Beverley Beirne

Beverley Beirne
Birth name
Beverley Beirne
Birthplace
Halifax, West Yorkshire, England
Genres
Jazz
Main Instrument
Vocals
Years active
10

Beverley Beirne Biography

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Beverley Beirne and Her Quartet: Seasons of Love

When I was a young girl, I used to dig around my Dad’s record collection. I was fascinated by the American musicians and singers who could play and sing in such an incredible way. I’d play jazz pianist Errol Garner, and find myself making up melodies around his playing, or picking an alternate harmony as I sang along to Ella! I should have known then where I was headed. But my journey towards becoming a jazz singer has been a somewhat diverse one!

I trained classically, becoming part of a group of classical singers who sang around Yorkshire, I sang in Music Hall, Musical Theatre and was part of a Rock Band called The Last of The Houdini’s!

I joined The Actors Studio Group in Halifax and studied method acting under Lottie Ward, who herself studied at The Actors Studio in New York under Lee Strasberg. Invaluable training that had a profound effect on me and still informs many of my artistic choices.

I went on to work in small film productions and TV and have even occasionally been spotted in the Woolpack and café in Emmerdale! I studied Drama/Performance Arts and English at what is now Roehampton University at Froebel College, an old Georgian House with formal rose gardens and lake! Learning in such beautiful surroundings I soaked up all of the knowledge and would sit in the main common room, a stunning wood panelled room and read Homer, Jane Austen, Tolstoy, Fielding, Keats, Byron! Total bliss! Of course, music was never very far away and I would always sing, with college groups, my own duo and in Froebel bar, way too often!

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After graduating, with a huge interest in television and determined to have a ‘proper’ well paid job, I worked in the BBC Drama Department in Shepherd’s Bush, then briefly in publishing before moving back to Yorkshire to work at YTV and even at a commercial photographer’s organising shoots.

Then it all changed! After a catalogue of personal disasters, including a serious car accident, forced me to really think about my future and my dreams and passions for life, I knew I had to follow my heart, wherever that would lead! During some very dark times, I turned to music and singing, the way I always have throughout my life and it made me strong again. I began to focus on what I wanted. Jazz! I had tried pretty much every genre of singing, but Jazz has always been in my soul.

After emerging from jazz education with some of the top jazz educators in the UK, Lee Gibson, Graham Hearn, Tina May, Alan Barnes, Trevor Tomkins, to name a few, I’ve had some really great support from the jazz community and had some fabulous gigs, including Marsden Jazz Festival and even Venice Jazz Club! My debut album with my own Quartet ‘Seasons of Love’ is just beginning to receive some amazing response and I’m really excited about the future and looking forward to spreading my wings and seeing where it all leads me and what adventures may be just around the corner…! – Source: Beverley Beirne – My Story

Quotes

“Finger Clicking Good! My obsession of the week.”
– BBC Radio York (Jenny Eels)

“…Beirne possesses a broad, warm lower register and her boldly held sustained notes have something of Nina Simone about them…”
– Jazz Journal

“It was a masterclass in singing…a superb singer bewitching us!”
– Lance Liddle

Interview with Beverley Beirne

Earlier this week, Festival Archive was able to touch base with one of our all-time favourite jazz vocalists, Beverley Beirne. Here’s what she had to say…

If somebody has never heard your music before, how would you describe it to them in one sentence?

An honest mix of beautifully arranged standards and thoughtfully chosen songs from other genres interpreted into the jazz idiom.

Who were your main musical inspirations growing up?

My father is a huge jazz fan so I grew up listening to the jazz of the greats and of his generation. He loved the great singers, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald who he was lucky enough to get to see live and fell in love then I think! His joy of the music has always infected me. But I also used to sing along to the pianists like Errol Garner and make up melodies and lyrics, for hours, much to the annoyance of my sister! I also watched endless movies. I couldn’t get enough of musicals, Fred Astaire was a favourite, but I loved Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day in Forever Young with Frank Sinatra is just beautiful, when he sings Someone To Watch Over Me in that little café when nobody is listening…hauntingly beautiful! I loved her playing Ruth Etting in Love Me or Leave Me too, fabulous film. Great singers have always inspired me to be better than I am. It’s exciting listening to them and reminds me of why I wanted to do this in the first place.

What made you decide to become a jazz singer and are any of your close family musically talented?

I started singing very young, all of the time, not professionally but I would hear these great singers and wonder how they did that, I want to do that, I want to sing like that and I’d sing for hours and hours in my bedroom trying to copy the voices that resonated with me the most, Sarah, Ella, Doris, Barbara and even Abba (Mum was a big fan and actually those songs are really great practice…much more difficult to sing than you might think) Later I began to experiment with my own voice and began to sound much more like me, moving away from copying and developing my own style (hopefully) but there’s no doubt I’ve been influenced by them. But even though I loved jazz I sort of fell into singing musical theatre and classical.

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It was much later when I’d lived life, done a few proper jobs, worked in TV for a bit and then a catalogue of personal tragedies made me really sit back and go whoah, hang on I need to be singing and I need to be singing jazz. It was one of those light bulb moments and it made me really focus and become incredibly driven. But it’s been such an incredible journey so far, I continue to grow as a person every day because of it.

On a weekly basis, about how much time do you spend practising?

It depends. On an average I’d say I spend 2 hours practice. 1 hour singing practice and 1 hour doing anything from writing charts, to planning arrangements and sets if I’ve got any gigs coming up, plus probably another hour of study on whatever I feel needs it. I’ve learned over the years not to over-train the voice. It can be so tempting to do more and sometimes I do, but before a gig half an hour to an hour is good. You can over-rehearse too and things are no longer exciting and fresh. As long as I know what I’m doing musically, I like to leave the voice for the gig. But I don’t think I ever stop going over things in my head.

Do you attend sessions, if so, what do you think makes a good session?

I don’t attend sessions actually. Not regularly anyway. It’s always a gig. But sessions are a great way to test the water with new songs and arrangements and styles. I have been known to go to a jam on the spur of the moment to trial out a song before a gig, especially if I’m unsure how it will go down!

Do you have a fixed preparation regime before going out on stage? How do you cope with nerves?

Years ago I trained as a method actress. I know it might sound weird, but it was fantastic training for what I do now, being able to focus on the moment, right here right now, on the minutiae. Don’t get me wrong, I in no way ‘act’ the songs, in fact quite the opposite, every moment it is so important to me to be authentic and genuine both to myself and to the song. I never ‘fake’ it, ever, it’s sacrilege to me. This is what keeps me from getting nervous most of the time, because I’m really absorbed in the lyrics and what they mean to me and I’m trying to communicate that, in a genuine way.

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Sometimes, I’ve been caught unawares by the odd audience member though and been a little bit thrown. I had one gig, where somebody insisted on talking to me through the songs as if I was actually speaking to him as I sang, it went something like this ‘I won’t dance’ ‘Oh won’t you, go on’. ‘I won’t dance’ ‘not even a little one’ ‘I won’t Dance’ ‘yep, so you keep saying.’ It was really funny actually! I think I’d say I get more nervous on the run up to a gig I want to do really well for. I put a lot of pressure on myself beforehand. But on the night I do go into performance mode and the focus on the music and the songs helps me enormously and once I’m in it, I’m in it!

How do you handle mistakes during a performance?

It was his fault! No, honestly, mistakes happen. I don’t know anyone singer or musician that would say they don’t make mistakes. I would say that we all tend to be incredibly hard on ourselves though. I won’t be unusual if I say I hate making mistakes and I’ll do anything to try and not make them, but when I do, I’ll just focus more until I pick it up and make it right as soon as I can. One of the things I’ve noticed both with myself and with other people is when you make a mistake there’s a sort of musical hesitancy that ensues, but once you’re back on track there often follows a moment of musical liberation and something musically great and unexpected can then happen! Maybe it’s a sort of hey, well I’ve mucked up, may as well relax and get on with it now and it’s that relaxing that can make the magic happen. Just a thought!

What has been your most memorable gig?

Recently I did a duo gig at Marsden Jazz Festival with a great bass player Adrian Knowles. Just voice and double bass. I wanted to challenge myself. I knew when we had the rehearsal that it was going to be good and it was a really vibrant night, so great to play around and get really inventive and creative with the tunes. A small, intimate gig, just around 35 people. I’d worried it might get a bit flat, 2 hours of voice and bass, but it was one of the most exciting gigs I’ve done I think. Really kept me on my toes that’s for sure and at the end of the gig, the audience asked us to sing half a dozen more songs and it was such a warm and lovely evening. Poor Adrian’s fingers were very sore the next day though!

Which is the one place where you’ve always wanted to perform?

I’d love to sing on Ronnie Scott’s main stage of course, it’s such a legendary place, Royal Albert Hall too. I’d love to go to New York and sing in some of the clubs there. But I also love the idea of going around the European Jazz Clubs, Berlin would be great, Russia and getting know the jazz they play over there.

If we were to walk into your studio, what equipment are we likely to find?

In my studio you will find, a piano, music stands, desk with computer on it, a Bodhran on the wall and endless books, musical texts, voice books and under the stairs is the p.a. equipment. Cup of tea probably gone cold!

Which famous present day musicians do you admire the most and why?

Rene Marie is a favourite as I’ve been listening to her new album ‘I wanna be Evil’ brilliant material and Rene is such an inspirational interpreter of songs and of course, that voice! Tierney Sutton is another inspiration. Nneena Freelon, I love her interpretations too. Liane Carrol is fabulous over here too, such raw emotion when she sings, astonishing and Liz Fletcher is fantastic, a warm, genuine, engaging singer with such a beautiful voice. I saw Richard Iles Microscopic recently too a great UK trumpeter and with his new band and I thought his compositions were genius, so beautiful and there are some great young players Jay Phelps would be one. But really, there are just way too many incredibly talented people every day that I’m in awe of!

What’s it like being a professional musician, playing gigs, releasing CDs, etc.? Do you feel you’ve reached your goals?

The thing is with goals is that there’s always another! Fortunately! Releasing my first CD was great. I won’t lie, I didn’t find the process that enjoyable, too much faffing about and I was very fussy too and I wanted to know how everything worked so I made it very difficult for myself, I had to understand ‘everything’ much to the annoyance of everyone else I think. But I’ve never wanted to be the kind of artist that just sits back and lets something happen without understanding how! It seems important to me to at least have some understanding of the different areas, if not expertise! I’ll be much more clued up next time, but when I first held the CD in my hands it was a really nice feeling. Listening to it on the radio for the first time was pretty cool too, weird, but cool. I love gigging though and I’m constantly striving to be a better singer and a better performer and a better band leader/arranger etc. The list goes on and on.

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I constantly have new ideas for projects and new ideas for songs, not all of them work of course, but I love that initial excitement of a new idea and the drive it gives you. My new project ‘Stripey Animals’ is a chordless project following the format of Gerry Mulligan and Ornette Coleman’s earlier works, but with the inclusion of a vocalist. I’m really excited about it. Adrian Knowles is on board for this too! The name ‘Stripey Animals’ is a drunken derivative of Stride Piano! (A nice sense of irony I thought as there will of course be no piano)!!! It will keep me on my toes I think, but it’s good to challenge yourself and take risks. Who wants to play it safe!

How do you balance your music with other obligations? – Besides music, what else are you into?

Music does have a habit of taking over. I’m not convinced I’ve got any kind of balance at all. But I do also do a bit of acting, which I love and I also like to write (prose, fiction). I love cooking healthy foods and I’ve always got some new cookbook I’m trying out and everyone becomes a guinea pig! I’m a great believer in keeping fit and healthy, and I do a lot of pilates and yoga and a couple of aerobic classes. I can be a bit scattered sometimes if I have a lot on, so I like to meditate, but I also find going for a long walk in the countryside where I live very soothing. I love feeling a part of nature. I do love movies, I sometimes watch them for the scores though as well, like Out of Africa is sublime listening to the beautiful music by John Barry. See what I mean, music takes over!

What are you goals and aspirations for the future?

I’m looking forward to developing the ‘Stripey Animals’. I’m up for the challenge, but I also would like to do more writing, develop my song-writing, which has taken a bit of a back seat. I’d love to produce another album at some point, but at present I just want to focus on becoming a really strong performer, meet lots of like-minded musicians and develop as an artist and a person and keep on doing so. I’d like to remain flexible and open to change, I think that’s where creativity lay, being open to what might happen in the future and not being too set in how I imagine things ‘should’ be. I want to continually grow and be true to myself.

What advise would you give any aspiring musicians wanting to make a name for themselves?

Be true to yourself! Having said it just now. Be authentic. Actually ‘BE’ yourself and not a self-conscious version of yourself, not the ‘you’ you think everyone wants you to be, but to really be yourself. That takes courage and faith, but it’s got to be essential as an artist I think. Get to know yourself and who you are and what you want and then start putting it into action. Don’t ever let anyone else tell you who you are either. Don’t worry about being popular, just be the best you that you can be and hopefully the rest will follow.

Who are your top all time favourite jazz musicians?

Errol Garner, Carmen Mcrae, Ella Fitzgerld, Mel Torme, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Ornette Coleman, Frank Sinatra and the current jazz artists above.

Please tell us a little more about your latest album “Seasons of Love”

I spent a lot of time thinking about what songs to sing on this album. It’s important for the first one especially I think. I didn’t want it to be pretentious either, just a straight ahead jazz album with some great arrangements. I had the idea of creating a sort of fictional love story told through both the lyrics and melodies of the songs themselves, with the thought that the journey of love can be a little bit like the seasons, the Spring of love, the Summer of love and so forth, a fairly simple but playful idea which helped me to put the songs together in a nice coherent way. I think this gives it a nice overall feel when you listen to it as a whole.

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One of the things I’ve always loved doing is taking songs from different genres and playing with them, but to give a song the ‘Jazz’ treatment is a huge responsibility whilst trying to maintain respect for the original song which is very important to me. One of the songs which I hope shows this is my interpretation of ‘Something Good’ a lovely song from The Sound of Music. It’s really great fun to re-discover a song, to play with it and see what happens. It can give it a completely different meaning just to slow it down, which is what I did originally with Walk On By. It developed again during the arranging and it’s now one of my favourite songs on the album. I also love Devil May Care, Adrian Knowles bass playing on this is sublime, this has been a really popular track for radio too.

I was really lucky to be supported by some fabulous musicians Graham Hearn (Piano), Mike Cox (Tenor Sax), Ian Mann and Adrian Knowles (Bass), Ronnie Bottomley (Drums). It’ll be interesting to see what the next album is like. But I want to focus on performing right now. I need to sing a lot more songs first!

We would like to thank Beverley Beirne for taking the time to talk with us, we hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about this talented musician. Remember to check out Beverleys website for further details on upcoming gigs, album releases etc.

Thank you Beverley and best of luck with your future endeavors.

The Festival Archive team
Your source for comprehensive jazz festival information worldwide

Author: Paul Thomson