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I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk to Clare Teal recently. Despite the vagaries of both fixed and mobile communications contriving against us, we discovered that she once played in a punk band!
We had to re-arrange this interview because you caught the dreaded lurgy so my most important question to you has to be how is the voice?
Do you know what? Its come back! This is the third time. I’ve never had a cold like this before, but I’m fine, it’s just irritating. Lots of honey and ginger and beer…
I read somewhere that you only discovered a liking for singing in public when you turned up to a music exam without an instrument – is that true?
It is true, yes. I was at university and I was a clarinetist and this exam was a very important one. I don’t think I forgot, I thing I just didn’t know about it and I had just a matter of minutes to get something together. I scrabbled together this trio with my friends. I felt that had to do something because my piano playing is so bad. I had suffered through piano exams, my fingers would turn to ice and I’d be in a cold sweat – in comparison, singing felt like falling off a log – it was the most natural thing I’d ever done.
What attracted you to jazz and the big band sound?
Do you know? I don’t know. I don’t know whether it is the first thing that registered with me. Dad played these funny old records every now and then on the record player and I just connected immediately. I don’t know if it was that warm analogue sound, they were all crackly seventy eights. For some reason I was hooked from the second I hear big band music. Even then when I got more into jazz, it is funny how things come full circle. To end up on the wireless doing a big band show – I do chuckle, because that is where it started.
Lets talk about the tour and the legacy of Ella Fitzgerald.
That is one of the things that we are doing this year. We are always on tour, I take a little bit of time off in January. I try and have a bit of time off in September and other than that we tour most weeks. We don’t tour consecutive dates but we do tour a lot.
At what stage do you sit down and plan?
I’m normally in a heap in a pile in the corner in January! Because we do loads of different things – the people that I love in the music business, the people that I am inspired by – I work in the same way that they do although they were out on the road every night. They all did different things, they had lots of different bands, lots of different ensembles, they had to learn new material all the time. I have always enjoyed that aspect of what I do. For example this year I will go out with Jason Rebello, who is a pianist, we might just do a duo show. The next night it might be a trio. We have two mini big bands; we’ve got a mini big band and a big mini big band! And then we have the Hollywood Orchestra as well and I work with other big bands like The Syd Lawrence Orchestra at Potters. And others like the Halle or the Liverpool Phil or the BBC concert Orchestra – lots of different songs, lots of different shows and that is when I am at my happiest and you tend to find Ella is always somewhere, she is never far from anything I do because she is my biggest influence I suppose.
What is it like walking into a room to work with a new orchestra?
I find it really exciting. I love meeting new musicians, we went over to Dublin last year and played with the RTE Orchestra – I had worked with them before, I had seen them for a long time, and there is always that sense of excitement. You want to have a great rapour with the conductor, the conductor is everything in an orchestra! It is a wonderful thing to share music with other musicians and with an audience. It is so important to include the audience, to welcome them, to listen, to be open with them.
Your current recordings are on your own label Mud. What made you start your own label?
I wouldn’t have, had I not had the luck to go through – I was on Candid Records, I learned an awful lot from Alan Bates. Then I moved to Sony, then I went to Universal. I was a bit of a late starter, I didn’t begin to make records until my middle to late twenties and I guess I came to the conclusion that I don’t really like to be managed, I find it quite difficult. I have the attention span of a goldfish and I like to work. What I have found in the past is that when I put these things in somebody else’s control I am seldom happy. Either because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do or working enough or there was pressure to conform in a way that I didn’t want to.
Had I not had that experience, and had Mud and I – Mud is my other half, we set the label up together. Had we not gone through that together and had the opportunity to work with some amazing people I don’t think we have been so inclined to set up on our own. But it has worked so well for us. The record that we put out last is with the Halle Orchestra, there are ninety three musicians on that album, we recorded it in two days! I can tell you that there is no way that Sony or Universal would have paid for that record. Yes, we called in every single favour that was in the favour drawer that’s for sure. I can record what I want, I can release it when I want, there is no pressure and I can be as busy or not as I want to be.
Have you ever fancied playing in a rock band?
I do all sorts of funny things! One of the first gigs I did when I was at university, I stood in a a keyboard player in a punk band. It was hilarious, I knew nothing about it, I wore entirely the wrong clothes – I don’t think my Marks & Spenser wool cardigan went down in he punk world! I love all kinds of music, if music moves me its worked.
Tell us about the Basey Bonus – will this sort of ad lib become a feature?
We frequently do this in the small bands all the time. I’ll often leave five or six slots where I just don’t know what we are going to do until that day. That’s the beauty of working with jazz musicians, you can say do you know this song… lets have a go and you know it is all going to be alright. But when there is more than a rhythm section it is increasingly more difficult to do that so I don’t – it can sound like a cacophony. But what it reminded me of was to stand back and let the musicians play as well – to have as many solos in there as possible. So that people can feel the exhilaration that I do, of hearing wonderful musicians improvise at will.
You can catch Clare live at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds on Saturday 20th May but if you miss that there will plenty of other opportunities throughout the year to catch her in our region. Click here for a list of live dates.