RIDICULE IS NOTHING TO BE SCARED OF
By Norman Warwick and Steve Bewick
He was simply a dandy, showing us he was handsome, but with his painted face and a ribbon in his perma-waved hair he was inviting merciless teasing. Nevertheless, he kept reminding us that ´ridicule is nothing to be scared of.´
Musicians and performers, of course, often risk ridicule when seeking to fuse diverse strands of music, but jazz singer Beverley Beirne stands triumphant after wrapping her silky, blues vocals and wonderful jazz-inflected piano and mischievous finger-popping acoustic percussion around Adam Ant´s chart topping pop hit, Prince Charming. The track is taken off her album Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun, (JJWTHF) and in her hands Jazz finds all its wishes coming true.
I was introduced to her music only recently by a good friend and have since learned that Beverley describes herself as a singer-writer and arranger.
I thought the days of finding such collectable new music had long gone, but a week or two ago our jazz correspondent Steve Bewick mentioned, in passing in an e mail on another matter, that he had just interviewed a lady called Beverley Beirne. Out of idle curiosity I checked out her on-line and social media presence and was impressed by the visuals. She is a smiley, pretty girl looking us straight in the eye from an exceptionally elegant and informative web site. I didn´t have time to listen to anything just then, and so simply I mentally filed her name and noted two intriguingly titled albums, and put them to the back of my mind.
Steve then did what other good friends have done for me in the past. He made sure I listened ! A couple of days later he followed up his initial seemingly throwaway reference by sending me a recording of the interview he had conducted with Beverly on his Hot Biscuits radio programme. In an accompanying note he told me that he first stumbled over her name when he was trawling facebook and on-line pages whilst researching artists for his jazz programme.
He had noticed an advert for a tour to support an album called Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun by an artist called Beverley Beirne. That album is a collection of eighties pop songs recorded as if they belonged in the jazz song-book tradition and all were extremely well arranged and performed and all supported by her quartet; Ben Brown, drums, and Flo Moore bass, Rob Hughes on saxophone and Sam Watts on piano. Beverley herself is a Yorkshire based musician who has played most of the clubs over there and JJWTHF is the second of her cds, following Seasons of Love a couple of years ago.´
We´ll look at Beverley´s music in more depth later in the article, but she began speaking to Steve on his programme, that had already included music as diverse as Soft Machine and Thelonius Monk. by describing how she, and surely thousands of other artists like her, are adjusting to the then newly-imposed lockdown.
´Hi Steve. These are strange times we find ourselves in and, probably like everyone else, for the first few weeks I´ve just been trying to get used to the new way we´re all living now. I´ve stopped constantly watching the news. That works a lot better for me. I´m keeping informed and staying in touch but I´m just not watching as much news. I´m settling into a routine.
I´m using the extra time to really up my game on the piano and I´m trying to study that a little bit more, and honing in on the vocal training as well, as I have loads of time. I´ve been doing some background work as well, on work for a new album I´ll be in the studio with later this year, called Dream Dancer and I´m really looking forward to that and getting it out there. I´m enjoying plenty of reading. I´m really lucky that I live in a rural town as well, which means I´m also getting my once-a-day walk, up on the moors, with my husband Mark.
The influences on my music come from everywhere almost every day really. I do love a proper singer with a really great, finely honed instrument of a great voice in which you can hear the years of work that have brought it to that level: somebody who knows what to do with their voice. Sarah Vaughan would be one example of that. Others I admire include American singer, Nneena Freelon, (above) with her sublime interpretations that always inspire me, and there´s Betty Carter with her wonderful phrasing. I just love her phrasing. Really, I have a long, long list that I am continually adding to, because there are so many great artistes out there. Almost every day I find another name to add to my list. That´s what I get excited about.´
Steve Bewick is obviously excited by what is a somehow unique sound to Beverley´s music but perhaps, like me, he is struggling to find a way to describe that sound. He is a consummate radio presenter, though, and did what all good presenters would do.
¨So, Beverley. How would you describe your unique sound?´
´It´s funny you should ask me that about my sound. I was talking to somebody in the industry the other day and he said the Dream Dancer album carries my trademark sound. I didn´t know I had a trademark sound, so that was funny and quite interesting. It´s certainly not something I set out for at all. I just like to work with the best musicians I can to get an authentic sound. I don´t like to play around too much, and I guess I´m fairly acoustic on the whole. Even when I´m recording I do like that ´live´ feel so I always sing with the band. That helps create the energy and then working with some of the best musicians in the world creates its own sound. Its always a bit of a journey to where you end up, which isn´t necessarily where you might have imagined. I guess you would say it’s a jazz sound; great jazz arrangements of eighties pop on Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun and jazz standards with a few surprises on Dream Dancer. Great jazz, really.
I suppose ultimately I want to follow a musical journey whilst remaining as authentic as possible. I tend to be very instinctive about what I want to do and how I want to do it and then basically just figure out later what will work. ´
´I always follow that first excited nudge of inspiration because you just never know where it might lead. Even if that first idea isn´t exactly what you thought it might be, it can still lead to something else and then something else again. I do think its important to follow that inspiration and that initial creativity. To me, that is the journey. That is what its all about and hopefully you end up with something you have created that other people will like as well.´
Steve Bewick, my erudite radio broadcasting pal, suddenly switched into proper Sidetracks & Detours mode by asking Beverley what are the signposts she sees along the way as she follows her inspiration, that tell her she is heading in the right direction.
´Well, I´d say the signposts are ones of absolute joy. That total immersion of self-expression. If it feels good then the signpost is showing me I´m on the right track to something. If I´m totally into it that’s a good sign, but if it feels like a struggle then that´s a pretty clear signpost that I´m not heading in the right direction. It´s important not to flog an idea to death. If something really doesn´t pan out, leave it and move on, because there´ll be something else coming your way.
My music room is at the bottom of my house, and it has my piano and all the programs I´m working on are down there. There´s lots of space to sing, too, so its definitely my haven down there. It feels normal and safe and, when I stand there and start my singing training, all is right with the world! It feels comfortable and right.
Choosing songs, for me, is so I eclectic. I can be attracted to something I hear on the radio, or read about, or come across on a random Spotify play-list or even from sheet music. I have lots of old sheet music and sometimes I´ll come across something I had forgotten. Inspiration is everywhere and song selection is very instinctive for me, like my playing really, Again I love that nudge of excitement when I start thinking about a song and how it might sound with a different rhythm, or a different style, different vibe, different groove. Its just that excitement of it all.
Until now, I guess I´ve been known as an interpreter of song but I´d like to be known, too, as a song-writer, and I´m working on my writing at the moment with all this time on our hands. I´ve been writing novels, prose and poetry for years so writing isn´t new to me. I have a Drama In English degree and started a Masters in creative writing some years ago. So writing per se isn´t a new thing for me, but song writing specifically is, so I just want to explore it and see what happens.
The idea of Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun was definitely influenced by what I listened to in my youth, but also by my parents´ listening, too. Then when I listened to these songs years later I found myself wondering if that would with work with a fast swing, or what if I just added bass or maybe only piano. So I just played around with a few and had so, so, so much fun and when that works, of course, it feels brilliant. It´s not quite so good when it doesn´t work but really its all about the excitement of doing it. But, these are the songs of my mis-spent youth of the eighties I guess.´
Steve then concluded the interview by asking Beverley what new challenges lie on the horizon for her.
´With all this time on my hands now I can get down to doing all the things I´ve been meaning to do. Lots of song-writing, time at the piano as well. And at some point this year I shall also be releasing my new album Dream Dancer, produced by Jason Miles from New York, who also produced JJWTHF. This one draws me to a more familiar jazz environment I guess, with some lesser known tunes and definitely with some real surprises. So I´m looking forward to getting that out there and meanwhile I´ll continue to have fun in my music room. In fact, I have a new long, cool, loop pedal, still in its bubble wrap. I´ll definitely get that out and see what sounds it can make. So, lot´s of experimenting and lot´s of fun.´
It is wonderful to ´discover´ an artist with an already solid body of work behind her and a new album due shortly who is using the enforced coronavirus lockdown not only to make future plans and to practice and create and master her craft but also to dream of where she and her music can travel. In this case, I owe a debt to Steve Bewick for making me aware of Beverley Beirne as much as I owe to Pete Benbow for introducing me to the American singer-writer genre I so love.
Beverley has created a solid and impressive body of work since her 2012 debut album, Seasons of Love, which received a very positive welcome in the likes of Jazz Journal and Jazzwise and even enjoyed air time on BBC Radio. Live reviews, too, were excellent when she toured the UK to promote the album. It is an album I am looking forward to hearing, especially having only heard her second Jazz Just Wants To Have Fun album since Steve´s recommendation. He is an advocate I trust when it comes to music, and such people for me are a tight and exclusive group, so I know I have much to look forward to as I catch up on Beverley´s early career.
It seems that she is a Yorkshire rose with Irish roots that wind around her dad´s jazz albums and her mum´s collection of Abba music. Her first professional singing work was in the classical field and she feels the benefits of that have been enormous in giving her a real grounding in the physical elements of singing and some understanding of how the human voice actually works. Beverley looks back now at her early experimentations in a rock band and even musical theatre as all being underpinned by her innate love of jazz. Even in those developmental years she had an aversion to simply delivering ´straight´ copies of a song, preferring to always somehow make her version unique, by perhaps singing the harmony line, or singing off the beat and she seemed to feel more at home in the jazz genre in doing that. She lives by a maxim given to her by a former teacher who said, ´you don´t choose the music: it chooses you!´
It is evident in everything we hear and read from Beverley that the she is serious and studious in her approach to music and that she has learned from the best. Her jazz study was delivered by Graham Hearn, a founder of Leeds College Of Music Jazz Course. What she calls her ´personal development courses´ were taken with influential jazz names like Tina May, Lee Gibson, Steve Waterman, Alan Barnes and Trevor Tomkins and yet Beverley insists that she continues to learn every time she sings and that she learns from everyone she performs with.
When speaking with Steve Bewick on his Hot Biscuits programme, Beverley mentioned a couple of the influences on her music as being Nneena Freelon and Betty Carter, and other contemporary influences include Tierney Sutton, Claire Martin and more recently ´the fabulous Aubrey Logan´. She also cites more widely familiar names on her excellent blog. These include Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé but we read again on her blog something she also mentioned to Steve in the interview: this list of musical influences grows almost every day, in relation to what she is listening to at the time.
Her first album, Seasons of Love, gave plenty of evidence of how eclectic Beverley is, and included Walk On By performed as a haunting ballad, and You Made Me Love You was turned into a bluesy number.
She is a fan, too, of Hoagy Carmichael, (a master song-writer, she says, rightly) and has been known to perform entire sets of his songs in concert, including classics like Blue Orchids, Skylark and Stardust.
Great artists draw great musicians to them like a magnet, so it is perhaps something more than that she has been ´incredibly lucky since the success of Seasons Of Love to enjoy so many wonderful gigs with so many amazing musicians.´
´Jazz musicians,´ says Beverley, ´are really just the best and there’s just nothing like being with a band when you all gell together and the whole thing just pulses. Meeting and playing with the band on JJWTHF was a great experience and I knew there was something really special about this team the first gig we did. They’re all very special, exceptionally talented musicians and lovely people. Being in the studio with them was amazing too´.
This, of course is the album, produced by Jason Miles, that blew away both me and Steve from the opening track, which is a massively surprising and incredible version of Slade´s Cum On Feel The Noize. Even Noddy Holder himself has fully endorsed the version.
Bette Davis Eyes and When Smokey Sings are also brilliantly covered here, Ghost Town, too, and Deeply Dippy and Cruel Summer also prove how well Beverley identifies music she can do something with, and what she does with them is always thrilling. When it was out as a single by M we all were talking about Pop Music. Have a listen to Beverley´s version on JJWTHFand the conversation will start all over again.
Beverley mentioned to Steve Bewick, of course, that a third album, Dream Dancer is ´already in the can.´ It includes a version of (left) Bowie´s Let´s Dance. We look forward, therefore, to bringing you a review of what sounds already to be a very promising album, as soon as it is officially released.
Beverley obviously loves to surround herself with great players but now she is in demand by many of the great names she herself admires. She was invited by London singer Esther Bennett to participate in a touring project called ‘The Duncan Lamont Songbook’, singing the saxophone legend´s own songs. This then led to Duncan guesting on her Dream Dancer album.
Beverley has also recorded yet another very different album. The piece was composed by Jamil Sheriff, the head of Leeds Music College Jazz Course, and was actually commissioned by Beverley and her husband Mark, in their role as facilitators of the Ilkley Jazz Festival. Sheriff´s composition has become known as The Ilkley Suite and was recorded to commemorate the festival´s fifth anniversary, with some leading UK Jazz musicians playing on it and employing Beverley´s voice as an instrument.
Whilst Beverley is making the best she can of the lockdown (and despite some current easing, live concerts might still be a long way away) she obviously loves making live music in front of an audience. She sees herself and the band as a team in delivering the best and most enjoyable concerts to their audiences.
´It’s never just me up front on a gig´, she says. ´We’re all in this together; the band, the audience and me. The audience are really important to me and I always like to get to know them and hope by the end of the evening they feel they know me a little bit too. I’ve always loved performing in intimate venues where the audience are quite close to me. I love to engage with the audience but I do also love big stages. There’s a whole different vibe and energy on large stages that really gets the adrenalin going.´
It might be some while before Beverley can get out there again on stage, but surely as the world recovers from all this and seeks out newer names and newer music (or at least new wine poured from old bottles) the sound of Beverley Beirne will be a much sought after commodity.
When her next album is released, later this year, it will carry liner notes by Dan Oulette, a writer for Downbeat and Billboard that it is a record on which ‘The remarkable Beverley Beirne, delivers an engaging 12 song collection of striking melodies given new voice with her third album ‘Dream Dancer’. The U.K. rising star’s luscious alto vocals play with ease into higher vocal registers on this dynamic set that comes alive with Ella like scat, lighting fast swing, soulful samba, a surprise Brazilian tune and exquisite ballads in this exciting, eclectic album that creates a lasting mark with astonishing musicianship and a voice that you can’t stop listening to!’
I am already massively looking forward to hearing this album and following the sidetracks & detours she will take over the next few years as she follows her art to the very top of whatever mountains she decides to climb.
Meanwhile, thanks to Steve Bewick´s recommendation and to the quality of Beverley´s music, I now have quite a few extraordinary new Sidetracks & Detours to explore that might even lead me back to old favourites like Slade and Adam Ant or to names that are new to me such as Nneena Freelon and I´ll probably take a refresher course at Mel Tormé as well. He was my dad´s favourite singer.
That´s the only trouble with great musicians ! They always point you in the direction of someone else ! This exploration, though, will be taken to the i-pod accompaniment of my new music of choice by Beverley Beirne.