Q&A Lady Blackbird

Having already wowed audiences in Digbeth and at Resorts World Arena earlier this year, rising jazz star Lady Blackbird returns to Brum for a much anticipated appearance at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival 2022.

With an organic and stripped back sound, Lady Blackbird’s Black Acid Soul album was one of the stand-out releases of 2021, and one that continues to find new fans. She’s since recorded a version of I Am What I Am for a TV advert for a well known airline, and also appeared on ITV as part of their Jubilee celebrations.

How were your recent dates with Gregory Porter?

The tour with Gregory Porter was wonderful! It was an incredible experience to play that size room nightly. It’s a real education musically and as a performer. I’m very grateful. Gregory and his band are such wonderful musicians and so lovely as people. I hope to work with Gregory more in the future, he’s such an incredibly gifted artist!

You’ve previously released music as Marley Munroe – what led to the change to Lady Blackbird?

I’ve performed music and written songs for such a long time … I’m very proud of what’s been released under ‘Marley Munroe’. The idea to release this under another name came as this big shift began to happen in my life and career. Chris [Seefried – producer] and I had the idea to pull back and make an album that focused on me vocally. From the first recorded note on Black Acid Soul, and during the demo process, it felt like a new beginning.

Gilles Peterson has famously called you the ‘Grace Jones of Jazz’ – how do you feel about that comparison?

Aaaah! ‘The Grace Jones of Jazz!’ What a daunting comparison – one I can only hope to live up to. I’ve been such a fan and have so much respect for Grace as an entertainer. To be compared to someone you look up to, is so special.

Alongside the originals on the album, there’s some beautifully selected covers of songs by people like Nina Simone and Tim Hardin – can you tell us a bit about why you selected some of those tunes? And what they mean to you?

This was definitely an album of more covers then I was used to as a songwriter of my own tunes. My producer, Chris, and I wrote some beautiful songs for the album that I’m quite proud of. The cover song’s for the album were chosen very carefully, but the selection came from a very open and free place. Blackbird was the first song I brought to the table to be covered. I am a fan of Nina Simone. Blackbird had always been one of my favourites of hers. Ross Allen brought in many options to choose from as did Chris. There were hours of listening sessions to narrow down the best choices. Once I can interpret the song from my soul, that’s when I know. The Tim Hardin song [It’ll Never Happen Again] I was actually not familiar with. But that one has turned out to be one of my favourites to perform.

The various remixes of individual tracks have a very different vibe to the album – are you keen to showcase different a different side to you with these?

It’s been great hearing peoples different interpretations of my music in all genres. Its a collaboration in a way. And it’s cool to have a reinterpretation of the records. They’ve been tasteful, danceable, artful and interesting. I love music in a broad sense, so it’s nice to hear the records occupy different spaces. It’s important for me as an artist to have that kind of freedom, to be able to make it about something of quality and thought and not be genre specific other than holding the Duke Ellington line of being good music!!

You’ve cited many 60s-70s artists as influences – Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Chaka Khan. What is that attracts you to those artists and that period?

The artists that I grew up listening to they still inspire me to this day for multiple reasons.

The songs they sang were so brilliantly written. The tones of their voices, the richness, the quality, the timelessness. They’re all staples in history. There are also artists from the ’90s that shaped me, like Jay Z and Lauryn Hill; and current artists that inspire me greatly, Celeste, Brittany Howard …

What are your plans for the coming months?

We’ll we kick off the next tour in Belgium! We’ll be on the road for all of July playing festivals from Love Supreme in the UK to the Montreux Jazz Festival, North Sea Jazz in Holland and Newport Jazz in the States! We’ll be posting the schedule of all shows so hope to be seeing all of you out there!

I’ve got many singles coming out as well, and a feature Chris and I co-wrote with Moby that is beautiful and cool coming soon. So while we finish writing and recording the new album, we also tour through October and November. It’s all very exciting and I’m so grateful to everyone who enjoys the music and the shows and hope to engage somewhere, sometime, soon.

Lady Blackbird appears at Mostly Jazz Festival on Sunday 10 July 2022. For more information on the festival, which opens on Friday 8 July with The Specials, see: mostlyjazz.co.uk


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