|She's rather fond of Jelly Babies you know|
Claire Martin has been delighting jazz audiences for over twenty years. Her sideboard must be creaking under the weight of all the trinkets she's won in that time, not least the six Best Vocalist awards bagged at the prestigious annual Jazz Awards. Backed by an an impressive back catalogue, her distinctive delivery and superb choice of material have kept her at the forefront of the jazz scene on both sides of the Atlantic. Claire also presents Jazz Line Up on Radio 3 where she gets to play her favourite records and meet her idols.
Claire took the time earlier this week to answer a few probing questions:
I remember seeing you at a jazz club in Sheffield one Sunday lunchtime around the time your first album, The Waiting Game, was released; but where and when was your first paid engagement?
'Blimey, that was a long time ago! I guess my first real paid gig was when I turned professional at the age of nineteen and sang with the house band in a hotel in Bournemouth called The Savoy. Sadly not half as glam as The Savoy in London! I worked 6 nights for £150 a week, £50 of that went on rent!'
Jim Mullen was in your band that day – as he has been for a long time. You and Jim work really well together. Any plans to record an album with just the two of you?
'I keep thinking that we must do a duet album. As you know, Jim is a master musician and would be marvellous in this setting. One day it will happen...!'
You've been with your record company, Linn, right from the get go. What's so good about them?
'Linn are incredibly supportive in many ways and most importantly they give me full artistic control. They pride themselves on the sound quality of all their records and have never said no to any of my mad ideas over the years. They are small but perfectly formed and have recently gained much more distribution worldwide.'
You recorded Help! with Noel Gallagher on guitar: was he the perfect gentleman? And what do you look for in a song that makes you want to record it?
Paul Stacey the producer of the Perfect Alibi album was working with Oasis at the time and told me about Noel playing Help! as a slow song at his gigs. I was intrigued to give it a go and was really thrilled that Noel agreed to do the session. However, on my way to the studio I got caught up in the most horrific traffic jam in Brixton and JUST as I arrived he had left. He did leave me a plectrum though and apparently said "give this to the girl singer". Song lyrics reach me first, but I am listening for good harmony and form too. Sometimes great jazz tunes are over too quickly, so I like a bit more structure.
Claire Martin: Help! (with Noel Gallagher on guitar)
You're a Brighton Bird these days: can you see the sea from where you live?
'I used to be able to from my old house if I hung my head out of the very top window and looked right! Oblique views I think is the term! Now I am up by the Sussex Downs which are more green than blue. I love Brighton and it’s the best move I ever made.'
Do you like touring? How many gigs do you clock up a year?
'If the tour is well planned and not too gruelling then, yes, being on the road can be fun. Since I became a mum I’m less likely to agree to longer than a week on the road at a time. I did take my daughter to New York last year as the engagement was for 3 weeks. It’s a privilege to be a musician and a joy to do something that you love, but most musicians would agree that the travel aspect is a killer. Only a few weeks ago I drove 7 hours to get to the gig as traffic was horrendous on the M25. To get to a gig north of London on a Friday, it’s best to set off after breakfast! Ideally I’d like to do 4-6 gigs a month, sometimes that happens but other times it’s either feast or famine. This week I'm doing 5 gigs but the week after I’m doing none at all.'
What's it like working at the BBC?
'This is a dream gig for me and has saved my bacon over the last thirteen years. I’ve met and interviewed some of my heroes (Brecker, Metheny, Previn) and have been able to keep my finger on the pulse of the jazz scene easily as I’m sent so much new material, magazines, special invites etc. It’s a joy and I’m really really lucky to be part of the Radio 3 family.'
Have you got a favourite jazz club?
'Yes, the 606 club in Chelsea. Many a night has been spent watching world class music, hanging with my mates and eating great food. Steve Rubie the owner is a legend. I’ve been most proud of the charity events we have put on their thanks to Steve. We have raised thousands through the generosity of the club members. A GREAT JAZZ CLUB.'
You've won many many awards over the years. Which one would you run into a burning building to rescue?
'I’m still in shock that I received an OBE for my services to jazz in 2011. Especially when there are people like Steve Rubie out there. I thought at first it was a hoax! I took my mum and dad to the Palace and we had a terrific day out and a very boozy lunch in Soho afterwards with my husband and brother. I guess I’d run back in for my medal just so I could prove it was true!'
Who do you most admire as an artist and which album could you not live without?
'That’s tough! I have so much admiration for so many jazz singers – all for different reasons. I’d have to say that Carmen McRae is my number one. Her artistry is second to none and I’m still learning every time I listen to her, she is an inspiration. The album ‘Bittersweet’ is as good as it gets.'
Sinatra or Bennett?
'Sinatra - just'
Liquorice Allsorts or Jelly Babies?
'Jelly Babies - no contest!'
Indian food or Italian?
'Indian - had killer curry last night'
Beer or wine?
Cinema or DVD Box Set?
'Cinema - life's too short for box sets'
Thank you Claire.