Vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist Julia Biel is one of Britain’s most versatile musicians. Her distinctive neo mellow sound combines a jazz approach with art-pop sensibilities and has seen her nominated for MOBO and Urban Music awards and hand-picked by Bob Dylan to open for him on tour. Ahead of her Serious Livestream on 25 June, she explained how she’s been adapting to a life of music in lockdown:
First album you purchased as a “jazz musician”?
I’m forever grateful for being given the compilations Red Hot On Impulse and Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool by a friend when I was a student. I so needed to hear the sounds on these albums at that time in my life and find myself in them, so they were pretty life-changing and sowed lots of little seeds that are still growing.
What are you listening to right now?
I’ve mainly wanted to listen to people’s views and connect with the shifts in consciousness that seem to be happening and try to make sense of it all in real time. When it comes to music, Miles Davis’s Live-Evil and Daniel Caesar’s Case Study 01 have been vying for my attention.
Have you done or watched any livestream gigs or events since lockdown?
When lockdown happened, it was unthinkable to just stop being a performer. I think as a performer you’re a catalyst for connection and that’s your role so if there’s a way to connect you need to find it. If there was a way to carry on fulfilling that role I wanted to explore it even if the specific musician-to-musician connection was temporarily not possible.
I’ve been doing a weekly Thursday evening livestream show, #hangtimeathome, which started in the first week of lockdown at the exact time I was supposed to be on stage in London with my band. It was a steep learning curve and there’s no denying it’s pretty intense – it’s basically a live television broadcast with no crew – but I’m getting used to it. It’s a totally different thing to a live show I think, more like an interactive televisual podcast. I’ll also be doing a Serious Livestream Session on 25 June which I’m looking forward to.
It’s been really lovely dropping in on singer-songwriter friends’ streams; Ríoghnach Connolly, Phil King and Rosie Brown are all putting out lovely vibes and Jason Singh’s ‘Daily Dose’ morning DJ sessions are always a great way to start the day.
Instrument you wish you played?
The harp is a magical sound and totally mystical to my ears. I’d also love to learn the cello.
Has this time in isolation inspired any new creative ideas?
The pace of modern life before lockdown wasn’t necessarily healthy or sustainable in any case so, in those ways, the enforced slowdown has made a general reevaluation possible for myself and many I think. I’ve been trying not to worry too much about the future but focus on being in the present, listening to the birds and getting better at relaxing in a kind of silence that hasn’t been part of our daily lives for decades. Now that I’ve got my head around the nuts and bolts of livestreaming, I’ve been able to resume working on other projects again.
What are you most looking forward to once this is over?
Giving my parents a hug. And being in a sweaty mass of people dancing my socks off to loud music.
A chance to plug a friend’s music right now…
Wildflower (Idris Rahman tenor saxophone, Leon Brichard bass, Tom Skinner drums) brought out Wildflower – Season 2 a couple of months ago. If you like the sound of spiritual jazz refracted through a contemporary London lens, it’s compulsory listening.