As a child, Clare Teal had an unconventional taste in music, ignoring the pop numbers of the 1980s and exploring some considerably older tunes.
“The first music that I started listening to was a bunch of old records in the attic – old 78s,” she explains while describing her recent UK tour – The Divas and Me.
“People like Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald…they were among the first singers that really switched me on to music.”
Now one of the most successful British jazz singers, Clare has found that many music lovers share her admiration for these icons.
The Divas and Me celebrates the amazing achievements of these characters who have stood the test of time.
What does Clare think the appeal of their music is?
“I think the music of that time – the ’30s and ’40s – it’s timeless in a way,” she explains.
“The songs are crafted really well and they’re very beautiful and, you know, the sentiments are the same...people falling in love, people falling out of love, people wanting to be in love. We still have those feelings and they’re still relevant in today’s world.”
Clare explains what a ‘diva’ means in the context of her show, keen to define the term in the positive sense and separate it from the alternative, negative meanings.
A ‘diva’, according to Clare, is “almost like a perfectionist”.
She explains: “Somebody who respected their art form so much that they just wanted it to be as good as it could possibly be.”
So, who is a modern-day diva, in the positive sense of the word?
“I think it’s got to be Adele, hasn’t it? Everything she sings turns to gold and I love the fact that she’s just a normal, every-day person who has an absolutely extraordinary talent in writing and singing and is globally recognised for that. It’s an amazing achievement.”
Clare continues, talking enthusiastically about the singers who have inspired her.
“I love vocalists,” she says. “I’ve listened predominantly to vocal music all my life. But the one that I still just come back to every time is Ella Fitzgerald, which is probably no surprise, really.
“She was simply amazing. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t sing. She had this fantastic kind of acrobatic ability, so she could swoop through any number of octaves.
“But even when she was in the midst of a free-form scat solo you always understood where she was going.
“She was a kind of singer of the people and she just had a fantastic warmth that came through in everything that she sang.”
Speaking of warmth, Clare also talks about her first Christmas album, ‘Jing, Jing-a-Ling’, which features songs by her favourites. She says she’s wanted to make a festive album for about ten years and describes herself as a “sucker” for that uplifting vibe that Christmas songs have.
“They’re always sort of larger than life or they’re very sickly sweet,” she says. “You can only listen to them at Christmas, can’t you?”
Few people get to celebrate the music of their heroes or heroines as part of their career, but Clare has a refreshingly down-to-earth attitude about it.
I ask what thoughts are going through her head when she’s on stage, performing songs by these icons, and I get an amusing answer.
“‘Have we run out of milk?’ is a frequent one,” she laughs.
“It’s funny when you do live stuff. You can be completely and utterly in the moment one minute and then you’re thinking two songs ahead the next. It’s a really bizarre thing and I think it’s because music frees your mind in a way, so a lot of the time I couldn’t even tell you what I was thinking.
“I’m just sort-of telling the story, you know?
“But sometimes you get a little bit distracted until you’re thinking ahead or you’re thinking ‘oh, what should I cook tomorrow…’
Clare brings her show to the Ropetackle Centre, Shoreham, on Saturday, October 12:
“This will be the second time we’ve been to Shoreham. It’s a beautiful, intimate venue, so actually it will just be myself and Grant Windsor who is my musical director.”
Clare continues: “I love that show because I can do whatever I want. I can change my mind mid-song if I want to and Grant will be right there.”
A show with only two people has an astonishing effect on the atmosphere too.
Clare explains: “You get a different sense of what the songs are about, because, obviously, when you take the drums out of anything you’re left with space.
“So there’s space around the vocals and space around the piano and I think they’re actually very magical those things.
“It’s a time for storytelling, so you can kind of tell the stories behind the songs or you just go with the flow of the evening.”
She continues: “We had such a fantastic time at the Ropetackle last time we came that I am seriously looking forward to going back there.
“It was a really terrific audience and a lovely place.”
Clare pauses for a second, breaking away from an intellectual analysis of the music and venue to show her down-to-earth attitude again.
“There was a really nice curry, I seem to remember,” she laughs.
“It was a Thai green curry and they made it for us and it was delicious.”
Call the Ropetackle box office on 01273 464440. Tickets cost £18. The show starts at 8pm.
By Lawrence Smith