Sarah Jane Morris has a new show, The Sisterhood. “I have written ten songs about the lives of ten female singers and singer-songwriters who have inspired me over the years and who have made their marks on musical history”, she has said. The premiere performance will be at Cadogan Hall on Friday 6 October 2023. Preview by Jane Mann
The Sisterhood is celebrated soul singer and pop diva Sarah Jane Morris’s lockdown project when she, like so many musicians, was stuck at home with no gigs but plenty of time to think.
She had recently finished a recording which involved singing Beatles songs, online, with an Italian string quartet. (After lockdown this turned into a successful British and Italian tour, and a lovely CD, All You Need is Love – Solis String Quartet & Sarah Jane Morris)
This Italian Beatles endeavour got her pondering her own musical inspiration, in particular the women who had impressed her as a young singer.
She started to research and re-listen to a broad range of personally significant singer-songwriters, and so she sat down with husband Mark Pulsford, and they got to work. Theirs is a house without a TV, so instead of piling through streamed TV series, like so many of us during lockdown, Morris and Pulsford spent time reading biographies to each other and discussing the often extraordinary and frequently tragic lives of some extremely talented women. From this came the idea of writing a song cycle, each piece a miniature telling of a particular woman’s story, and the two of them together crafted the lyrics for The Sisterhood.
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The field was narrowed down to ten artists: Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Annie Lennox and Kate Bush, each a major influence. (There are more songs in the pipeline).
With her creative right hand man Tony Remy, Morris agreed that the songs would use the musical form and style of each chosen artist. This of course demands great versatility from the performers as well as compositional flair. Fortunately Morris and Remy are both well known for the broad range of musical genres in which they happily perform, including the rock, jazz, blues, and many shades of pop and soul required for this project.
However a project of this scale and ambition requires funding, so Morris went into overdrive as soon as lockdown was lifted. She spent time in Italy, where she is a household name in the pop world, doing shows, and guesting with other Italian stars, appearing on Italian TV. She ran singing masterclasses on the South Coast where she lives, gigged as much as she could in this country, and Pulsford, who is a painter, sold some paintings. They also set up a Gofundme page (link below)
The result of all these efforts is an album, The Sisterhood to be launched next Spring. I have heard it, and it is a musical tour de force for Morris and Remy. With her band augmented by friends including Courtney Pine, Jason Rebello, Dominic Miller and Patrick Clahar, and with string arrangements by Sally Herbert, former Communard violinist, now orchestral arranger, the results are impressive. The unifying element of these ten very different songs is SJM’s magnificent voice.
A single from the album has already been released, The Jazz Side of the Road, written for Rickie Lee Jones (more detail)
Rickie Lee Jones heard it, and commented online: “Sarah Jane Morris thank you, you have gone right into my heart, like a convertible GTO at a drive through car wash, except the top was down and everything got all wet. Moms gonna kill us. Tears today, lots of tears. Thank you for this Truth. I dig it, and I am honoured”.
The show will be performed by a specially extended twelve piece band, with special guests, and with a virtual appearance from the Soweto Gospel Choir. It should be a thrilling night out.