Barb Jungr “finds confessional depths in Bob Dylan and Jacques Brel that no one else can see,” wrote Clive Davis in the Sunday Times last September of her most recent album Bob, Brel and Me. We asked the musician, writer, composer, and lyricist about the wide range of different inspirations that she has found during life in lockdown…
First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?
I think I started way back with gospel and blues first, so Mahalia Jackson I think and John Lee Hooker. They were there very early on. In fact I saw John Lee Hooker live in New York in a club in the 1970’s and it was before he was “re-discovered” by the Levi’s ad, so the club was pretty much empty, and we sat on the mezzanine which must’ve been where the dressing room was because he came rushing slowly past us and we were in awe and not worthy and all that jazz and he shook hands with us I think he thought we were a bit deranged and then he sat there and played to this audience of 2 men a dog and us and was utterly and mind-bendingly amazing, and my then husband Dan and I were on cloud 9 for about a year off of that handshake! I think when I started to get crazier about jazz I went nuts for Coltrane but I suspect I had been on Anita O’Day before that. They all converge! Oh and for some reason I had discovered Urszula Dudziak even before that.
So it’s a tangled thread. I came across things because people would mention artists or records and we would go out of our way to search things out. I’d grown up going to gigs I was so lucky to be a teenager when I was because there was so much diverse music about and no one discriminated inside it so for example I saw the late great Irish bluesman, Rory Gallagher and that set me off on the blues, and people like John Martyn who straddled folk and jazz and blues, and Free, British blues rock, there were all kinds of bands who blew genre boundaries aside and somehow all of that filtered through and together that made me explore and people would lend you albums because they so wanted you to know about some new music, that’s how I first heard Steely Dan. It was a cave of music where there were no distinctions and so I think that has influenced me in a way because I feel that always. On the radio as a little kiddywinkle we had Ella, we had Nat King Cole, we had Sarah and Billie. My mum and dad played a lot of that vocal jazz. Frank Sinatra – my dad adored him, Frankie Baby he called him.
What are you listening to right now?
Right now this second I am listening to Thank you For The Dance the posthumously released Leonard Cohen album, Adam Cohen added music to some things and “continued” that brilliant legacy. In the car – where my only CD player now lives, somewhat unhelpfully, I am listening to Finding Home by Georgia Mancio which I think is superb, and I’m listening to Claire Martin’s Believin’ It which is for me, her best work yet and I’ve adored all of Claire’s albums, and Ian Shaw’s collaboration with Jamie Safir and the great Iain Ballamy, What’s New and Michael Ziwanuka’s new one, Ziwanuka which is beautiful. But I go down rabbit holes all the time. Someone will mention something and I’m away. I got very excited by Liane Carroll’s version of Here’s To Life the other day and it sent me back to her ballads, and that sent me back to Ella. Then you start watching BBC4 of a late night and before you know it you’re underground for another 2 hours chasing music by obscure soul bands and the like.
Have you discovered anything new since being in lockdown or revisited old favourites perhaps?
I went back to Dylan. You can go back to Dylan a gazillion times obviously, but I went back to the more recent albums which head into a strand of multi genre Americana. I went back to Dave Brubeck. Out of the blue I just had to hear some. What I discovered new in lockdown was Carla Bley who I knew but started to listen to in earnest and Journey in Satchidananda, the Alice Coltrane masterpiece. Being stuck on a computer and writing for hours makes you want to hear unfamiliar things, and I found myself walking down new paths in the countryside I’d no idea where they would lead, on my morning walk, and I think lockdown has been doing that. Same with reading. Lucy Atkins’ Magpie Lane and Maggie O’Farrell. Great writers and now that’s another rabbit hole……
Have you done or watched any livestream gigs/events since lockdown?
A couple of friends have done things and I have watched those, I enjoyed John McDaniel’s Mother’s Day afternoon from Florida. Sarah Jane Morris did a wonderful online concert from her housie in Hastings. It has been lovely to see people doing evenings with everyone pre-recording their tracks and then sharing those with live interviews and that seems to work. I think small clubs, jazz, cabaret and folk, may be the first to be able to re-open with confidence somehow, and also I was very excited by Steve Rubie’s new 606 Portal, on which we have been able to share concerts we recorded before lockdown that have not been aired before via the 606’s initiative to help musicians make livings through this and also to keep the club members in live work! So I think we, musicians, artists, writers – people – are responding to this in innovative ways and giving us ,again, some glimmers of hope and ability to remember what it is we all do!
Do you feel it’s a good or a bad idea?
Generally I’m not wild about lockdown gigs for all the obvious reasons though I am utterly wild about lockdown recording, interestingly. What’s problematic I think is the thing I want from live music is the interaction not only between musicians, singers and audience but that particular relationship between themselves. Those moments are golden. It’s why I go to live music. I’m not wildly convinced by lockdown live things because those interactions aren’t there for me though I know some people have overcome them a bit and done their very best to keep their audiences alive however I can see that when we can extend the “bubble” and be with a couple of other people then that might change a huge amount and where people overcome that because their partners are also playing you can feel that difference and also outdoor events might be easier once we can be a bit more with others. On the other hand Iockdown has given us all a chance to write and record which remotely, works amazingly well, and it has inspired us to explore our catalogues in a new way. For example I found that I had a song Simon Wallace and I had performed and never recorded and we are releasing that as a lockdown recording and video, imminently. And the radio producer Harry Parker cleared out his attic and found recordings of The Three Courgettes from 38 years ago which we didn’t have, and sent me not so much into memory lane as memory town centre!
Most memorable incident/event in your career or education?
There have been many but I’m going to conjure a beautiful recent memory. Last May we launched Bob, Brel and Me with the full band of Rod Youngs, Davide Mantovani, Jenny Carr and Jamie Safir at The Purcell Room and we were joined on two tracks by a near full complement of the fabulous Fourth Choir and that moment when we were all there all singing and playing together was utter magic. The whole night was beyond special. And it was a year ago and feels like another world now. It feels like a hundred years ago or another era or a dream.
The egg cracked for me considerably working with Kuljit Bhamra, the percussionist and composer. I think the top of my head flew off actually! The difference in approach to rhythm spun me inside out and round round baby right round. But there have been many terrific times that has happened. I remember Simon Wallace when we worked on Chansons helped start me understand the potential of arrangements and the enormous talent good arrangers have. We all go, Oh yeah, Nelson Riddle, and Oh yeah, Quincy Jones. It blew my mind. Same with working with Laurence Hobgood. The freedom he expressed through his fingers somehow rubs off on the way you play or sing. He brings the best out of people. When we collaborated with Mark-Antony Turnage I remember Gwilym Simcock turning to me and saying, “the harmony, it’s classical harmony” and it blew our minds!
Instrument you wish you played?
No question. The piano. Though I harbour a desire to be a percussionist in a wild Latin band. I’ve always like a bit of movement… And also (and I know mad because how do you carry them around?), the harp. That’s Alice Coltrane slicing into my soul isn’t it? I’ve gone crazy for her.
Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?
Yes, amazingly. It took a while because at first it was like being punched psychically – I think everyone felt that – but yes. Particularly a couple of theatrical and writing projects. And it’s beginning to throw up new collaborations with other friends and writers and other ways of thinking and working. In a way, people who’ve spent their lives playing, and improvising one way and another are possibly best placed to deal with this massive ball of confusion the universe has thrown at us!
Another effect has been that Simon Wallace and I have reconnected which has been beautiful. And Jenny Carr and Jamie Safir and I have made some tracks so all that has been wonderful. And in the writing I’ve taken some huge steps on collaborations with the director Benji Sperring, the writer Abi Grant and also the brilliant songwriter Mike Lindup.
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
Playing live in all the places we love to play. Reconnecting with everyone in the same physical space. Claire Martin said to me, “I miss actually driving to gigs” and I think as musicians we travel so much that suddenly being forced not to has made us all aware of how much we get from travelling though I know we all complain about it now and again…..(understatement!) And I want to go to Scotland so much it hurts because I miss my beloved Isle of Skye. And Wales, I want to see the Welsh mountains. I want to go to all the places people have asked us not to go to yet. The Lake District. Everywhere. And I miss working with my beautiful friend and collaborator John McDaniel because we were going to do some new things together and rehearse in Florida and that went the way of all lockdown in a hurry for sure.
A chance to plug a friend’s music right now…
I want to share Claire Martin’s new album with Callum Au, Songs and Stories, which comes out the day before our single! It’s gorgeous I’ve been luck to hear a bit and it is really lovely hearing Claire’s unique timbre with that big ensemble supporting and framing her so beautifully. Claire is the bee’s knees!
Barb Jungr and Simon Wallace have a single Dancing In The Dark, coming out on 27th June on Kristalyn Records.