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Clare Teal

Singer and BBC Radio presenter Clare Teal should be making her debut at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion on April 18th. Sadly that has had to be postponed – the good news is that a new date has been set: put Friday 4th September in your diary. When I spoke to her recently I had to start with the question that Ray and his team at the Spa were curious to know the answer to…

TB: Will you be going for a dip in the North Sea after soundcheck?

CT: (Laughs)…eh.. no.

TB: You are bringing your Big Mini Big Band to the Spa. What is a Big Mini Big Band please?

CT: It was the Ella Fitzgerald thing that created this hybrid. We have a Mini Big Band which was about seven pieces, so it really was, for a big band, quite tiny! I always felt that is was a little bit angular. The difficulty in touring with big bands is that it is so expensive, sometimes you just can’t afford to do it.

So, we tried to find a sweet spot. When we did the Ella centenary stuff, we added two extra horns, a trumpet and a saxophone, and that made the world of difference. I kinda wanted it to be part big band but I also wanted it to be a bit like Jazz at the Philharmonic where you have a small group of people who are very, very good at what they do, so that the soloists could have spotlights and take flight as well.

It works quite well for that; you have the intimacy, but you also have the detailed arrangements too. And you get to hear what a big band sort of sounds like!

TB: Do you all travel separately or on board one big bus?

CT: Oh, I wish we were all driving about in a 1940’s tour bus, but no. We are all from different parts of the world, so it seldom happens that we travel together.

TB: You have begun to tease us with the idea of a new album in 2020. Can you talk about that yet?

CT: Yes, I can! There will be two. The last time we spoke we had released our orchestral album which we made with the Halle Orchestra and a big band – ninety-seven musicians on that session! It has taken a while to get back in the studio because we have just been very busy.

Until that point, I had been making one or two records a year. We had some time in January, so we went into the studio, and yes, two albums are going to be coming out at the same time. One will be the more contemporary end of what we’ve been doing. Then the other is a swing record, something I’ve always wanted to make.

I can sometimes find recording quite stressful. The orchestral one wasn’t because it was done live, and that’s the way I like to make them. I like the process to be like a gig which is very much how we’ve approached this project, and I’m really excited about it.

TB: People who have never been in a recording studio may not realise that you may not be in the same room as the other musicians.

CT: And often you can be doing vocals on a completely different day and I hate that. All the records I love were made in situ and I am so thrilled that we have done that. I want our recordings to be that vocal, at that moment, with that band. That is what we’ve been doing, it is always a risk. The closer you are to the band, there is a risk that your voice could bleed onto something and if you are having a bad day, or something goes wrong, that mistake will be there forever.

We found a studio with a beautiful piano and some fantastic microphones and a lovely team and we got busy and I am so thrilled with what we have managed to achieve. I would say 99.5% of the vocals are as they were, and I am thrilled to bits with that.

TB: Do you have a release date yet?

CT: (pause) No! That is the beauty of being on your own label! It just happens in amongst everything else when we get a chance.

(at this point we are interrupted by an enthusiastic dog barking in the background)

CT: That’s Alan, he’s been on every radio station across the country, he just likes to make his voice heard

TB: I was delighted to hear you feature James Taylor’s new album ‘American Standard’ on your radio show last week.

CT: I love his treatment of the songs. Sometimes artists who are famous in other genres like in rock or pop, sometimes they will come across and say “Oh I’ll just make a jazz record” and they are not very good and you go ‘Oh why has he done that?’. James Taylor is one of my favourite singers so when I heard he was doing that I was like ‘Oh no, please don’t…’

But you know what, I haven’t stopped listening to it, I absolutely love it. John Pizzarelli is one of the producers – of course his father is Bucky Pizzarelli who toured with Benny Goodman, so he is in good hands. But I just love the treatments of the songs, I love the choice of material, I think he sounds fantastic – what a wonderful record to release.

TB: On your radio show you have a piece called “Without that… you wouldn’t have this”. What would we need to have in order to have Clare Teal the singer?

CT: That’s a good question. So my chain… I would say the most obvious one would be Ella Fitzgerald. There are many, you could say Billie Holiday as well, but I would say that Ella is an absolute key influence.

TB: Your touring schedule is crazy, it is busier than most musicians I know, and you find time to slip in a radio show at the weekend – which is live.

CT: Yes, we do seventy gigs and fifty-two radio shows, I’m allowed to have four pre-records and that is normally because I am working in a theatre somewhere. So, when you asked: when’s the record coming out, you can probably understand why I say when we can.

TB: Grapevine & I have been working a lot with young upcoming bands of late. What would be your top tip for staying sane on the road?

CT: Its looking after yourself. I heard this thing somewhere, I can’t remember who said it, but it was a musician: we spend the first half of our lives trying to kill ourselves, and the second half trying to live forever! You come to appreciate that if you eat really good food, if you don’t go out drinking every night, then you won’t get bugs. It is just looking after yourself. I feel that if anyone is paying to come and see you, they deserve to see the best you can be on that day.

TB: But do you ever get time off?

CT: I have Monday’s off! It’s great, you go YAY! Its Monday! You ring all your friends and say do you want to go out – and they all say no, its Monday! But to be honest, this is a pretty enjoyable job. Muddy & I, Muddy is my better half, we have just got back from a long driving trip this weekend. We worked out that she had done twenty-five hours of actual driving. There is a lot of sitting in the car getting to places, we travel a lot with pianist Jason Rebello, so you tend to be laughing a lot and enjoying each other’s company. Holidays and time off are clearly overrated!