SARAH Gillespie is a supreme musical talent who does not always get the recognition she deserves.
Influenced by Bessie Smith, and time spent out in the United States, her music is a mix of folk, blues and jazz. Think Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey and Bob Dylan. A smorgasbord of influences.
Happy to belt out Bessie Smith classics, which she does with panache, Gillespie really comes into her own when drawing on songs from her diverse back book – albums Glory Days, In The Current Climate (with acclaimed saxophonist Gilad Atzmon), Stalking Juliet and the recent EP Roundhouse Bounty.
They are songs that reflect her politics (anti-Trump, left of centre), love of her mother and daughter and her quirky take on the modern world we live in. For example, jealousies fuelled by mobile phones being switched off and the weird adverts people will put in the newspaper to attract a soulmate – ‘bald pink round man seeks woman, not similar’.
They also confirm her mastery of the written word, a fact which has prompted her latest project – a book of poetry (Queen Ithaca Blues, AB Press). Oh, and by the way, she is more than an accomplished painter as evidenced by her work Norfolk Sunset and Signal Failure. Multi-talented and multi-tasking (she has a young daughter).
Gillespie is a regular at the 606 Club on Lots Road in London’s Chelsea, run by the legendary Steve Rubie. Indeed it is a club which helped Gillespie get on the musical ladder and where she wrote some of her early music.
On Thursday March 8, she made her latest appearance at 606 – and as ever her music was warmly received by an appreciative audience.
Accompanied by Kit Downsey (a wonderful maverick) on piano, Ruth Goller on bass, Emiliano Carouselli on drums and Emma Divine (backing vocals), she only paid homage to Bessie Smith once with a rousing version of Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out. Apart from an opening cover of Bob Dylan’s song about drinking too much – Moonshiner – most of the music was from own songbook.
Standouts included Babies And All That Shit, Glory Days (a homage to her mother), Signal Failure, Postcards To Outer Space (a sparse solo and another homage to her mum) and The Soldier Song (dedicated to her aunt Mary Lou, a pacifist who helped form Gillespie’s own views on war and who was sitting in the audience). The set was also enhanced by the guest appearance of guitarist Jason McNiff whose latest album is Rain Dries Your Eyes. His vocals, like Gillespie’s, draw comparison with Dylan.
Gillespie’s latest album will be showcased at the Purcell Room in the Southbank Centre (London) on Monday 29 October. Keep an eye on her website for further details.
In the meantime, you can catch her next at the Lichfield Blues and Jazz Festival on Sunday June 3 before she returns to London at the Brasserie Zedel on Thursday June 21.
Catch her if you can. You will like her a lot. Ballsy. Quirky. Lyrical. Clever. Oh and yes multi-talented.