The ending genuinely had me in tears. It reminded me that war is senseless - there are no real winners.

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Surrounded by beautifully preserved first editions in Goldsboro’s bookshop, and after being introduced by Faber & Faber Editor Lee Brackstone, Parker spoke a few words of appreciation for those who had helped Anatomy of a Soldier come to life. He seemed visibly moved by the attention.

Afterwards I took the plunge and introduced myself to the author while I could; understandably everyone wanted to snatch a few words with him. I found Parker to be humble and self-deprecating; honestly, if I had even an ounce of his intelligence and modesty and had been able to transform an unthinkable experience into a moving, inspiring and unique novel I'd basically be a massive show off. Anatomy of a Soldier is an extraordinary, imaginative debut that draws on great humanity and heroism, about surviving the unsurvivable.

During his short speech, Parker said ‘I wish the book could talk, not me’. ‘It does’ said a representative from Goldsboro Books and I couldn't agree more.

Read this book, please.

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Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker is out now. (Faber & Faber)

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Laid Bare Live - Winter Rooftop Vibes

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A few weeks back (ARGH, WHERE DID JANUARY GO?) I had the pleasure of spending the night at Century, a members club hidden behind a inconspicuous door on London's Shaftesbury Avenue.

I was there not just to revel in the swish surroundings but specifically for Laid Bare Live, a brilliant live music night offering up the best unsigned musicians, singers and poets this great city has produced and providing a platform for up-and-coming talent to play to the masses. Luckily for the music heads, it's a regular monthly event and I think you should check it out.

Firstly, some history. Laid Bare Live began as an open mic night in 2013 at The Ritzy in BrixtonSouth London organised by the polymathic Rami Radi - a Brixton-based musician, producer and mixer, editor, podcast host and cameraman. Rami was inspired by his time organising music nights at university and participating in open mic nights in London. With drive and passion, in time he developed the event into an acoustic night called Laid Bare Live, sourcing and securing a multifarious group of talented acts along the way.

Laid Bare has been going strong for two years and in January Rami built on its strong foundations with the creation of a record label called Laid Bare Records. The label recently celebrated its first EP release from singer-songwriter Chris Belson, the exquisite Moon Songs, with a sound being compared to Radiohead.

Laid Bare Live now boasts additional residencies at eclectic venues such as Brixton East, Fu Manchu Bar and Hackney Attic. Each show is carefully curated by Rami with quality performances from local artists showcasing their talent.

My first Laid Bare experience was memorable. Century club is beautiful in its own right, boasting four floors including a cocktail lounge, two restaurants, a screening bar and a performance stage but Rami’s decision to host his event up on the covered roof terrace, apparently Soho’s largest, was inspired. 

With exposed brickwork chimneys, a scattering of fairy lights and unbeatable views of London Town in all its glory, when you reach the top you have to stop and take it all in for a minute before even thinking about the bar. It's intimate without being poky and with lanterns emanating a warm wintry glow it creates the perfect setting for great live music. 

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With the quality of musicians on offer, a guest list available at just £3 upon request and THAT venue it’s easy to see why Rami draws a crowd - and a friendly, unpretentious one at that, happily chatting in between acts and grabbing a beer. 

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On the night all the artists and their acoustic sets were brilliant, but it was Daniel Greenwood whose music seemed to stay with me afterwards. He has a lovely Dylan-esque sound, plays the harmonica like a pro, and his cover of Ryan Adams’ Come Pick Me Up had me scrambling around on YouTube to hunt it down.

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The next Laid Bare event is at Century on Thursday 18 February 2016 and will feature Harry Pane (catch him before he plays at Glastonbury this year) William Poyer, Archie Sylvester and Days are Done.  

Doors open at 7pm, don’t be late now…

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Walthamstow Rock'n'Roll Book Club: David Cavanagh bids Good Night to John Peel

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Saturday 31 October 2015, Waterstones, Walthamstow, London

Please don’t hate me, but the truth is I didn’t listen to the John Peel Show.

In fear of retribution I present my defence. His entire Radio 1 career spans my life on earth so far. When I was born in 1978, John had already broadcast 11 years of his Top Gear programme and was 3 years into the John Peel Show. I have no idea what I was doing in my teenage years either, probably piddling about on Capital Radio, and I’m disappointed my all-consuming love for music and the fact I chomped through Smash Hits on a regular basis didn’t naturally fling me in his direction.

I am, though, old enough and curious enough to know exactly who John Peel is. To recognise his warm and distinctive tones in the rare moments they are revived, to remember him presenting the occasional Top of the Pops and to resolutely understand why he was, and remains, so fundamentally important to music.

My husband, a Senior Designer at Faber & Faber, gave me the heads up about David Cavanagh’s book Good Night and Good Riddance: How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped to Shape Modern Life. I immediately added it to my Social Media Diet booklist, where it currently waits in the wings. My interest in John had already been piqued a few months back on holiday where I devoured Caitlin Moran’s smashing How to Build a Girl in one greedy sitting. The protagonist, inquisitive music-head and coming-of-age heroine Johanna Morrigan, reads about the legendary John Peel and his illustrious sessions on Radio 1 at her local library. The description of Johanna plugging in her Dad’s huge headphones in the radio when the rest of the house is asleep, using the Radio Times tuning information to find Radio 1 and finally, at 97.2 FM, finding a Liverpudlian drawl is so delightful it made me want to weep and laugh in equal amounts. 'This is it' Johanna says 'I’m in the door! This is Uncle Peel, of whom they all speak! I am, finally, going to hear the counter-culture of 1990 for the first time! This is where it all hangs out!’.

So when I stumbled across Walthamstow Rock'n'Roll Book Club's event on Twitter that would feature David Cavanagh’s book, and realised the author would be present (and red wine would be served), well, it was a no-brainer. The creation of Mark Hart, fellow Stow resident and self-proclaimed music-head, Saturday’s rollicking book club took place at Waterstones, on the toasty upper level that contrasted beautifully with a misty and crisp Halloween evening outside.

Being in a bookshop at night, after-hours, for me is the equivalent of being a kid in a sweet shop. I listened keenly at the front as Mark introduced David with a fitting preface before the author read the first of four extracts from the book.

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He effortlessly whooshed us back through time. To 1969, where John Peel was playing the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival, David Bowie, Elton John and Marc Bolan. While Radio 1 concentrated on playing chart hits, John was playing album tracks on a Sunday afternoon like a renegade. Onto 1979 and Neil Young has released his album On the Beach. Labelled by Rolling Stone Magazine as “one of the most despairing albums of the decade.” John heard re-birth, not despair and, using what David affectionately described as a ‘Peelian term’, appraised it as ‘a handsome work’.

To 1987 where John’s show has been shamefully reduced from five days a week to three. Rough Trade Records has announced that Johnny Marr has left The Smiths today and, in John’s world, this is a huge crisis (he did bring The Smiths to Radio 1 after all). He said ‘…how this is going to work out frankly I can’t imagine, I’d prefer not to try and imagine it, I must confess but it seems to have been determined and that’s the way things are going to be and we just have to sit back and see what happens’. For him, it wasn't simply the departure of a key band member, it was a bereavement.

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Lastly to 1993, where a poll reveals the country is dissatisfied with a John Major-led Tory government, and it is the heyday of dance music. A young and enterprising Pete Tong has first dibs of all the new tracks, like the latest New Order, before Peel, and wears the sharpest suits. John stubbornly wears t-shirts of indie bands who had split in 1991 and plays Radiohead, Pulp, Cornershop and Therapy.

I found David's session instructive as well as compelling. I learnt new stuff, and stuff I thought I knew and then had validated. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of John Peel (I guess that’s what close listening to circa 600 shows does for you; 260 were selected to feature in the book) and could proudly recite Peelian morsels off the top of his head with a warm and assured delivery, and cracking sense of humour to boot.

This is what I learnt. John was an independent thinker which did not always coincide with the thoughts and opinions of the music press. He would play Billy Bragg in direct support of the miner’s strike. He loved all genres of music and brought punk, post-punk and indie as well as African, Hip Hop and Dancehall to the masses. He had no favourite ‘era’ and wanted to avoid appearing anachronistic. He believed music belonged to women as much as it did to men. He was the first to play Grandmaster Flash’s The Message on UK radio in 1981. He liked rap. For the students, the school kids who wanted to make sense of the world he would treat them with intelligence and give them the chance to hear what was underground. His approach to the microphone was warm, discursive, self-deprecating and his delivery created a unique relationship with the audience. His rueful digressions were as entertaining as some of the records he played, like when he apologised for leaving his glasses on the train. The Fall were his favourite band of all time.

John Peel died 11 years ago, in 2004, at the age of 65. ‘The day the music died’ was how his untimely death was described by the Evening Standard that afternoon. The artists he had played, one by one, came forward which signified just how important he was.

When pressed by Mark why he had written the book, David said the question wasn’t necessarily why, but why it had taken him so long. A friend, in the hazy Olympian Summer of 2012, had sent him an email with a link to a John Peel show in 1980. He found it not just nostalgic, but significant. It was a two hour piece of radio history. He talked about sentences forming in his head without him helping it and rather than writing a short piece for a newspaper, he wanted to write tens of thousands of words. He noted that when viewing the song list for the Olympic's Opening Ceremony, Danny Boyle and Underworld had gone not for obvious Brian May, or George Michael, but instead Pink Floyd and Tubular Bells. It was in effect a John Peel show. It was for the mavericks.

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David thanked the audience for listening and Mark invited them to share their Peel moments. An eclectic bunch and clearly music-heads themselves, there were mixed experiences and fond memories. One guy had been jabbed with a pen by John at a record fair while another remembers fondly voting in The Festive Fifty. One man’s mother listened to John Peel’s Home Truths religiously, one lady wrote John’s obituary and Mark himself had a gem - he was in a band and had the honour of having their record played on the John Peel Show, but sadly John was sick so his stand in, Steve Lamacq, did the honours instead.  Crushing.

Despite the tantalising suggestion of a lock-in, sadly Waterstones had to shut and the night was over; the spell was broken. I considered what I’d heard on the walk home. John Peel was clearly a key post-war British cultural figure and his contribution was immeasurable. He came from a mythical era where DJs wielded the power, had the influence to change young kids' lives and set a band on the right trajectory before their music crossed over to the national mainstream. When it was vital for a song to be played on the radio, rather than becoming pervasive on social media in a matter of seconds.

I may not have been there in the glory days, I may not have really understood the relevance of The Festive Fifty until that night, but I have a greater appreciation of John Peel’s influence and an appetite to learn more. His show went beyond the music played - it reflected how the nation felt at the time, was a chronicle of social history and demonstrated how his tastes and thinking changed over the years to keep him at the cutting edge.

Quite simply, John Peel helped to shape modern life.

Good Night and Good Riddance: How Thirty-Five Years of John Peel Helped to Shape Modern Life

WALTHAMSTOW ROCK N ROLL BOOK CLUB 

JOHN PEEL WIKI

Bradley Theodore exhibits in London

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One of the things I love, and always have loved about this majestic city is how day turns seamlessly into evening with fascinating consequences. London's inky nights often throw something your way you couldn't have predicted in a sleepy haze at 6am that morning.

Last night was a case in point. I thought post-work Thursday would serve up a long overdue dinner in Granary Square with two of my very special friends. Instead, I found myself gazing up at the work of celebrated New York City street artist Bradley Theodore and his bold, vibrant images at Old Brompton Gallery, SW5.

Hobnobbing with a medley of photographers, artists and curious art lovers (and some RIDICULOUSLY good looking people may I add) I cursed myself for (a) not giving my overall appearance a bit more thought as I tugged at my Whistles skirt nervously and (b) my self-inflicted participation in Dry October.

So, the artist. Described as 'Jean-Michel Basquiat meets Banksy', Bradley Theodore is already well known in the US for his unique murals in the heart of New York that match key elements of art and fashion, and popular with fashion bloggers who understand the benefits a good 'wall scout' can bring. He is particularly eminent for his murals of fashion heavyweights Karl Lagerfeld and Anna Wintour rendered as skeletons, and has also turned his hand to cover art for albums from the likes of Wu Tang Clan.

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The purpose of last night's exhibition was to provide London with a re-creation of all the murals Theodore has produced in NYC. I really loved the vibrancy and boldness of his work, the brilliantly thick strokes and the cobalt blue, navy and primary colours that popped and projected from the canvas. The cadaverous appearance of his subjects is both sinister and beautiful. Using the skeleton as the inner life force of his subjects is his signature and he explains, “There is no deeper delving into your psyche than the very structure of your body”.

My highlights were murals of Kate Moss, Grace Coddington and Diana Vreeland although really I couldn't take my eyes off any of them.

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Theodore believes his audience themselves should be the reviewers of his art and so he goes out of his way to make his art available for all to see in the streets of international cities. He demonstrates his commitment to bringing art to the public by inviting people into his art studio to immerse themselves in the creative process. He also conducts live paintings in cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Paris. We had the pleasure of chatting to him last night, and he was charming and down to earth.

As I made my way back to the East End, I reflected on what an interesting, inspiring, if not completely sober, night it had been. Thank you Bradley Theodore for bringing your fashion-influenced work into my life. Thank you London for coming up trumps again.

(Oh and next time Nicola, as you carelessly fling on something for work don't forget you never know what a London night will bring... )

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*Theodore Bradley's solo exhibition is at Old Brompton Gallery from 15-30 October 2015.

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The Art of Dressing Up

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I'm pretty sure I can remember when it all began.

At primary school our class had a huge dressing up box with vibrant pieces spilling out of it, fit to bursting. I remember scrambling to pluck the same item out of the box with my chubby fingers every playtime.

It was a pillar box red flamenco dress with sequined black polka dots and undulating ruffles in the skirt and sleeves. Always suitably over-dressed, even at five years old. It swished and flared as I span around and even at that age I recognised the thrill that adorning yourself with beautiful things could bring.

The art of dressing up has inspired me ever since and I’ve had a shot at replicating my very own dressing up box wherever I live - elegant vintage pieces, bold pieces of jewellery handed down, ordered online or purchased from travels around the globe, a rainbow-coloured spectrum of shoes, fringed, printed scarves and thin and chunky belts. You get the picture.

So discovering Gigi's Dressing Room in Walthamstow, London for the first time felt like finding a hidden dressing up box, blowing off the dust and striking rich. In a modest but fitting area of Wood Street Indoor Market, there are clothes, shoes, hats and jewels literally dripping from the ceiling. Each arranged piece is unique and splendid and simply made for trying on.

The owner Galina Sherri (or Gigi to her friends) is the master of the magic. About ten years ago, like most women no doubt, she realised she had far too many clothes (Hmmm. Can you ever have too many, I wonder?) and worked at vintage fairs and markets to sell some of her wonderful vintage finds. Some clever networking at Spitalfields Market helped Gigi hook clients who didn't like the act of shopping itself but needed assistance with styling outfits for exciting parties and performances. Seamlessly becoming a personal shopper and stylist, Gigi went to their homes to save the day and in turn they came to her.

Then, in February 2012, Gigi learned of Wood Street Indoor Market, formerly an old antiques centre and soon to be renovated into a local centre of arts, craft and vintage treasures. Gigi had the foresight to rent a small room there and as if by magic, the dazzling Gigi's Dressing Room was born. 

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Things got bigger and better and before long, at the beginning of 2014, she moved her emporium in the middle of the market and The Dressing Room became the dazzling centre piece.

Gigi used to source her beautiful pieces from markets and vintage shops but as she got busier, she started buying into the shop. Clients and excited shoppers would bring their grandmother's prom dresses and fabulous evening gowns (from another dazzling, glamorous era. Believe me, I've seen them and they are stunning) and she also bought from acquaintances who work in the theatre and cinema.

Gigi's pride in the business means she takes personal care of her customers. She wants to make it fun to dress up for parties and events - which is exactly what it should be. Fashion is a hoot; outrageous and fabulous, and it's not to be taken seriously even if it does infiltrate and take over your life quite often.

On my first visit to the Dressing Room, I looked around in silent awe at the items that dripped from the rails. Inwardly vowing not to buy anything because I DID NOT NEED ANY MORE CLOTHES, I smiled politely and got ready to leave after a brisk perusing, a waft of a dress here, a peek at the odd pair of shoes there. Within an hour (yes, I stayed an hour and nearly missed an important appointment) I had been utterly charmed by the quality and variety of pieces on offer and was chatting to the fabulous Gigi like an old friend. She's a clever one; having quietly observed my careful studying from the sidelines, she noticed I couldn't quite leave a beautiful yellow, green and peach satin dress alone and began a gentle, persuasive nudge for me to try it on - you know, just to see what it looks like, just try it on, it'll be fun! Like dressing up.

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Unable to resist, I was in the changing room, trying it on and it was in the bag before I knew it. Gigi gifted me an oyster grey and pink pearl ring in a charming vintage box which made the experience even more special.

Fashion addiction can be an expensive habit, but do not despair; since last year outfits and costumes from Gigi's Dressing Room can be hired out as part of her continued effort to discourage consumerism. There's also a lot more to Gigi than dressing up. She runs small sewing and knitting groups and organises fashion events three times a year.

Shopping at Gigi’s Dressing Room is a truly wonderful spectacle. A place to trawl through alluring clothes that coruscate and beckon you from the rails, pop your feet in a pair of retro shoes, admire your fingers in dazzling cocktail rings and much more. It creates the opportunity to try things on, play dress up, fall madly in love with a special piece and have it customised to suit your unique shape. You can float out feeling a million pounds, knowing that you won’t bump into anyone else at that party / gig / performance / festival / wedding in the same outfit you have safely folded in your shiny new bag.

Thank you Gigi, and long live the art of getting all dressed up with somewhere to go.

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Years & Years (and Years)

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It took some rough sailing on a choppy sea of ticket websites before I bagged two tickets to see Years & Years at Heaven in London this  March (five times the face value you say? Get lost!).

As my confessional tweet below from a few weeks ago testifies, I'm horribly late to the Years & Years party - the band have been gaining traction for a while now with music moguls predicting they will hit the big time any day soon.

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I didn't know a lot about Years & Years at the time of said tweet. I hadn't intended to leap onto the cool bandwagon and join the hip kids for the sake of it. I was just naturally curious because (a) I love checking out new music and (b) I've rinsed my current running playlist (there is only so many times you can listen to Beyonce's Drunk in Love no matter how amazing it is and yes, the playlist also contains Dirrty by Christina Aguilera  - and what?).

I was interested because their music was described as being rooted in 'R&B and 90s house elements' and, well, they had me at 'R&B' and then '90s'. Nothing has ever come close to beating my Pure Swing cassette compilations back in the day, when cassettes were not ironic but a widely available music format. In my burgundy pink Fiat Uno in 1995, blaring Jodeci out of the only window that would open all the way down I honestly thought I was the shit. The shit, I was not.

Anyway, I digress, On first listen of Years & Years' Take Shelter my ears perked up and I gorged all of the available online stuff in one huge feast. It was really bloody good, like nothing I'd heard for a long time. Their sound is all infectious beats and synth sounds, soulful harmonies and a kind of easy nonchalance that appears seamless, not try-hard. They pull off energetic 90s dance in Desire, which reminds me of Good Life by Inner City, just as well as they do haunting and beautiful with Memo.

Years & Years are Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen. They were crowned The Sound of 2015 in the respected BBC Music poll and upcoming shows at the Shepherd's Bush Empire and Heaven in London have sold out. No doubt festival appearances will be ahead, which is exciting. I'm gutted I missed them at 2014's Latitude which I attended. What on earth was I doing? Piddling about getting beers and having glitter painted onto my drunk face no doubt.

I have redeemed myself. The Heaven gig's only a few weeks away and I have the standard frenetic excitement I associate with live gigs, but with an added anticipation that comes with hearing the real thing live after umpteen listens on SoundCloud. I'm slightly nervous about how horribly uncool I'll look compared to other giggers, who I assume will be an army of fabulous hipsters resplendent in 90s gear. I'm considering busting out some original Naf Naf;  surely that's come around again?

If after reading this you're curious, check out Years & Years on SoundCloud and sign up for updates and free downloads via their website. For the true 90s freaks, their cover of Blu Cantrell's Breathe is fun and better than the original in my opinion. Take Shelter, Real (with Ben Whishaw dancing in the video) and Memo are my current standout tracks.

Time will tell if the band have longevity in a crowded and sometimes fickle music market but with a Critic's Choice Award nomination at the 2015 BRIT awards, new single King out on 1 March 2015 and a debut album out in June 2015, my money's on Years & Years.
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Julian Joseph - Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel London, 11 July 2014

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'World-class jazz pianist with large-scale compositional skills and a passport to the contemporary-classic world' - The Guardian

There are some concerts that simply take your breath away.

Ellington at the Temple, performed by Julian Joseph as part of the City of London Festival, was unquestionably a breath-taker. A number of components made it an enchanting evening - the mystical venue, the unmitigated talent of the performer and the power of the music of Duke Ellington.

Julian Joseph was born in London and grew up amongst an exceptionally strong crop of British jazz musicians before taking up a scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in 1985. He is a noted solo performer as well as a prodigious composer and arranger of classical and jazz music for big band and strings, full symphony orchestra and opera. To add further to his accomplishments, he is also a respected broadcaster having presented jazz television series and several radio shows. He is also the recipient of a number of music awards, including his most recent accolade - a British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) Gold Badge for his contribution to the British music industry. Julian is also a trustee and vice-president of the National Youth Jazz Collective.

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It is widely recognised that Duke Ellington was one of the greatest pianist and composers to have lived. However, it is perhaps less well known that he was a member of the secret society of the freemasons along with some other well-known African-American musicians including Dizzy Gillespie and Nat King Cole. So when a long dormant and beautifully opulent masonic temple, built in 1912, was recently discovered next to Liverpool Street station in London (now the very impressive Andaz Hotel) the City of London's Festival Director, Paul Gudgin, believed it would be 'a perfect place to play tribute' to Ellington.

So it was on a bustling Friday evening that I found myself cocooned in this elaborate, neo-classical venue as a guest of Jazz FM to witness a remarkable performance from Julian Joseph. A 'perfect place' indeed it was - a masonic temple with reportedly twelve types of marble and gold gilt, the space was remained forgotten and walled off for decades before it was rediscovered during a refurbishment of the hotel in the 1990s. A golden pipe organ, monochrome checkered floor laid in marble and hand-carved mahogany furniture evidenced the dramatic craftsmanship. Candles burned around the room to create a formidable yet terrific air of secrecy.

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Julian Joseph at the Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street for City of London Festival 2014 Credit: City of London Festival

My friend and I had the pleasure of bumping into Julian Joseph in the hallway minutes before the show began. He was cordial and thanked us for coming, a humble response given his status as one of the finest pianists to emerge this side of the Atlantic and a powerhouse in contemporary jazz for over two decades. So when he arrived into the room, with a 'Lovely to see you all' and 'Let's see what I have got for you, I already felt as if we were acquainted.

He took his seat at the grand piano and introduced the first song to be taken from Ellington's considerable repertoire, Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me. His playing was dynamic and immediately compelling and the noise reverberated around the temple aided by the remarkable acoustics. It was almost the only sound that could be heard in the windowless but far from oppressing temple, aside from my pencil softly but frantically moving across the page of my notebook as I tried to capture the visual and audio experience without making any noise at all. To use an iPhone would have guaranteed silent note taking, but a smartphone was the antithesis to the beautiful surroundings and sensation of being present in another time.

Julian Joseph noted that the next song, Heaven from the Second Sacred Concert album was as equally as deceptive at the beginning and I agreed; the song changed pitch somewhere in the middle and I felt like I was listening to an entirely different song. It was played effortlessly with a depth and vitality that left the intimate audience of around sixty people enraptured, in effect our own little lodge worshipping the sound. Some people had their eyes closed while others elicited a satisfied murmur of approval. As for me, I couldn't conceal a contented smile. It felt somewhat esoteric to be part of the audience but there was no sense of exclusivity.

Guest's chairs for the evening were hand carved mahogany thrones conjoined in a circle around the room. One great throne faced the audience, also framed by candles, as if reserved for a Grand Master presiding over us all and listening to the music. My own throne afforded me a vantage point; as Julian Joseph played his fingers moved across the piano dexterously, as if possessed by the spirit of Ellington himself, and his feet tapped along to the rhythm of the music. The turquoise and gold-gilded domed ceiling loomed brilliantly above the piano, adorned with signs of the zodiac. A beautiful lightbulb in the shape of a stair and four great marbled lights in the shape of scales added a cryptic air.

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Julian Joseph at the Masonic Temple, Andaz Hotel Liverpool Street for City of London Festival 2014 Credit: City of London Festival

A Song for my Father was my favourite of the pieces performed that evening. With each pieceJulian Joseph performed he told an anecdote or provided an interesting narrative which embellished the music. Part way through the performance there was a mysterious clatter from somewhere behind the Grand Master's throne, and the official photographer and I looked at each other quizzically and grinned. I like to think the music roused the spirits; maybe it was a pantheon of the all time jazz greats expressing their pleasure of a man honouring their legacy with such skill and respect.

With one more beautiful piece played, Julian Joseph bowled graciously, smiled at his fraternity and left the room while the intimate audience kept up a steady stream of applause. 'That's a long way to go to make a point' he quipped as he returned for a well deserved encore before making his exit.

The biography on Julian Joseph's website provides a perfect synopsis.'The multi-faceted dimensions of his artistry are plain. As a pianist he is unsurpassed, as a composer he has brought new vitality to the music, and as a descendent of the jazz greats, he is not only fulfilling their legacy, but continues to honour their ground-breaking spirit into the twenty-first century.'

Ellington at the Temple enabled me to get lost in music, escape modem life for an hour or so and experience something so special. Julian Joseph is a true champion of the music.

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Credits
A special thank you to Paul Gudgin (City of London Festival Director), David Lasserson (Associate of Brunswick Arts Consulting LLP) and City of London Festival for assistance with this article and for the photographs as credited. 
References
  1. 2 July 2014 - the guardian.com - The Secret history of the jazz greats who were freemasons
  2. 9 December 2009 - Londonist - In pictures: The Masonic Temple of Liverpool Street
  3. Date unknown - Atlas Obscura - Masonic Lodge of the Andaz Hotel
Links
City of London Festival
Julian Joseph
The Julian Joseph Jazz Academy
Jazz FM

CRYSTAL PALACE, YOU LOOKED WONDERFUL OUT THERE

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I don't know the exact number of times I've seen Dirty Dancing. 

It was released in 1987 and so based on a scientific calculation of (DVD watched at random times) + (obligatory Christmas viewing) x (searching YouTube clips for the best scenes) = a lot.

Yet, when the opportunity came to watch it for the 108th time but this time al fresco, lying re supine on a blanket with 'outdoor' facilities and to pay for the honour - care of The Luna Cinema, the UK's Number 1 Open Air Cinema, I didn't give it a moment's deliberation. I was there.

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The classic story of Frances 'Baby' Houseman and Johnny Castle dirty dancing their way to heart-aching love has not been tarnished by time or trend. It is perfectly acceptable to appreciate a noir Lynch classic, reel off an art house film as the finest ever made and cite an Almodóvar as your favourite AND love DD. It remains as beautiful as it was on its initial release and renders me an emotional wreck even to this day.

The Luna Cinema travelled to Crystal Palace, SE19 on 21 June and oh, what a night. A section of the park had been cordoned off to create a nifty outdoor theatre complete with gargantuan projector screen and surround sound, fancy Benefit makeup bar, posh burgers and the obligatory bar. Premium seats were available in the form of a Directors Chair but my friends were and I were happy to rough it on blankets which provided a perfectly good view of the huge screen. A quick nose around at fellow DD film buffs showed that gourmet picnics were packed impressively, watermelons featured heavily in fruit and frozen daiquiri form and the excited chattering was penetrated with the regular pop of prosecco corks. One of my favourite sounds. Ever.

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Summer had finally arrived as we chatted excitedly, took groupies and made hilarious DD quips based on how many times we'd seen it and our precise knowledge of every single scene, song and sentence delivery. 'Better go to the loo now, don't want to miss a bit, ho ho', etc. We waited patiently for the sun to go down and finally it was time, the familiar drum beats of The Ronettes' Be My Baby and the black and white images of those dirty dancers in slow motion adorned the screen.

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Watching a film en masse is strangely comforting and terrific fun. There was a whiff of hen party in the air, the odd scattering of bloke in the crowd for good measure and not a gobby back row kid chucking popcorn in sight. Just like-minded adults who sometimes want to forget the real world and be a teenager again (who holidays at Kellerman's and gets to snog Patrick Swayze).

Throughout the entire performance - from start to finish - we cheered heartily in unison at the best bits, whooped appreciatively whenever Johnny adorned the screen, whistled at the saucy bits and sang along to the incredible 1960s soundtrack in a quasi-outdoor karaoke completion.

My outdoor DD experience made me realise many profound things, including:

  • All the best scenes are 100 times better than you remember when magnified on a big screen, when you are grown up enough to understand the issues at hand and when your lovely mates are your film buddies.
  • When we first burst through the doors of the staff quarters care of Baby, Billy Kostecki and oversized watermelons it is the bestest, sweatiest, dirty party we've never been to and Otis Redding's Love Man is the perfect track.
  • Still on a Billy note, he's overrated. We definitely would have tried to get off with him if his cousin Johnny had rebuked our advances.
  • The lake / log / practice-lift scene is a beautiful, funny and charming piece of cinematography and the subtle piano teaser of (I've Had) The Time of my Life makes us go a bit gooey as we consider THAT scene is ahead. It also begs the question, why wasn't there a lake with a log and boys to dance on said log with at Sandhills Holiday Park, Dorset? Well Mum and Dad?
  • Baby and Johnny's 'fill in' dance at The Sheldrake to the sounds of De Todo Un Poco (anyone else sing their own version of that song even though they don't speak Spanish? De der der der der, DE TODONPOCO etc) is hilarious and Jennifer Grey's facial expressions and the way she disguises her mistakes with hand gesticulations is pure comedic genius.
  • It is impossible not to show off and recite familiar phrases after a few glasses of fizz and when in a group-based situation. Fair weather DD fans comfortably know Nobody puts baby in a corner and spaghetti arms. Die hard DD fans, however, yell out the obscure stuff at the screen with inhibition. Baby? Is that your name? Well you know what Baby? You don’t know shit about my problems and Take that stuff off your face before your mother sees you. Or Baby, I’ll do your hair. It could look pretty if…No. Prettier your way. Or shouting out Bill Medley's Oh yeah, yeah, yeah as Johnny leaps off the stage in the final dance scene, like me. Pure showing off.
  • Patrick Swayze was a perfect, beautiful actor who played Johnny was sensitivity, grace and fierceness and looked ridiculously fit. When he punched Robbie Gould and said 'You're not worth it' with such dazzling menace, deep down we all wanted him to put his face in our stomach while we hung out in the staff lodgings. We would have told our Dad he was our guy, no hesitation. (On a serious note, his death was premature and he'll never, ever be forgotten).
  • Marjorie Houseman may live in the shadow of Dr Houseman and be excluded from the Baby-Daddy relationship for most of the film, but when she delivers those killer words ' Sit down, Jake', it is exquisitely powerful. A feminists rally cry. She's the boss, Doc, and don't you forget it.
  • The outfits are insane. Reference: Baby in denim shorts, peach body top and pristine white pumps or pink chiffon skirt and white vest top knotted at the waist. Penny in any dress. Any dress at all.

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Our al fresco viewing pleasure flew by in a flash and there was a noticeable crescendo of excitement as the final dirty dance of the season approached. For the 100+ pickled, nostalgic and over-emotional crowd it was almost too much to bear. It was near on hysteria when Johnny returned with leather jacket.

Deep down, we all felt like we were leaving Kellerman's after the best summer of our lives; after all, for our generation this was our coming-of-age film and we experienced that gut wrenching end-of-holiday feeling. Our emotions over spilled, we joined hands and hearts and voices, voices, hearts and hands. We shouted, we whooped, if the truth be told we got a bit breathless to that iconic final scene as if it we were seeing it for the very first time. The end of the film left, as always, lots of unanswered questions about the famous Baby and Johnny and the feeling was jubilant but wistful as we made our back to reality. Just when did we grow up so much?

Luna Cinema, great job. I've read other reviews of similar outdoor showings of Dirty Dancing where it got a bit silly, the people got lairy and the atmosphere was not good, but not here. In Crystal Palace Park that night we were all friends together, bonded by our love of this amazing film. We laughing at each other's jokes, shouted out clever quips and celebrated by dancing in the park at the end.  The staff were helpful and amiable and I could have sworn I saw a steward dancing through a prosecco haze - but on reflection he may have been stopping an overzealous dancer getting too close to the projector and got unwittingly pulled into a dirty dance.

Thank you. We had a blast, and we owe it all to you. (Sorry).

Luna Cinema Website

Luna Cinema Twitter

Luna Cinema Facebook

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The Canonbury Pub - London, N1

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Apparently there are over 7,000 pubs in London.

'Wow, that’s a lot of pubs!' I hear you exclaim. Yes, it is, but if you're a Londoner or someone who has spent any time at all in our great city, you will be well aware that Londoners do love a good public house. London pubs come in many guises, including ‘old man’s pub’, ‘gastro-pub’ and ‘packed new hip place in Shoreditch with Bingo on a Wednesday, pale ale and achingly trendy people in sweatshirts’.

Personally, I find it hard to slot The Canonbury into any kind of category other than ‘a good one’. It's part-gastro, a-little-bit-posh and very stylish indeed. Situated a stone’s throw away from the highly desirable Canonbury Square in Islington and tucked secretly away from the wonderful buzz of Upper Street, it offers a well stocked bar and restaurant in relaxed and elegant surroundings that remain in keeping with the village-like, leafy area it nestles in.

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It is also a discreet piece of London literary history. A regular haunt of George Orwell, the Canonbury was one of the pubs the author amalgamated for his classic 1946 essay The Moon Under the Water (reference: London's Top Five Pub Gardens, Robin Turner, the Guardian, 27 July 2012)

I have frequented The Canonbury on New Year’s Day for a glass (or five) of celebratory fizz with friends, for a three-course lunch with family young and old on a bustling Saturday afternoon and for a pint (or five) while watching the rugby. This is partly why I return – on any occasion the tasteful decor, friendly staff and delicious food never disappoint. If the weather is behaving, the roomy garden with distinctive brown wicker seats is a great place to while away an afternoon in the sunshine. This is London of course, so admittedly it is inside where I have spent most of my time sampling cider in the cosy warmth.

A perfect Saturday afternoon in my eyes starts with a leisurely stroll around Canonbury taking in the grand homes and New River Walk. Then slip into The Canonbury for a pint and some cracking food. Stay awhile to experience some real ale or a good bottle of vino, and then, contentedly leave with a happy heart and a full belly… and go in search for more fun on Upper Street.

Your night has only just begun.

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The Canonbury Pub

21 Canonbury Place

London

N1 2NS

020 7704 2887

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Reference: London's Top Five Pub Gardens, Robin Turner, the Guardian, 27 July 2012

Guida de Palma and Jazzinho - Rich Mix, London, 28 February 2014

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A drizzly Friday evening in London can get right on your nerves. Travelling across town's a pain what with drip-dripping umbrellas and steamy tubes and buses. Pubs are packed to the rafters. Your hair's ruined, your shoes squelch. You arrive at your final destination flustered, disheveled and in need of something to make it all a bit better.

Luckily then this rainy Friday I was seeing Guida de Palma perform live with her band Jazzinho - the perfect antidote to the weather.

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The gig was highly anticipated after my recent interview with Guida, and I had been listening to the third studio album - Veludo - on repeat the last few weeks to inject some soul into an otherwise sterile commute. Plus, I love the intimacy of Rich Mix. The crowd's cool, the bar's only a quick step away from anywhere and there's usually room to dance.

Femi Temowo - renowned jazz-guitarist, producer, broadcaster and ex-musical director for Amy Winehouse - warmed up in fine style with his hypnotic bass and instantly likeable character. Anecdotes about his Oyster card and tales of Nigeria provided a colourful backdrop to the music. His face etched with deep concentration, he produced a beautifully distinctive sound and played tracks from his critically acclaimed second album Orin Meta. Blackbird by The Beatles performed in the Yoruba language was an impressive cover brilliantly executed. The audience was mellowed, any former memories of hectic work or reminders of gigantic to-do lists obliterated.

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Guida made her entrance elegantly swathed in a gorgeous tan tie-dye patterned dress with a gold collar detail and draped sleeves. With a shout of 'this is for the music lovers' the show began with the track Ready to Feel Again and the crowd instantly responded with appreciation for the bossa and samba infused sounds.

Abraco da Bossa was the first track of the night sang in Guida's native Portuguese and gracefully soulful, and followed by April's Fool. Her enthusiasm on stage was infectious and the music so uplifting that the crowd joined in willingly when invited to participate. Guida spotted me in the audience and, mid-flow, called out 'Hello Nicola!' which, I can't lie, was pretty special.

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Jazzinho is comprised of musicians who have played with an impressive range of artists including Eric Clapton, Incognito and the Brand New Heavies, and so you would expect them to know what they are doing. What you get is a lot more - a tight band that makes exemplary music and it felt like an education as well as a treat to be there. Guida seemed genuinely excited and proud to introduce them - Richard Bailey on drums, Julian Crampton on bass, Jim Mullen on guitar, Graham Harvey on keyboard and Femi Temowo back on bass.

Jim Mullen, effortlessly cool and like his fellow band members a seasoned professional, rocked a tucked-in Blue Note Tokyo - World's Finest Jazz Club & Restaurant T-shirt, and it was the best T-shirt ever. I need that T-shirt.

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With Whispers in the Darkness, written by Luis Barrigas and Guida, she showcased the incredible range of her voice - moving flawlessly from high to low and with both sensuality and strength. She sings in both Portuguese and English, switching masterfully back and forth between the two languages without any jaggedness.

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A vantage point at front of stage afforded me a sneak preview of the great soul legend and artist, songwriter and composer Leon Ware hanging out at the sidelines with Jazz FM's Chris Philips and clearly enjoying the show as much as we all were. A pinch-yourself moment if ever there was one. 

Guida has an inspiring stage presence as well as an incredible voice and Papao, written by Graham Harvey and Guida was an uplifting and jazzy performance.

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When it was time to introduce Leon Ware, Guida described him as 'the man who kickstarted the album, a musical genius, and a lovely man'. He seemed incredibly humble given the enormity of his success that has spanned over six decades. He said he listened to Guida's music every night, embraced her warmly and together they sang the delicious Anglo-Portuguese blended track and samba-embellished A Seed in You, the song that was an instant hit with Jazz FM and given the airtime it deserved.

The show ended on a high with a cover of I Wanna be Where You Are which Leon Ware co-wrote for Michael Jackson and which I have not stopped playing ever since.

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Seeing Guida de Palma and Jazzinho in London goes down as one of my favourite gigs to date and I left with a sense that anyone who didn't know of them or hasn't had the pleasure of being introduced to their music was greatly missing out. This is quality music, tirelessly recorded and passionately performed for music lovers and London (and the world) needs more of it.

After the show I got to meet Guida in person, and she was as warm, enthusiastic and engaging off-stage as she was on it. 
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Alex Lloyd, Head of Live at Jazz FM proudly said on his Facebook page 'Yes that is Leon Ware and Guida de Palma together on stage for the first time ever and at my show. Made it happen.

Proud he should be.

You can read a Jazz FM review of Veludo here

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When Material Whirl met Guida de Palma

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I recently had the honour of interviewing Guida de Palma for Jazz FM. Guida is the force behind the band Jazzinho and has collaborated with prestigious artists from all over the world, most recently with the legendary Leon Ware. Let me introduce you to the wonderful Guida and Jazzinho...

I understand you were born in Portugal, classically trained and were only 16 when Jaco Pastorius joined you on stage during one of your very first gigs in Paris. That sounds very exciting - what did that feel like?

I was born in Setubal in Portugal and moved to Paris to study but started to gravitate towards the music world. I found myself being offered a few gigs at a Jazz Club called The Sunset, and there is where Jaco Pastorius came for three nights in a row when I was playing, and it was just an amazing experience; he was an incredible man. I sang with him on stage for the three nights and afterwards we chatted at the bar.

I have this image in my mind; I was playing and then I see Jaco Pastorius coming towards me and grabbing the bass from my bass player… everyone was gob smacked! I still have a tape somewhere as we were recording that night, and a friend of mine was there taking photographs. You can hear me on the mic saying 'Ladies and Gentleman, Jacob Pastorius is coming towards me, oh he is going towards my bassist, he is grabbing his bass, he is PLAYING it!'. It was incredible.

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What first brought you to the UK? What were your first impressions and where did you live?

When I was in France I was already singing professionally. There was a band called Heaven 17, who were recording music for a film. I went there to demonstrate to the classically trained singer how to sing a classical piece a little more soulfully. Martin Ware then invited me to sing on the British Electric Foundation [BEF] compilation in London. That was my reason to move to England really. I was based in London and always have been. My first flat was in Queens Park and I stayed there throughout really. A lovely part of London.

In 1991 you featured on BEF's Music of Quality and Distinction Volume 2, alongside Terence Trent D'Arby, Lalah Hathaway and Mavis Staples to name a few. What was this experience like?

It felt incredible because at that time Terence Trent D'Arby was really going very strong and Tina Turner too. To be on the same compilation at the same time as them was incredible. Unfortunately we were not at the studio at the same time but just knowing I was part of that compilation was a great honour, and I will be forever thankful to Martin Ware for having thought of me to be part of it. It was a great album and a wonderful experience.

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I love Terence Trent D'Arby, one of my favourite songs is Holding On To You.

You are described as the force behind your band Jazzinho. How did the concept come together and where was the album made? 

I am the only one of the band not based in the UK! The rest of the band are British; it is like an all-star dream team. You have Ian Thomas on Drums, Laurence Cottle on Bass, John Parricelli on Guitar, Thomas Dyani on Percussion, and Gareth Lockrane on Flutes. Martyn Shaw on flugel horn and also Femi Temowo who came to do a solo and play on one song.  They are all amazing! Graham Harvey produced the album.

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At my gig at Rich Mix on Friday 28 February, on stage we will have Richard Bailey from Incognito on Drums, Julian Crampton on Bass, and on Guitar the incredible Jim Mullen - aren't I lucky! Graham Harvey will be with me on stage too. The part that we did in Portugal, and the only part that is based outside the UK, is the strings. It was the Philharmonic Strings section of the Lisbon International Symphony Orchestra, from the National Opera, and we recorded it here under a master conductor called Pedro Amaral. That was also an amazing experience and it brought tears to my eyes.

The musicians you play with come from a variety of backgrounds and have played extensively with other artists such as Clapton, Winehouse, Incognito and the Brand New Heavies. I can only imagine the stories and anecdotes they have to tell!

Yes! Anecdotes come up as these are people who have a lot of humour and such a long experience of life, mixed with the playing, and there are a lot of amazing stories to tell.  So, I am sure if we had the occasion of getting all together it would make an interesting programme!

It would make a great documentary!

That is a great idea actually! 

What is the best venue that you and Jazzinho have played at, and why?

I love the Jazz Cafe in London and I am really looking forward to playing at Rich Mix too. In Lisbon we also did Rock in Rio so that was quite a good venue! We have played New York, Chicago, and The Montreal International Jazz Festival in Canada. I am looking forward to going to Japan which we have not played yet.

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Your third studio album, VELUDO is currently No 5 in the UK Soul Chart - congratulations! Have you toasted your success?

Yes! With champagne - it is not very original but that is enough for me! I am so surprised because of all of the other names in the chart; at some point I was just under Lalah Hathaway who I love, and I thought, this is the best position to be in! Being in the Top 5 from the Top 30 UK Soul Chart is a great honour and I am really over the moon with that.

Can you tell me more about the background to making the album and what your inspiration was?

What kickstarted the album was the duet with Leon Ware - A Seed in You. Singing that song with that amazing African-American singer  / songwriter / musician extraordinaire since at least six decades, well it is amazing. That definitely motivated me to write more and to want to more.

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After the duet, we thought about the songs we had already done with a friend of mine here in Portugal and we contacted Graham Harvey because we love what he does and love his sound. He also had a few songs he wanted to co-write with me, so we had all of that in common. We wanted to have a song-based album - each song with a beginning, a middle and an end and all arranged, and to make it sound souly, jazzy and with a symphonic sound with strings.

We did the rhythm sections at Clowns Pocket Recording Studio with Derek Nash, an amazing recording sound engineer. We started off with four tunes, then afterwards we did crowd funding and we thought we could have eight tunes instead of four. After that we managed to get financing to finish off another four rhythm sections and then we thought, 'why not do it big', and go the full shebang and use a real string orchestra! All of a sudden we had another thirty people to pay so we were really broke, but we are really happy and really proud of this amazing album! Because there was no sampling involved, it was all a labour of love from everybody - from the producers to the musicians to the mixing (Richard Bull) and to the persons who did the graphics and the cover.

The cover was designed by Todd Marrone, a street artist from Philadelphia. Unfortunately he passed away this Christmas and is survived by his lovely and courageous wife and their two young children. He was a very young man, a brilliant man and gave talks on TED. There is a silent auction taking place at the end of March with his art work to help his family.

The album uses each person's artistry at its best to suit my music, and so I am very proud of this album.

Your Manager and Executive Producer Stephan Chalangeas Lauwereis (Stef) described the album as 'a labour of love'. 

Absolutely. Stef is my partner in crime and in life! Another labour of love was the digital mastering. It was mastered by Pauler Acoustics, the last company in the world doing Direct Metal Mastering. They were doing it the same way as they do it for the philharmonic orchestras so it is very precise and very minuscule. It is all very specific and you have to be very good at it, as you only get one try! It was really was an amazing experience.

You appealed to fans through a crowd funding internet campaign to get the album made. Was this the first time you'd chosen to make an album in this way and do you see this as the future of production?

Yes, I do think that because basically artists are poor but they still have ideas. Even if you have the equipment to record music, at home or in a basic studio, you always need financing. Very few record companies exist and if they do, they do not have the same means as before. Many artists decide to put their music out there, directly to the people and with YouTube and the Internet they do have the technical means to do it. You obviously still need money to do the financing and the promoting and you need help!

Yes. It is about appealing to real music lovers, people who genuinely love music and want to hear good music being made.

Absolutely. It is a specialist thing, but even Spike Lee is doing it now!

White LogoWhen did you start working with Jazz FM and do you listen to the station yourself? 

Yes, when I used to live in London I listened a lot! I started working with them because Chris Philips heard the duet with Leon Ware (A Seed In You) and began pushing the album. He chose it as Record of the Week and tweeted about it - that was amazing for us! He is such an idol of mine;  a wonderful music DJ. These people have a passion for their music, they are pushing it and educating the masses - and I love that. They have no constraints; they play the music they want to play and people love them for it.

Yes, it is a tireless passion. Chris Philips was a legend when I was younger and he still is for me now! 

Yes, they are still on top of their game and still miles ahead.

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Last summer I went to the inaugural Love Supreme Festival and have my 2014 tickets. Do you play at festivals, and is this something you enjoy doing yourself?

Yes, I love playing at festivals. I think the format is amazing, because people come for one day or for three days. With Jazz FM organising  a festival you know it is going to be all incredible. So yes, I will be purchasing my tickets to go there too.

Brilliant… will see you at the bar! You have a rich and extensive discography, featuring your own material and collaborations with other artists. Do you have a favourite song in your own discography that you really like to perform?

It is always my new baby; my new album but obviously I love of all of them. It is a really difficult question for me as all the songs I do are a labour of love. I spend a lot of time doing the music, doing the lyrics, and so it is very difficult for me to pick up truly a winner!

I am looking forward to hearing Jazzinho live at Rich Mix. What does playing live in London mean to you?

It means a lot because it means that what is the heart of music, at least for Europe if not the world, wants me there and wants me as part of their scene. This is the town where everybody from the entire world wants to play and now they want me there too. I will be playing for the kind of audience which is educated, vibrant and exciting. You guys are curious. I am very honoured and very flattered, and really excited.

You shared the band line up earlier and also hinted on your blog we can expect a few surprises on the night. Can you give us a clue?

I am hoping that we will have a big surprise and it will be somebody that will come to sing with me on stage. That would be really big and really exciting, but obviously I cannot reveal too much!

Is there anything else you wanted to say about working with Graham Harvey, Richard Bailey, Julian Crampton and Jim Mullen?

Jim Mullen already played on my previous album, Atlas, produced by Ed Motta, and so we got him one morning to do a couple of songs. He listened to them just once and produced his magic. I was in such awe of him that when we thought we could get him for this new album and with us on stage, we jumped at the chance. We couldn't be more pleased; he is such an amazing musician and a great guy.

Graham Harvey had played on the previous album too. He was a musician and I loved his playing. He stayed on our minds - mine and Stef's. When we were looking for somebody to produce our new album, we thought of him. He has done great music studies and he knows not only how to write but to arrange. He is a genius and a lovely man too so when he accepted and was really excited, we thought that was great. Great musicians were saying yes to this project so that was really encouraging.

On Twitter, you describe yourself as ' a mother, a singer, a teacher and a sinner - you play your music in the sun'.

Yes, that is what I do. I sing a little bit, then I do the cooking, then I sing a bit more, then I take the dog out!

How do you balance all of these important roles,  that can take you across the globe, and how do you relax?

They can be very long days but then on the other hand, health wise I am quite reasonable. I suppose that I am like a cat - I have lived some of my lives, but I guess that I still have some more to live!

You've also been described as a free spirit. What does this mean to you?

I have always been independent, I do not know what it is like to work for a company from 9-5. I have been very lucky in my life as I have been able to do what I have wanted to do. That is something I would advise everyone -  if you really like something go for it! The most important thing is to be happy in your life - doing what you love doing.

You quoted that your musical inspirations have included Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and Ed Motta. Is there anyone else you would like to meet or collaborate with?

There are loads of people who I would love to meet. I would love to meet Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan. There are so many wonderful musicians in the world! I would also love to work with Dianne Reeves, Lalah Hathaway and Gregory Porter and to try and make music with them. Between musicians, that is our language and how we communicate with each other.

What other styles of genres or music do you take inspiration from?

I am inspired by Brazilian music so I listen to a lot of that. I am also inspired by Jazz and by classical. I love to listen to Maria Callas, and I also like Parveen Sultana, an Indian singer. I like really different styles but all of these things enrich and colour my musical world.

Is there a modern artist out there at the moment who has really caught your attention?

Yes, there is an English guy, a very young man, called Jacob Collier who is amazing. He is a multi-instrumentalist. He sings also and does all of his own arrangements. I discovered him as a friend posted something about him doing a cover on YouTube of Stevie Wonder's Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing. If you look him up, he is out of this world. He really deserves to be up there with the greatest.

How are you planning to spend your time in London. How are you planning to relax around your gig?

Basically from the time we arrive to the time we leave, I am going to rehearse, then do the gig. The following day we are doing an album signing at Soul Brother Records in Putney - on the 1 March 2014 at 1.00 pm so please come and join us! After the show, we are planning to go to a jazz club, maybe to 606 Club.

Sounds like a perfect London day and night! Thank you Guida, it has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you. I wish you all the very best and look forward to seeing you on the 28th February at Rich Mix.

It was a pleasure talking to you Nicola, you are lovely. All the best. The pleasure was mine.

You can watch an excerpt of my interview with Guida de Palma here

Guida and Jazziho will be playing at Rich Mix on Friday 28 February 2014. For tickets and more information please visit the Jazz FM website.

On Saturday 1 March 2014 from 1pm, Guida will be signing copies of her album Velduo at Soul Brother Records, 1 1 Keswick Road, East Putney, London, SW15 2HL

You can check out more of Guida's music on her blog: http://guidadepalma.com

Follow Guida on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/jazzinho

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