We interviewed Belgian-born singer and adoptive Londoner GABRIELLE DUCOMBLE ahead of her appearance at Pheasantry Kings Road on Tuesday May 29th:
LondonJazz: A LondonJazz reader told us you were the absolute star of the Porthcawl Festival last month. You’re on at the Pheasantry on 29th May. Tell us about what’s on the programme.
Gabrielle Ducomble: We will be playing a selection of songs from the album J’ai deux amours plus some recent arrangements of French favourite tunes, very much looking forward to that date as this is the only London Spring Tour date with the full band including accordion (Dan Teper), violin (Nathan Mansfield*) and guitar (Nic Meier).
LJ:You have lived in Belgium, Paris, London, so where is home?
GD : Today London is home, I enjoy going back to Belgium to visit my family but after 4 or 5 days, I usually have itchy feet and am happy to get back to London. Incidentally, the Pheasantry is in a part of London with strong resonances for me…my first job in London when I arrived in 2006 was in a shop on King’s Road. Chelsea always reminds me the beginning of a wonderful and unexpected adventure.
LJ : Going further back, when did you first get encouraged to sing?
GD: It was when I was quite little, when my mum was playing lullabies on the piano and hurt my ears with her out of tune singing, someone else in the family had to sing…don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely pianist.
LJ : And you were in French Pop Idol, right?
GD : I was, but, looking back now, it didn’t feel it to have been very much about music. On a normal day on the programme, we would spend one hour with the make up artist, one hour with the hairdresser, one hour with the clothes designer, then one hour with a journalist – who would write what the production would tell them anyway – so there would only be 20 minutes left to spend on the songs with the musicians. Also, having bodyguards around may sound exciting, it isn’t so much when you are stuck in a hotel for 3 months and are not allowed to go alone in the streets of Paris without one of them.
LJ : But there must have been some good things from it too?
GD : Yes. The tv, video clip recording and the M6 Music tour were very exciting experiences and I am lucky to have done it. And one of the songs stays with me: La Javanaise – a sweet tune by Gainsbourg – was on the Pop Idol album, and it is alos on the “J’ai deux amours” album. So it feels like “un clin d’oeil” back into my past and into the fun and excitement of the whole Pop Idol experience – and to the fact that it was what later directed me towards jazz music.
LJ: And the experience of studying jazz has helped you to broaden out, to have freedom to find your own style?
GD : After my year at the Guildhall, yes I started to do most of my own arrangements . For the french songs, some of the classics by Edith Piaf, I really wanted to rediscover them and place them in a new context, going to a totally different style – like ECM – but at some point in the tune going back to the traditional version. The lyrics of Padam Padam, for example, or the ones from Les Vieux Amants by Brel are so special, they are proper stories and melodies which have always been around, so to play them in such a different way is very enjoyable.
LJ:Which are the songs on the album which you have lived with longest?
GD: I suppose the Jacques Brel song- La chanson des vieux amants, I’ve always loved that song! I first got to know it sung by Maurane, a wonderful Belgian singer.
LJ : And the musicians you work with?
GD : For some tunes I work with Nicolas Meier, Alex Hutton or John Bailey who are amazing musicians, very inspiring working with them and also very good friends.
LJ: And when did you add an accordion into the band?
GD : Quite recently actually, the first time I performed with an accordionist, it was Dan Teper, I then realised he was the missing musician in the band, so really happy he’s playing on the 29th may at the Pheasantry and hopefully he will join us on the next album.
LJ : You are drawn to Argentina / tango – what has caused that?
GD : I’ve always loved Piazzolla music and last year I started tango dance classes, and since then I’m listening to more of that beautiful and passionate music. I’m also a big fan of Richard Galliano, who is amazing on tango music but also on french songs – his album with Jan Lundgren and Paolo Fresu “Mare Nostrum” is for sure a favorite of mine.
LJ : Which directions are you taking now?
GD : More french, more tango and less swing …
LJ: : Thanks for giving us the interview, and here’s looking forward to the Pheasantry on the 29th of May
[*]The video above and the recording feature Christian Garrick on violin