“At the moment I am obsessed with Beethoven…” – interview with cellist Clare O’Connell

Ahead of her concert with pianist Viv McLean at Café Yukari, near to Kew Gardens, on 28th April, we caught up with cellist Clare O’Connell to find out more about her musical life, her influences, and what provides inspiration for her offstage…..

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have always loved music. Singing and playing the piano and the cello as a child was part of how I defined myself, and the community of people I met and loved playing in my county youth orchestras and playing chamber music made me realise that I wanted to pursue a life dedicated to expressing myself through music.

My teacher Alexander Kok’s passion for seeking truth in music was a major influence on me, but the musicians who have influenced me the most are those I have worked closely with over the years – my great friends and collaborators who by their brilliance, imagination and bravery inspired me to challenge myself.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenge of my career has been in learning to understand myself and combat tension, fear and self sabotage.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of my ‘Isolated Cellist’ album  which I made during the lockdown in 2020. All the pieces are my arrangements, except one stunning piece by Alex Mills, which I’ll be performing a few times over the summer.


Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

Those that I love with a passion. You have to love and believe in what you perform, I think.

At the moment I am obsessed with Beethoven, and the works of Edmund Finnis which are stunningly spare and yet express so much.

I’ve also just commissioned a new piece from the wonderful composer Nick Martin, which I’m COMPLETELY in love with. It’s called ‘Vocalise’, and builds a simple Ukrainian folk tune into a mass of incredibly moving cello lines piled up on top of each other.

Commissioning and celebrating the work of living composers is so important.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I read a lot and talk to my colleagues. It’s important to me to have a real connection with the people I play with. I love visiting art galleries and I’ve started making an effort to go to concerts again – the last one I went to, the latest in Freya Waley Cohen and William Marsey’s amazing Listenpony series, introduced me to some extraordinary new music.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I like to choose whatever it is I feel most passionate about, whatever is inspiring me, and what feels relevant. I also like to mix it up and keep it as stimulating, refreshing and varied as possible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favourite audience to play to is the one I built up in Berkhamsted where I live – my Behind the Mirror series audience. They are so loyal and such lovely people. It feels like a community.


What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I feel that we need to work on getting our potential audience to trust us more, and then to keep them guessing and surprising them with new music, new juxtapositions  and  provoking thought with idea led programmes.

I want audiences to feel excited at the prospect of going to concerts where they might not quite know what will happen next, or how a piece might be presented.

We need to be really imaginative and then to back that up with beautifully executed  and passionately committed performances.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

 One of the most memorable concert s for me was Chroma’s debut performance at the Purcell Room back in 2000 – it was my first recital in that space playing with musicians I really looked up to. I was extra nervous but somehow managed to lose myself in the music and play to a level I could only achieve by jumping off a cliff. I remember how it felt vividly.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

It is very difficult to be a musician these days. So many compromises need to be made, and the odds are stacked against us at the moment with Brexit  making travel so difficult and streaming limiting our ability to make money out of our recordings.

I think if you are able as a musician to sustain yourself and live a happy balanced life doing the work that feeds you to the best of your ability without having to compromise your vision, then you are on the road to achieving success.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Research! Read and learn as much as you can around your musical projects and ideas.

Find out what you want and go for it.

Don’t stop questioning, practising aspiring – try not to get too comfortable!

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

I think the music industry has so much covered these days diversity, inclusivity and so many new groups and organisations to promote marginalised musicians – we are looking at it all the time on social media.

I think the constant need to be seen being BUSY needs to be addressed. And the way that that consumes time which we could be devoting to our creativity. The fact that it is demanded of us by funding bodies is particularly damaging because it puts the focus in the wrong place. On pleasing our audience to get more likes, rather than creating something deep and new and challenging for the sake of it alone.

I also wonder if this incessant awareness of what everyone else is doing is actually stifling variety in our creative output.

We need space away from the noise to feed our inner creativity.

What is your most treasured possession?

My imagination

Beethoven at Café Yukari with Clare O’Connell & Viv McLean, Thursday 28th April at 8.30pm.

More information / tickets


Clare O’Connell

“I live for music” – interview with singer Elena Lorenzi

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and pursue a career in music?

It was life itself that showed me music as a path.

I’ve been singing since I was a child. I won my first competition at the age of three, but I started to approach and studying singing in a serious way after the death of my father, when I was 13 years old. After a few years of suffering, I began to study opera singing, and this was truly therapeutic for me. The use of the opera voice, with its power and the need for technique and control, gave me a way to process pain. Singing for me has always been a necessity, something very cathartic. Singing has always been a way to shape my energy, it has given meaning to my life. I love the fact that I am my instrument, my voice is my instrument.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am an eclectic singer who loves many different musical genres and as a result I have been influenced by many singers, musicians and composers.

When I started singing opera, I was actually a little girl in love with symphonic metal, in particular a Finnish band, “Nightwish” and their singer Tarja Turunen. I was fascinated by the use of the opera voice and orchestral parts in such a strong genre. Growing up and falling in love with Opera, especially the composers Wagner and Puccini, I loved the angel voice of Renata Tebaldi, but my favourite opera singer is the Russian mezzo-soprano Elena Obratzova. In jazz I am a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, and in the music of my country, Italy, I owe a lot to the singer Mina.

As for the vintage repertoire and cabaret, in which I have specialized in recent years, the whole world of French music is essential for me, from Lèo Ferrè to Dalida, Juliette Greco, Edith Piaf….the list could be endless. The interpreter who today most reflects the path I have undertaken is undoubtedly the German actress and singer Ute Lemper, but I also love the great performers of the past like Liza Minelli and Frank Sinatra. Honestly, there are so many other musicians and performers who have given me such a lot.

In general I love the energy that a singer transmits, the depth of the interpretation and the truth of what is told through music.

Furthermore, art is a source of inspiration for me (I am a fan of painting), nature and people too. Life itself is a constant source of inspiration for me, for better or for worse. I try to capture every little thing or great teaching and to tell it through my voice in the songs I sing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Surely the life of the musician is full of challenges? The musician’s unstable lifestyle forces you to continually find new ways. But for me my singer’s life is such a wonderful journey that I adore new challenges and getting out of my comfort zone, even if it’s not always easy. The only difficulty, when I started to study singing, was to make my family understand that music for me is not just a passion, but that it would become my job. My family has always imagined another kind of path for me, more stable and safe, so for several years I did not have their support.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have a lot of concerts in my heart and it’s hard to choose. I remember with satisfaction the first time I played a program of French songs, in 2013, on the occasion of the festival “Le X Giornate”, in Brescia, my home city. From that moment I totally fell in love with this kind of music, I began to study the world of cabaret, French and German music, songs of the vintage world. That concert really changed my musical life. During the same festival, always with the pianist Stefano Marzanni, I performed the RückertLieder (Songs after Rückert), a song cycle of five Lieder for voice and orchestra or piano by Gustav Mahler, based on poems written by Friedrich Ruckert. The concert, of which I have a beautiful memory and I am very proud of, was dedicated to the city of Vienna and its music and it was magical.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

As a classically-trained singer, I’m in love with opera, and I really love to sing it. Also because being a mezzo-soprano, I love the roles for this vocal register, for example Carmen. But I never felt part of the world of opera, I preferred to choose my path and create something of my own. I feel totally comfortable when I sing repertoire of old songs, as I said before. I can use various vocal registers, experiment with the voice using lyric, pop, jazz voice. I can create my own style. I love the music of the early 1900s; I think the lyrics are very deep, beautiful to interpret.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I always look for something new to study and interpret in a personal way. Surely the choice of the repertoire depends on the request, but for me it is really important to never stop and continue to create new shows.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favorite venue is definitely the Crazy Coqs in Brasserie Zedel, Soho, London. I love the atmosphere which links directly back to the vintage world of the Parisian bistros of the early decades of the 1900s. It’s perfect for cabaret shows, for French music and vintage repertoire. I have a funny memory of a very special venue for a concert of contemporary music in Holland in 2014, in the city of Den Haag. The venue was a beautiful ….. cemetery.

As a musician what is your definition of success?

Success for me is simply being able to do what I love, and to be able to express myself. Being able to experiment and see that the public appreciates it. For me, real success is knowing that I have given all of myself in the music I sing, in the best way possible.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think that an aspiring musician should know first of all that the work of the musician is a wonderful job but it requires many sacrifices, much study and a lot of passion. We need a lot of determination to overcome the challenges and obstacles, a lot of patience, because the results do not come immediately. But I believe that humility is fundamental above all. We have to really focus on the goals, do not give up if the road is not easy. A little advice: be yourself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I live for music so I can only imagine my future singing in theatres. I dream of taking my shows on tour in the most beautiful cities in the world. I love travelling, visiting new places and meeting new people.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

For me happiness is not lack of pain or suffering, but the ability to understand that there is a reason for everything. True happiness for me is something very profound, which goes beyond sensory experiences: it is a way of being. In this I am close to the Buddhist philosophy. I am a happy person, because I love life, I love my job, my family and my friends. I have learned to always see the positive side of everything and not to worry too much about the problems. I learned to be happy for any gift life gives me, even the smallest. It is not always easy to follow this path, but I am convinced that it is the best way to face life, which for me is something extraordinary. I “love to spread love”

What is your most treasured possession?

I could answer this question in several ways. For me the most precious thing is life itself, the experiences I do, so health is fundamental. Obviously as regards my person, my most precious asset is my voice, without that I can not work, but above all I can not express myself and elaborate the experiences. But I can also say that my greatest treasure is the people I love, family (including my four dogs) and friends. The moments spent with the people I love are something that enriches me, something that for me is very important and that I want to enjoy because unfortunately I learned as a young person that people can be taken away at any moment.

What is your present state of mind?

At this moment I am extremely grateful for the wonderful opportunities and the possibility that life is giving me. I am full of joy and I hope I can share it, in life and through music. Thank you so much for this interview.

Elena Lorenzi performs in two of 7 Star Arts’ show, with pianist Stefano Marzanni – Cabaret Beyond Borders and Hasta Astor!

Stefano Marzanni & Elena Lorenzi

“I’m a balladeer at heart” – interview with Matthew vanKan

Ahead of his Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, we caught up with singer-songwriter Matthew vanKan to find out more about his musical influences and inspirations…..

Matthew vanKan Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration is at The Bull’s Head on Monday 24 June. BOOK TICKETS

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I grew up singing and spent years gigging through my 20’s at restaurants and bars, writing and recording my own music and hoping for a record deal that never came. I hadn’t discovered jazz then and it wasn’t until my 30’s that I did. After years of managing a travel company in Brighton I decided to pursue music again for fun and joined a community Gospel Choir. It was such a powerful experience performing again after years of abstinence so after a big concert, when the dust had settled I took to the streets of Brighton with my busking amp and backing tracks. I chose a selection of jazz songs because I felt so comfortable singing them and didn’t feel like some ‘old guy’ trying to rekindle a teenagers dream of being a pop star. It seemed to work. Passers by would pick up my business cards and then a few days later people would call to say they’d seen me singing in The Lanes of Brighton and was I free to come and perform at their wedding, birthday or garden party. I was working full time in an office back then but after a few months of gigging every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I decided to go part-time at work. A few months later I was offered a weekly residency at The Savoy hotel in London (after badgering the booking agent on a weekly basis) and decide to hand in my notice and follow my dream (again). Second time lucky I guess!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My Mum, grandmother and church… My Mum because of the look she gets in her eyes whenever she watches me sing. The same applies to my Grandmother who always used to say “you can’t hear the words” when listening to ANYTHING modern. In particular I love Nat King Cole’s articulation. When I was listening intently to his music my Grandmother’s words echoed in my head. You can always understand what Nat King Cole is singing about as his diction is perfect! Church was a big influence because I would sing with the choir there every Sunday throughout my childhood and teenage years. I can’t say I paid much attention to what the priest was talking about half the time BUT I absolutely loved the music AND the acoustics.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

That’s a really good question and not one I’ve given that much though to as I prefer to focus on moving forward rather than what’s held me back. I guess it’s all a bit of a challenge. Trying to make a living doing something you love is a bit of a double edged sword. You have to think commercially about something you’re so passionate about.  People often think that musicians are happy performing for nothing (or very little) because they’re doing something they love to do. In some cases that’s true but in order to be successful at making a career out of music I think you have to learn to treat your music like a business and not be afraid to talk money, fees for your fellow musicians, riders and reasonable performance times etc. I manage myself and think I learnt a lot when I was employed as the manager of the travel company in Brighton. I’d be lost without my spreadsheets. Ha ha!!

I guess the other challenge for me personally has been to stop caring so much about what other people think of me. It was always something I struggled with in the past (for many reasons – bullying at school one of the main factors) BUT I now truly believe that I’m pursuing something that I’m good at, it’s very authentic and honest for me and I accept that I’m not everybody’s cup of tea but that’s OK. I don’t need EVERYONE to rate me anymore or approve. I just love the fact that I’m always learning and evolving as a performer. That will never get tiring.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Mmmmmm. I hate recording and haven’t put myself in the studio as much as I should have. It’s something I need to overcome as I’ve been writing my own songs over the last year or so and feel I’m working my way (slowly) towards an album. I gig a lot in noisy bars and clubs or private events where my music isn’t the primary focus. I think I’m always most proud following a show at venues like Pizza Express Jazz Club, The Crazy Coqs and hopefully post Bulls Head. It’s such a special moment in time having the company of an audience at a venue that is focused on listening intently to what you have to say and sing about. I’m such an open-book on stage, often exposing myself emotionally far more than I had planned but it’s so exhilarating doing that. I hope my honesty adds weight to my interpretation and delivery of the songs I choose to sing. I want people to know what and how much the lyrics meant to me otherwise I’m just regurgitating a bunch of jazz standards and not adding anything of my own.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m a balladeer at heart so love to get my teeth stuck into a love song that tugs at the heart strings. There’s a tune written by Howard Barnes, Harold Cornelius and Dominic John called ‘A Blossom Fell’ that was published in 1954 and a hit for Nat King Cole in 1955 when it was released by Capitol Records. To be honest I didn’t know the song before I’d started planning this Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration. We’d only managed to run it once in a rehearsal but when I performed it for the first time at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden I got really emotional which took me a little by surprise. I think I just got lost in the lyric and it hit me how beautiful and poignant it was. I included the Prince song ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ in my last show ‘Seasons Of The Heart’. A dear friend of mine had recently taken his own life so I dedicated the song to his memory and got completely engulfed by my feelings right there on stage but somehow managed to power through and pour all of that into my performance. That’s what music and singing is all about for me. I have to find something personal that I can bring to the songs I’ve chosen.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Well this Nat King Cole Centenary Show was an obvious choice because I’ve always been such a big fan. I celebrated the music of Frank Sinatra in his centenary year back in 2015 for the same reasons. My show ‘Seasons Of The Heart’ was inspired by a song I’d written called ‘Before It’s Begun’ which is all about a father trying to make sense of and explain the reasons behind acts of terror to his young and still so innocent son. I’d also written another song called ‘Allow Me To Introduce Myself’ which was about an imaginary meeting between me and my Dad who I’ve never met. I wanted to explore all the different facets of ‘love’ and we included a string quartet into the arrangements for the first time. There’s always a personal reason behind my inspiration for any show I create.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Can I have two? Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho and The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel in Piccadilly. They both have fantastic sound systems, good lighting, a music loving audience sat in a cabaret setting with tables and chairs and waiting staff. It’s quite an old-school concept these days as people are so used to going to larger, all standing music concerts. The audience at Pizza Express and Crazy Coqs are asked to switch off their phones and respectfully refrain from talking during the show. It all helps to set things up perfectly. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to include Ronnie Scotts and The Royal Albert Hall but I’m still waiting for that telephone call!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Tony Bennett at The Royal Albert Hall. Towards the end of his concert he put his microphone down on top of the piano, stood centre stage and sang ‘I Left My Heart In San Francsico’ a cappella. He was 90 years old at the time and his un-amplified voice filled the concert hall. Just incredible! I hope I’m still doing this in my 90s!!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Earning a living from music is an obvious one but there are so many little successes to enjoy along the way. A sold out show, completing a new, original song, a new collaboration, finally nailing the melody of a standard I might have been struggling to learn, finding new notes to sing within songs I’ve been singing forever, discovering a new part of my voice or gaining more control of it, improving, learning. It all adds up and keeps me moving forward.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. I still feel like I’m right at the beginning in many ways. I discovered jazz in my mid 30s and I’m still a student in my eyes. Maybe I should be reading the answers to this question left by others on your blog! Ask me again in 10 years and I might have a better answer 🙂

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Making a guest appearance at The Royal Albert Hall or on Graham Norton’s sofa alongside a huge Hollywood actor or two being interviewed because a song I’ve written and recorded has been used on a movie soundtrack.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Lying by the pool in the sunshine on holiday with my beautiful family.

What is your most treasured possession?

I read this question and instantly drew a blank. I’ve got some lovely ‘stuff’ but I don’t think I treasure physical possessions particularly. I think I treasure my memories most – that’s why dementia is such a cruel disease and a cause I’m particularly passionate about.

What is your present state of mind?

Happy and excited to finally be performing at The Bulls Head after all these years!

Interview with Rick Simpson, jazz pianist

Award-winning jazz pianist and composed Rick Simpson makes his 7 Star Arts debut at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head on 26th June

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Hmm…that’s hard to say. I think by the time I knew I wanted to music I hadn’t really met anyone or seen any concerts – I just knew that I loved playing the piano and making up little tunes. It wasn’t really until I found Jazz that I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to be doing. Before that I was quite unfocused and split my time between doing the grades and playing music from musicals and coming up with my own arrangements of them. My old piano teacher used to give me hell for not playing what was on the page, but I think that I’d always enjoyed playing around with music made the transition into Jazz piano at the age of fifteen more comfortable.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

My classical piano teacher at Guildhall, Laura Roberts, has probably had the biggest influence on my musical life. She’s been a close friend and ally over the years and even though we rarely see each other now she still has a big influence over me. She pulled me out of so many bad habits at the piano – before I met her I really had very little idea of how to play the piano properly so she really turned my life around. I’m still trying to work on the simple ideas she presented me ten years ago.

For Jazz if I had to name one figure it would be Keith Jarrett. He was my first real love in music and the first pianist I ever heard. I’d never listened to any famous classical pianists before, or really even any piano music in general and when I first heard Jarrett it was mind-blowing and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. What can I say about Jarrett that hasn’t already been said! To me he’s the biggest musical genius of all time. 

Other than Jarrett there came a time in my life around the age of 21 where I felt like the African-American lineage of Jazz Piano had a greater pull for me. Before then I was quite into the Bill Evans – Brad Mehldau – ECM sound, and I still love that, but the Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock lineage really took over at some point. Its all beautiful and it ultimately all comes from the same place but I always want to keep on working on what is a Black American art form. Even though my own music comes from a lot of influences outside of Jazz I won’t ever stop trying to get together what Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were doing in the 1940s.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far? 

I think anxiety has held me back massively. Its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt happy on stage. I used to be a nervous wreck and it showed. That’s really held me back and I feel like I need to make up for lost time but I’m generally a lot happier and settled than I was in my early and mid-twenties.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that the music I’ve written over the last four or five years has come from not thinking of tonality or chords. None of the music from my new record has any chord symbols in it. I wanted to get away from the sound that I felt that I’d heard too much of in the London Jazz scene – music which has been clearly written with a single melody line over a set of sometimes quite bleak chords. Kenny Wheeler has been a huge influence on a lot of people in London but I had to get as far away from that sound as I could. When I write music these days the composition is first and the improvising is second. At some point I’ll go back to writing very small compositions that serve as vehicles for improvising but right now with my band Klammer the music is about the compositions.

How do you work?

I work very slowly, which is of great annoyance to me. I know some people who can write several tunes in one sitting, but I don’t think that works for me. I’ll write a couple of bars and then I’ll forget about it for days on end, and then come back to it and add a few more. I’d like to get things out faster but sometimes I think leaving things can cause you to come back afresh and take the music somewhere else. 

Often I think its helpful to know what you want to write before you start. That’s worked well for me in the past where I’ve wanted to write the fast tune/the ballad/the straight 8’s odd time tune, but these days I just sit and see what comes out.

Who are your favourite musicians/bands/composers?

Modern musicians/bands that pose a huge influence on me these days are Jason Moran, Django Bates, Matt Mitchell, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, John Hollenbeck, Wayne Shorter, Steve Reich, Liam Noble, people like that. I love hip hop, techno, ambient, singer-songwriter music too and it all runs together.
And from the past – Thelonious Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bach, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Mahler, Messiaen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet playing music from outer space in 2006 at the Barbican Centre. It was without doubt the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. People in the audience were screaming during the encore, it was so super-charged. There’s a recording of it out there somewhere…That band is on the farthest outer edge of what’s possible. No one is doing what they can.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Ronnie Scott’s. It took me a long time to make peace with the piano – that piano kicked my ass! I had to really learn how to play grand pianos and its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt comfortable playing one – but now I love playing there. The atmosphere and sound are perfect and I would play there every week if I could. I’ve had some great gigs there recently with Leo Richardson’s Quartet and it just feels like the perfect place for that music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be friendly. Get your social skills together. Never, ever rely on what you perceive to be as your talent, its not enough. When I was younger I didn’t feel confident in some social situations and used to hope that I could just get by on my playing. You can’t – you have to go out there and meet people and make friends.

For Jazz musicians I’d say get as much together as you can. Don’t just do one thing, get it ALL together. It’s all as equally important and the more you have in your tool box the more exciting your improvising will be. It’s not fun when you know how someone is always going to sound. Jazz should be the sound of surprise. Tape yourself. Play classical music too, its all in there.

Other than that just practice as much as you can, see as much of life as you can and don’t worry if things don’t happen straight away. Never get lazy or complacent. When I was younger I noticed that some older musicians who I used to worship had done so and I vowed I would never slack off. The only person who can help you get better is yourself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Still practicing and trying to get better. I still feel like a beginner and I still don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything and I don’t really want that feeling to go away. It keeps you moving. That said, if I’m still doing what I’ve done over the last few years in ten years time I’ll be very happy. I’d just like to do more of it and eventually move into teaching at one of the music colleges. I love this life and I just want it to last a long, long time!


Rick Simpson’s latest album with his band Klammer is available now on the Two Rivers Records label

Rick Simpson is based in London playing a wide variety of music, and leads his own group playing original jazz music. Rick is a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex, The Bull’s Head, and he has appeared at larger UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. In 2008 Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians. A recording of Rick’s band was put on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2008 he has performed with musicians such as Christian Scott, Eric Harland, Joe Sanders, Michael Janisch, Ernesto Simpson, Martin Speake, Earl Burness Travis, Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Brandon Allen as well as younger musicians in London. Rick plays in the ensembles of Jay Phelps, Tim Thornton, Tommy Andrews, Leo Richardson, Paul Riley, and US Jazz Singer Hailey Tuck amongst others

This interview first appeared The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog

Meet the Artist – Natasha Hardy, singer-songwriter

I just love performing wherever I have an audience

We talked to Natasha Hardy about influences, inspirations and more ahead of her Lost in Love concert at The Jazz Room on 20 May…..

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

‘Lost in Love’ is on Sunday 20 May at 7.30pm in the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. Tickets here