A new CD entitled “The Boaters Project,” (Frith and Dean Records) with JACQUI HICKS (vocals), SIMON CARTER (piano/keyboards), PHIL MULFORD (bass) and ‘FROSTY’ BEEDLE (drums) has just been released. Sebastian asked Jacqui Hicks by email to explain more of the background to the new release:
LondonJazz News: The CD is called “The Boaters Project.” So I assume it is a celebration of the long-running Sunday night gig in Kingston ….?
Jacqui Hicks: Absolutely. The Boaters Inn is a pub right on the river in Kingston that’s had a regular Sunday evening jazz gig since 1990. A lot of familiar faces play down there and it’s always well supported.
LJN: ...which you have been participating in for quite a few years…
JH: You could say that I’ve been involved since it’s inception. I’m the longest serving vocalist but, I’m glad to say, there are a few more of us now. The band on the album is the regular line up for our particular gigs there but every week there’s something different and always of a high standard.
LJN: And the whole gig was started more than two decades ago by Simon Carter. For people who won’t know the name, Simon is quite a special musician who has played for some amazing people right?
JH: Yes, Simon started it while he was a student at Kingston Uni and also a member of NYJO, which is where we first met. While keeping it going he’s toured the world with Jamiroquai, Craig David, Anastasia to name a few and, as a consequence, had people like Beverly Knight and Rick Astley pop down to Boaters for a bit of a singsong! Branford Marsalis came down on one occasion too but that’s a different story!
LJN: And Frosty Beedle and Phil Mulford also have something of the total professional / hidden national treasure thing about them too?
JH: They’re both well known in the music business but not necessarily on the jazz scene.
I first knew Phil as part of NYJO, although he soon moved on to join Barbara Thompson’s Paraphernalia and he’s been busy on the session scene ever since, playing with the likes of Lewis Taylor and Lionel Ritchie.
Frosty was the original drummer with a band called The Cutting Crew who had several hits in the late 80’s. He’s also a founder member of the prog rock band Lifesigns but his ‘day job’ is being the backbone of the West End show Mamma Mia.
LJN: And I gather that Phil has done quite a bit to put this CD together?
JH: We’ve been toying with the idea of recording the set live at Boaters for several years, as the atmosphere at the gigs is always infectious, but logistically it’s a nightmare. Then the drummer Ralph Salmins offered us his wonderful studio so Phil took the bull by the horns as they say. It’s turned into a very different beast from our original idea of a live album but it’s something we’re all very proud of.
Musically it’s been a four way contribution but the overall production is all thanks to Phil.
LJN: And the guests?
JH: All the guests have a connection with Boaters in some form or another.
Sax player Paul ‘Shilts’ Weimar played Boaters many times before moving to LA for 10 years and making a name on the smooth jazz scene over there. He also played in a band with Phil called System X and worked with The Brand New Heavies along with my partner Pat Hartley. Ironically Simon and I performed Knocks Me Off My Feet (a song on the album) at his wedding ceremony!
Guitarist Malcolm MacFarlane and I have known each other since before time began! We were at Leeds College of Music together, he was an amazing musician even back then. We toured with Shakatak for a while and he and Phil formed The Mulford MacFarlane Group after working together in Paraphernalia. Both Simon and I were involved with their second album Bright Lights, Big City.
Brent Carter was the vocalist with Tower Of Power for many years and is now a member of the Average White Band alongside sax man Freddy V. Simon and Phil often works with Fred when he’s over from the States, so when the AWB came to play Ronnie’s for the week they all came down to our Boaters gig on their night off and it turned into one big jam session. A great night. It was lovely that they both agreed to add their magic to our project.
Pete Eckford and Phil go back a long way and have done some great work together over the years, so he was an obvious choice for the percussion extras, simple as that.
LJN: And BTW who is “Liam Mulford – Rhythm Guitar” ?
JH: Liam is Phil’s youngest son.
LJN: And rather than covers there is some cunning/ unexpected arranging craftsmanship here. Who in particular deserve the credits for some of those?
JH: Some of the arrangements have developed over the years but others were done for the album. We all contributed and hopefully you can’t see the join! Although the album is very funky we still approach the songs like jazz standards – pick a tune, pick a key, pick a groove and see what happens. It means that there’s plenty of room for creativity and self expression. You have to be a little more organised in the studio than on gigs, otherwise each song could last 10/12 minutes, but it’s still very much the jazz approach.
LJN: And there is quite a bit of studio magic in your contribution too isn’t there? The voices of those backing singers must sound, er, familiar to you?
JH: Ha ha! It’s what I do. My backing vocals were probably the catalyst for turning it into more of a production. We’ve been playing How Sweet it Is as a gospel 3 for a while so it was an obvious choice for the album but when I heard it back it was screaming out for a ‘gospel choir’. I rang the guys to see what they thought and they told me to go for it. The whole thing grew from there. I love singing backing vocals, creating colour and harmony. All good music is about tension and release and backing vocals can be a real contributing factor to it. I’ve written for vocal harmony groups in the past and the possibilities can be endless. I suppose that growing up playing tenor sax in big bands has helped me appreciate how interesting the inner parts can be, it’s where all the meat is and can be quite challenging but really good fun to sing.
LJN: For listeners unfamiliar with your work, tell us more about you…. you cover the range from Basie bands to Shakatak?
JH: Gosh, where do I start. I studied classical clarinet from the age of 7 and started playing sax at 9. At 18 I enrolled on the 3 year jazz course at Leeds as a sax player and didn’t begin singing until I was in my middle year there. I then went on to the 1 year post grad jazz course at the Guildhall, still as a sax player but by then the singing was beginning to take over.
I grew up playing in various ensemble line ups but big bands were always a favourite. The discipline of playing in a section and being part of a team can be very rewarding so when Paul Lacey asked me to sing with his Back To Basie Orchestra it was like going back to my roots. I’ve been making regular appearances with them for over 10 years now and it’s always a joy. Shakatak were part of the soundtrack of my youth. They’ve been together now for 36 years, constantly touring and recording and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with them for the last 23. It’s the only regular gig I do where I still play sax, as well as sing, which is quite daunting as Dick Morrisey was their original sax player!
LJN: Might it it fair to say that the “soul” Jacqui we hear on this CD is less familiar on CD than the “jazz” Jacqui as on your other records eg with John Critchinson?
JH: It’s true that my last couple of albums (With A Song In My Heart and A Child Is Born) were far more straight ahead and featured British jazz royalty including John Critchinson, Dave Green and Bobby Wellins but I’ve never considered myself a purist. I love the old standards from Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart, the Gershwins etc but those albums also include songs from Lennon & McCartney, James Taylor and Eric Clapton. There’s a huge umbrella covering ‘jazz’ and different people have their own interpretation as to what it is.
Jazz musicians can make anything sound jazzy if they so wish. Let’s face it a lot of the jazz singers repertoire was written for Broadway shows and was never meant to be jazzed up! My main priority is a great song, particularly one with a bridge, and a great groove. It doesn’t have to swing to be jazz and likewise not all swing music can be regarded as jazz.
I’ve always been funky at Boaters as Simon asked me to ‘come down and sing some Stevie’ from the very first time I went there. Stevie Wonder is one of the few who can unite any musician with a discerning ear. He’s my ultimate, my all time favourite but he’s not jazz, he’s just a genius! Hence there are two of his songs on the album. (And yes, I have my tickets for the 10th July!)
LJN: You have a great reputation as teacher, I know that eg Emma Smith feels she was helped immensely in the early stages by you. Is it gratifying to see students like her (and others?) go on and make their names / careers?
JH: I don’t do a lot of teaching but I really enjoy what I do. I’m lucky enough to be part of the jazz faculty at The Purcell School and every student is very musically gifted but can have different needs, which makes it interesting for me and less formulaic. Most of them are classical virtuosos, both vocal and instrumental, who have no idea of how to swing or phrase but I can speak to them on a musical level and we can soon get stuck into quite complex stuff. Then there are others like Emma and current Young Jazz Musician of the year Alex Ridout, who need no introduction to jazz so we can hit the ground running. I had one student who came to the school as a first study classical pianist and by the time I’d finished with her she was offered a place singing jazz at Berklee – ‘gratifying’ doesn’t really cover it!
LJN: Do you happen to know if Boaters have other recording plans – eg the classic Boaters quartet with Simon, Mornington Lockett, Laurence Cottle and Ian Thomas?
JH: We need to break even on this one first! So far it’s been very well received, so here’s hoping!