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Clare Teal: All that jazz

PUBLISHED: 16:09 23 January 2017

Clare Teal

Clare Teal

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Somerset is known for many things – cider, gorges, The Wurzels…but jazz? Celebrated British songstress Clare Teal likes to think so, as Jake Taylor discovers

Clare Teal has settled in Somerset as she continues to prove Brits can mix it with the best of them when it comes to bebop and ragtime.

As the woman behind the biggest recording contract in history for a British jazz singer, you could be forgiven for thinking that she must have somehow arrived on this green and pleasant island straight from the primordial grooves and bubbling swamps of New Orleans itself.

Clare is, however, as British as a good, strong cup of tea. From her humble beginnings spinning her family’s 78s in a Yorkshire attic, she has travelled the length and breadth of the country during the course of her decades - long career – only to settle, finally, just a stone’s throw from the site of the UK’s biggest music festival; Glastonbury.

“For niche market musicians – if you’re a folk singer, or a blues singer, or a jazz singer – you rock up and you’re guaranteed an audience which is a demographic of the entire community, from very young to very old and everything in between,” Clare says of her affinity with the huge festival. “Every walk of life and persuasion is there, and the opportunity to play to that kind of audience, where everybody is there just to have a good time, that’s wonderful. All they want to do is have fun.”

It was during her appearance as the Jazz and World stage (now known as the West Holts) headliner, however, that she knew she had made the big time.

“I remember it was really hot, which is rare,” reminisces the 43-year-old. “It was the first time anyone had asked me what I wanted for a rider. Being a jazz musician, you were lucky if you got a cheese sandwich at the gig… so I just asked for Hobnobs, plain and chocolate of course.”

While few could accuse Yorkshire-born Clare of demonstrating typical diva behaviour, it turned out that there may well be a reason why the humble Hobnob is a rare request for a famous festival headliner.

Clare Teal performing at BBC Proms Clare Teal performing at BBC Proms

“It was such a hot day,” she laughs, “that when we got off stage and the rider had been put out, there was just a congealed mass of chocolate biscuit on a plate!”

Snack mishaps aside, Clare is certain from her troubadour-esque ramblings across the country with a variety of backing bands in tow that the live music scene in Britain is ‘really healthy’.

“I think the great thing about jazz is that it’s always new, and it’s always old – and everything in between,” she says of the enduring popularity of her favoured genre. “The whole nature of jazz is that it’s looking forward, so there’s always exciting stuff at the cutting edge. There’s also this huge, rich and varied history. So it will always change, and it will always stay true to its roots.”

The rich combination of jazz’s timelessness and spontaneity has also influenced the way Clare tackles the recording of her albums. Her earliest memories of ‘turning records over’ have led to her emulating her musical inspirations when recording albums.

“I’ve just done a project making a record straight to vinyl – it was recorded in the studio with a big band, entirely straight to disk,” she explains. “That means all the songs on side one were played one after another with no pauses in between, other than a count in. Then you do the second side during the second session.”

Clare’s quest for the ‘analogue warmth’ of a vinyl record, however, was not without its down sides. “There were only four songs per side, and we had got onto the final song,” she recalls. “In the last four bars the trumpet got a bit frisky – we couldn’t use that session!”

Despite the added complications of recording in this manner, Clare believes this style of creating an album taps into the inherent unpredictability of performing with a traditional big band, or as she calls it, ‘a combination of all the things I love about music’.

Clare Teal Clare Teal

“There’s the discipline in there, there’s groove and fantastic riffs, and then, in the middle of it all, at any given moment, the soloists just take flight and react to the situation,” she says of the beauty of big band recordings. “First off, they’re playing for an audience, and then they start playing for each other – and that’s when it gets exciting!”

Clare’s own career highlights also allude to this desire to ‘capture a moment in time’. As well as producing two of the BBC Proms concerts she was invited to record a duet last year with one of her musical heroes: Sir Van Morrison.

“Recording with Van was beyond my wildest dreams – I never thought something like that would happen,” she gushes. “It came so out of the blue; I found out the day before what I was going to sing. So I sing the song a couple of times with the band, and then Van comes in, says ‘hi’, signals ‘off we go’ and the recording starts.

“I was relying on every musical instinct I could and thinking ‘I’ll just be as open to this as I can’. It was just wonderful; it really restored my faith in everything I love about the music I play. What I love about being in the studio is that all my heroes recorded in this way, with the band in situ and with a live vocal performer. It’s something that I’ve strived to do on every record.”

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