Annabel Williams is THE vocal coach. She has had the role for nearly a decade at both X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. She has worked with over two hundred chart-topping artists.
Her app, The Vocal Coach, gives sound, calm and practical advice, and is proving very popular, not least because of the “good energy”, and the level of encouragement and warmth that she brings to vocal coaching.
As a singer she has been on over 60 albums, worked or toured with Al Jarreau, Alison Moyet, Cee Lo Green….
In this interview which took place in a break from her filming a new BBC series, I Can See Your Voice, she looks forward – finally! – to her first appearance as a headliner at Ronnie Scott’s on 27 August. Interview by Sebastian Scotney
LondonJazz News: You must be looking forward to your first headline date at Ronnie Scott’s…
Annabel Williams: Yes it’s special. I just can’t wait to get on that stage! I’ve done so many amazing gigs at Ronnie’s but I’ve never headlined it.
LJN: And presumably it will bring back memories of the first time you appeared at Ronnie’s….
AW: Yes, I was thrown in at the deep end there as a 17-year-old. I was so nervous but I was really glad I did it…
LJN: And other associations?
AW: I was lucky enough to appear there as a backing vocalist for Al Jarreau. Tommy Blaize and I were doing the backing vocals and we sat right up front next to him. He was so gorgeous. And he kept on introducing me as “Annabel from Northumberland”. I’ve never been to Northumberland – I’m from Harpenden!
LJN: Singers whom I know respect you because, as one said to me “she can do anything and everything so convincingly”. What’s the story and what kind of repertoire will you be singing?
AW: I was classically trained. Then I went to the dark side and discovered jazz. And then I discovered soul and Chaka Khan and there was no looking back. If I had to, I would say my true love is probably funk. I’m obsessed with Prince, Bootsy Collins, Parliament-Funkadelic… So the repertoire for Ronnie’s will definitely have a flavour of that.
Essentially it’s a singer’s show. Great songs by great singers with big voices.
Ronnie’s is a great place for me because I can be totally self-indulgent and it’s OK. I have the greatest band in the world behind me and they are all my really good friends. We’ve toured around the world. I’m honoured and thrilled to have them there with me.
LJN: What’s the story of how you became a vocal coach
AW: It wasn’t something I set out to do. When I was at music college I was helping people out who hadn’t had as much training as I had. And NYJO was important too: I set up and ran the Saturday morning workshop that still continues.
For the next ten years I was touring as a backing singer, or doing functions. But as time went on the vocal coaching snowballed. To my delight, because I love it. And that’s because each individual is different. Each voice is a brand new challenge for a coach. I started coaching for major labels. And then the turning point came when I got the X Factor job ten years ago.
LJN: Amy Winehouse was also in the NYJO set-up. Did your paths cross?
AW: I was 19 when Amy Winehouse turned up at NYJO. Of course at the time you don’t realise what’s about to happen, but she definitely stood out, she was already so accomplished, even at 16. She blew me away. I looked up to her even though she was younger than me; I admired her uniqueness, individuality and independence.
She knew exactly who she was, what her sound was, what her product was. And that’s something I didn’t know. Perhaps that was what led her to being a recording artist… and me to becoming a vocal coach…
LJN: There must be special challenges in coaching for the voice competitions on TV…
AW: They might be experienced singers, or someone who has never held a microphone before. And I never know who I am going to get. They are plonked in front of a television audience. It’s live. There is no “Whoops, can I do that again?” They are under an exceptional amount of pressure.
LJN: And how does that shape your approach?
AW: The result is that I’m not just their vocal coach; I’m their fairy godmother, chief hugger, encouragement-giver and tear mopper-upper as well! They put in long days and practise so hard and then it’s about the two minutes they actually perform. I have just hours and sometimes minutes to prepare them, so I had to work out a way to get instant results.
LJN: People tell me about the good vibe you set in the Vocal Coach App. What is important to you to instil in people?
AW: What’s really important for everybody is just to be themselves. I remember as a teenager comparing myself to singers on stage and wondering how I was ever going to be as funny… or have the same vibrato…or intonation… And eventually you realise: “It’s OK to be yourself”. And that became part of the approach I took as vocal coach. I wish I’d realised that at a younger age.
LJN: How has the pandemic and lockdown affected your work?
AW: Throughout this period, half of what I have done in coaching has just been about being a therapist. It has hit performers hard not just emotionally but financially. There has been accumulated depression and all the negative aspects of mental health. And I include myself and my husband in that. He’s a trumpet player who hasn’t been on stage in a year and a half. We are all in the same boat and we must all support and help each other
LJN: And what about the return to “normality”?
AW: Now it’s so busy again, everyone is suddenly back into rehearsals and performances.. and we’re all expected to get back to it without blinking an eye. We need to be able to talk about how we’re not used to being back in a hotel room, to travelling. It will get easier…
LJN: Can the app help?
AW: People tell me the app is ideal for the mental health aspects of coming out of lockdown…
LJN: And a few final bits of advice?
AW: What I recommend is:
– concentrate on breathing and getting yourself back into singing
– remember that It’s OK not to be OK
– never underestimate what everyone is going through. Even the most confident looking of performers who look like they’re not fazed by anything will be going through their own issues