Becki Biggins writes about her upcoming charity gig at the Pheasantry on the 17th of October…
I’m, genuinely excited about a gig I’m doing at The Pheasantry on Wednesday October 17th.
This gig is a charity event, to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital, which specializes in cancer diagnosis, treatment, research and education. Whilst planning this article, it’s been tricky to know what to say about a cancer hospital – surely everything has been said, and we all know how valuable and necessary cancer charities are. But how do we all know? Personally, I can’t think of a single person whose life hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way. Perhaps this is an unusual group of people? Perhaps not.
But this gig isn’t all doom and gloom. It’s being staged to raise a ton of money from ticket sales, and the set will consist of both new tunes and sing some well-known and much-loved songs, with the help of a trio of exceptional musicians. Malcolm Edmonstone, on piano, is a Professor of Jazz at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and is generally a great chum. Jules Jackson is on bass – one of the nicest and most genuine people in music, as well as being a ferocious talent, and Harold Fisher is on drums. What can be said about Harold? Simply that he’s a legend, really. We play all over the place, but this will be the first time we’ve all performed together at The Pheasantry.
The Pheasantry, on the King’s Road in Chelsea, is beautiful and elegant, all red velvet curtains and brass banisters, straight out of a Hollywood film. Despite its petite size (it can hold an intimate 85 people) it has just been shortlisted by the London Lifestyle Awards for ‘London Live Music Venue of the Year’. It must’ve been taking tips from its sister club, Pizza Express, although the Pheasantry is different in that it’s not an out-and-out jazz venue – handy, as the new music in the set isn’t all out-and-out jazz.
The new songs in the set have been written for my first ‘proper’ studio album. There were actually five before this – two independent standards albums and three Smooth Jazz ones – but this will be the first that’s been written just to see what comes out. It’s the first ‘briefless’ work I’ve attempted, and that is both exciting and terrifying. And the jazz elements are really quite subtle – the odd 11th chord here, a few 9ths in the melodies – my writing partners, including Joe Stilgoe and Lili Reinisch to date, both recognize and help to move away from the underlying jazz influences. This, in turn, has exposed the songs to elements from other genres including gospel, country and (don’t shoot!) pop.
Although the new material embraces many musical styles, it wasn’t always that way. Just after finishing college, a friend (who was on a jazz course at the time) asked if we could jam on a ‘great song’. Can you imagine the post-jazz-course horror as he played the bass riff to Wannabe by the Spice Girls?! When the Smooth Jazz project with Paul Hardcastle was in its infancy, there were times when the words ‘traitor’ and ‘sell-out’ sprang to mind. Needless to say, those pigeonholed as ‘jazz friends’ didn’t hear the fruits of our labour for quite a while – not until we’d made No. 1 in the US Jazz Charts and stayed in the top 20 for 64 weeks. The first album also peaked at no. 176 in the Billboard Top 200 – not bad for a Smooth Jazz album…
Now writing is approached from a friendlier place. Lyrics come from conversations with friends and family, from books, and sometimes out of the air. The inspiration for the music itself emerges from a myriad of places – the pink ukulele bought by my boyfriend features heavily in one tune, the backing vocals are sometimes akin to The Ronettes and sometimes the radio singers from the film Annie. After never really taking much notice of Muse, their song, Madness has become a new favourite. It’s reminiscent of Queen in the style of its backing vocals, a guitar solo that could conceivably have been played by Brian May, and in its incredible production.
Having been spoilt rotten (and therefore been fairly uninvolved) in the production of all five previous albums, it’s time to make the decision as to how the new record should actually sound, and who should hold the reins. It’s a big responsibility, as it can make or break an album. Gary Katz’s work with Steely Dan and in the production of my most-played album, Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly, is sublime, and some producers are now, deservedly, being compared to artists. After all, would the albums we love sound the same if not for the skills of the producer? Currently, there are talks happening with a producer who may well be ‘the one’, but we’re still in the early stages. Watch this space…
Honouring Marion Montgomery:
The set for next Wednesday’s gig will not consist solely of new songs though. A large part of the set will comprise of lovely standards and well-known songs, arranged by myself, by Malcolm, and by another friend, Laurie Holloway. Laurie wrote hundreds of arrangements for his late wife, the wonderful singer Marion Montgomery, whose fight with cancer was lost over ten years ago. Laurie’s daughter, Abigail, is my manager and friend, and it’s clear that hearing the arrangements written for her mother isn’t always easy. It must bring back mixed emotions, and this makes it more of an honour to be trusted with Marion’s charts.
Losing such a talent serves as another reminder that this gig isn’t just a gig. It’s all about enabling those brave and hard-working people at the Royal Marsden to give hope to those who think they’ve lost it. That, surely, is very exciting.
Tickets: 0207 352 3875 or friends.chelsea[at] rmh.nhs.uk