An Interview with Barb Jungr…

Barb Jungr is one of the UK’s most acclaimed music exports, enjoying great success on both sides of the Atlantic.  The Rochdale-born chanteuse is a captivating performer and we’re thrilled to be welcoming her back to St George’s this month for an evening of songs by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.  Barb is famous for her sass, style, vocal pyrotechnics and an amazing talent for teasing out meanings from poetic lyrics that other singers can’t even guess at. We caught a few minutes with her recently to talk music, returning to Bristol and politics.

You talk a lot about songs telling stories, what can we learn from the stories of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen?

Well we learn a lot about their deep seated morality, about their relationship to religion and to humanity. To masculinity and to manhood, and conversely therefore to the feminine. They both approach the world from a very different poetic/lyrical stance but they have drunk, in their own personal histories, from the same well.

What drew you to these artists?

They are for me some of the greatest writers of popular song of the last 100 years. Post Great American songbook they redefined the songbook and the song, and of the relationship of the songwriter to the material. They are not alone in this of course, but as they were in the first wave they are seminal and for me, have never been equaled – like many of their peers. I’d include Mitchell in that, and of course Jimmy Webb, Neil Diamond and more.

Will you be performing the songs live in the order on the album? How do you decide the order that the songs should go in?

No. Live is so different in terms of the story from the album. I still assume – because of the generation I am from – that people listen to albums in the order of the songs, consequently on an album I order the narrative of the songs in a particular arc. But live we are performing the songs and the narrative becomes a different one though the songs are in the same arrangements. I love ordering the albums, and the shows – but its always tricky! And of course you think about pace and keys and dynamics. They all play a role.

You’ve played St George’s before, do you remember the venue and have you performed anywhere else in Bristol?

I love St George’s, its a great venue and the sound is wonderful there. I’ve played in the theatre in town, the big one when I toured with Julian Clary all those years ago in The Spectaculars, and also the smaller theatre some time ago, and the Tobacco Factory, Bristol has a great live music scene and a great music audience. I’m thrilled to be back at St George’s and really looking forward to singing this material there.

What is your favourite venue to perform in and why?

Oh I love so many – I’ve always loved the Purcell Room in the South Bank Centre in London, and I love playing at The Town Hall in New York – legendary venue, you stand on a stage that has hosted some of the greatest names in live music ever there. I loved playing Cafe Carlyle in New York for much the same reason, and did 2 seasons there. Every venue is special if the night is right and the sound is good and the audience is with you.

You are very popular internationally, in New York in particular, what are the audiences like over there and do you change your performance in any way to suit the different audiences?

No I don’t change anything for different countries. I assume they want to come for the same reasons people come everywhere else. We give them the best music and song we can give on a  given night. I’ve been really fortunate in working in the USA and they’ve been gorgeous to me.

Unlike many artists you don’t shy away from political engagement, what issues concern you presently?

Where would I start! Housing is a big bugbear for me as I live on a Peabody Estate and have watched local communities being eroded by changing housing laws and greed in Central London. Health and education, of course. Foreign policy, Fracking. War. This list will be endless. I am a libertarian humanitarian, with socialist leaning. I want better for more, because I think a fairer society is a safer, more productive and kinder society. I grew up in the sixties and early seventies and I suspect that the possibility of a better world seemed closer then. I would like that for the young now. Worldwide.

Corbyn, Cooper, Burnham or Kendall?

I have voted. And from the above you will know for whom. It certainly wasn’t for Kendall.

What are you looking forward to?

I look forward to singing every time I can do it. I am looking forward to performing the new album in the US later this month for PBS television. I’m looking forward to all the new projects I’m doing and all the ones already there that I’m out playing. I had a seriously traumatic time over the last decade where I lost nearly all of my immediate family, my best friend of 40 years, my ex husband and his mother, my 20 year musical collaborator and more. It was chastening. I look forward to every single day.


Barb Jungr is performing at St George’s on Friday 25 September…