|Photo Credit: Antonella Raimondo|
Australian harpist and vocalist TARA MINTON travelled halfway around the world to become established on the British music scene and is now due to release her solo album, ‘The Tides of Love’. Adrian Pallant talked with Tara ahead of her launch concert at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room on 6th April.
LondonJazz News: Based in London since 2011, you’re originally from Melbourne. Can you describe your musical beginnings and how your relocation came about?
Tara Minton: I was born into a non-musical family, but begged to have piano lessons until I was big enough to sit on the stool at the age of seven. After seeing a Marx Brothers movie on tv when I was ten, I made a little harp out of a lunchbox and went around playing it until my parents realised I was serious. I played and was trained in classical harp, as well as being an amateur jazz pianist. But after I heard and watched videos of the amazing French jazz harpist Jakez Francois (who is also a director of Camac Harps), I emailed him, asking if he would listen out for my song ‘Play With Me’ on a local radio station. That resulted in me having lunch with my hero and telling him of my dreams to move to London. He agreed Europe is a much better place for me to create my music and offered to help me. That was where my relationship with Camac began. Five weeks later, I flew to London, got settled and then I drove to Paris to collect the same Big Blue harp that Jakez plays – certainly a case of ‘right place, right time’.
LJN: You’re as much at home performing Fauré and Puccini as jazz – but your new album seamlessly blends jazz, folk, country and soul with a distinctive and expressive singer/songwriter approach. What led you in this direction, and what creative opportunities does it provide you with?
TM: I love Etta James, Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald – and I love words. So I decided I would learn from jazz musicians, taking my harp to pester musos in Melbourne and sitting with bass players, guitarists, drummers, saxophonists. For example, I learnt how to incorporate guitarists’ percussive damping on the strings – and because a harp’s strings are closer together than a piano’s, the range is much greater, so those lovely, open guitar voicings such as big fourths that you can’t manage across piano keys can be achieved on the harp. It takes the place of a piano in a trio, and is a kind of cross between piano and guitar – though you do have to ‘unplay’ everything you play (to stop it sounding) – and pianos aren’t able to shift into whole-tone scale mode, either.
LJN: You also belong to a high-energy gypsy jazz band, Harp Bazaar – but your original music for The Tides of Love seems personal, often emotive, and with an emphasis on lyrical, observational storytelling. What inspires you in your writing?
TM: I have an acting degree, and feel that all art is about telling a story. Whatever the medium, that’s the most important thing. It all began when my grandfather played classical records to me and would make ups stories to go along with the music. In Dvorak’s Humoresques, he would say, “Can you see the autumn leaf dancing in the wind?” – almost like Fantasia, but with his own tales. I try to compose music that supports the dramatic narrative as much as it can. It can be therapeutic, too, and works for both grief and joy. I have so much feeling that it’s almost overwhelming, but every time I play one of my songs on stage, I revisit the place I was in when I wrote it and a little more of the feeling is released – and with the happier songs, I can go back and think, ‘Ah, wasn’t that good?”
LJN: You have said on your blog that music is magic, and that everyone is transformed by it in some way or other. You’re a busy musician on the London scene – how do you witness that transformation when you perform?
TM: A lot of people, at gigs, come up to me and say how much a song meant to them, and then tell me really personal stories. So even though my songs can be very specific – about certain people and certain things – we all kinda have the same experiences; and because I’m being open and honest, it seems to allow other people are able to express that, too. The most amazing experience I ever had was in Palanga on the Baltic Sea in Lithuania. I played a concert and the audience were very generous; they really came with me. Afterwards, a woman said, “Please join me for dinner, I want to talk to you about one of the songs” (‘You Never Kill A Good Woman’). We ended up having an in depth conversation about gender politics. She explained how in Belarus, women are often highly educated, but the culture places more value on how attractive they are to men rather than who they are. Obviously I believe women and everyone’s value is inherent, so we really got stuck in – which was super interesting, coming from such different cultures. At the end of the night she said, “I have an eight-year old daughter, and I’m going to raise her to believe she can be happy with or without the love of a man”. I thought, “How cool is that?” A song – just a song – started this long conversation, and we‘re still friends. Speaking personally, I am transformed when I play with great musicians.
LJN: So tell me about a couple of the songs on the album, and what they mean to you.
TM: Clementines in the Morning Sun tells the story of a crazy night out, after going through a rough patch. The following morning, I woke up on a boat, surrounded by interesting artistic folk, and thought, “These are my people! I feel much better about life.” As it turned out, a few of us in the group had just recently ended relationships – so we sat around, eating clementines and talking about how life should be sweet… like clementines in the morning sun. When I left Australia, six years ago, my boyfriend didn’t want to move to London – but we’re still really good friends, so that’s what Tower of London is about. And the final track, On My Way To You, is a lovely story. It was written for my husband, who I met over here just a couple of weeks before I was due to play a five-week series of concerts in Australia. I bumped into an ex back home, and my friend had said to him, “Tara’s got this lovely Kiwi man – you’ve missed the boat!” Later, my husband’s response was, “He never missed the boat, Tara… you were on your way to me the whole time.”
|Photo Credit: Andy Porter|
LJN: You’re active in promoting the harp at festivals and workshops – including Sydney, Geneva, Rotterdam and Poland, as well as Birmingham and Cardiff in the UK. Do you sense a great spirit and enthusiasm for the harp’s musical diversity?
TM: Yes, I do. A lot of people are very excited about the harp. There are some amazing players, such as Park Stickney (for me and everyone, the harp has limits – but for Park, it doesn’t), and Edmar Castenada, the Colombian harpist who has played with Chick Corea, Marcus Miller and Herbie Hancock, is setting the world on fire right now. My mission is to get the instrument and its capabilities out of the ‘harp bubble’ and into the wider world of music.
LJN: ‘The Tides of Love’ is released on 6th April, and is to be launched at the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall. Will all your musicians on the album be playing?
TM: Usually I tour with the trio – Ed Babar (bass) and Tom Early (drums) – but for the launch, we wanted to recreate the album line-up as best we could. So everyone, except for the string quartet, will be there. Violinist Duncan Menzies and guitarist Filippo Dall’Asta are members of Harp Bazaar, and Tim Boniface on horns has been a musical mentor of mine for the past six years in London. Percussionist Lilia Iontcheva turned up at the studio while John Merriman, my producer, was mixing the album and declared, “It needs me!” (we’ve since become very good friends), so she will be playing. The stunning Serena Braida is singing backing vocals and Phil Merriman on keys is just a genius – I can’t believe he’s playing with me! We’ll perform all the songs from the album, along with a couple of new tunes and some standards to showcase the incredible musicians in the ensemble… and there’ll be a few surprises, too.
LJN: How does it feel, as an expression of your music, now that the album is finally going out into the world?
TM: I’m very happy with how it represents my music – it owes in incredible amount to the wonderful team of musicians and the crew at Crown Lane Studios who worked with me. I grew up and lived by the ocean my entire life, so it was important that this theme continued throughout the album. Everyone took the idea and really brought it to life in their playing. There are flowing lines, with breathing and instrumental lines which suggests waves, seagulls, a whale; and the final track returns to earlier musical references, almost as if you’re standing on the same sand, looking at the same ocean, but something’s changed. (pp)
LINK: Tara Minton’s website