Barb Jungr – Voice of an Angel
- Category: Music Archive
Barb Jungr has had a long and distinguished career as a singer, more lately specializing in intimate solo concerts and collaborations with all kinds of musicians where she performs her own material and reworked classics. Once described as 'the UK’s answer to Edith Piaf,' Barb has a loyal international following.
ZANI caught up with her between dates.
ZANI - You're a woman in her fifties, involved in, I would say, the more meaningful end of the popular music/performance business, you're well known and have had a successful career. Where do you see yourself, moving forward? Are you visualising retirement? And what's the secret of your performing longevity?
Barb Jungr - Thank you for "the more meaningful" bit. But, blimey Rhiannon. That question's hilarious. I'll sing till I drop. And, cliches aside, I didn’t really know anything till my late forties. I watch younger singers now and think how long it takes to "find your own voice". Look at Amy Winehouse. I think she was only just beginning, such a loss, such a talent. Many people confuse artistry and commercial success, they're not the same thing. Amy's artistry was just beginning to emerge. So for myself, I have a million things to say, sing, and create. A lot of the time I feel I have only - in the words of Karen Carpenter - just begun. Also, at the more meaningful end, where I hang out, your reasons for doing it are different, and more about living in music, which is what musicians do. Very few of them retire, they play till they can't anymore. Which is terrific. Bop till you drop.
ZANI - What do you think made you want to write your own material? What made you do covers? Which do you prefer?
Barb Jungr - Well, I write because I have something to communicate. I interpret - I loathe the word 'covers' because to me it suggests dull karaoke, and what I do is spend bloody hours recreating and reharmonising with my arrangers, lovingly, the structures and songs, in order to bring new life to them. What made me think that? What makes anybody do anything? The urge to create, to write, to sing, comes from somewhere else. I never question it. It's taken me around the world and brought me wonderful experiences. I'll go wherever it takes me and I'm grateful for, and happy to do, the work I do. I'm pretty much surrounded by wonderful music. The people I play and work with are terrific musicians. How lucky am I?
ZANI - I see you're a fan of Bob Dylan, who seems reluctant to 'own' his alleged political and social impact in the 1960s. Do you yourself think music has some part to play in the culture beyond entertainment?
Barb Jungr - Absolutely. Art can do anything, and everything. I'm all for meaning and subtext and so on. But I love cheesy pop. too. There's room for everything.
ZANI - Have you met, or spoken to Dylan? If so, how did you find him in person? - This is the classic, but I had to ask.
Barb Jungr - My management just sent his management a bunch of CDs. And while I was in New York, several people came up to talk to me who know him, and said they'd be telling him about what I'm up to......
ZANI - There are lots of popular music schools springing up everywhere, there are three here in my city for example, plus a couple of Performing Arts secondary schools. It seems that many more young people are desperate to have a 'career' in music compared with when you started. Do you believe that some people are just 'born' with talent, or do you think it's something that can be acquired with hard work? Do you think 'rock school' is the right place to develop talent?
Barb Jungr - That's a good question. All the singers I know - my friends - all sang from the minute they could. No-one taught them how to. Though they all did loads of work improving what they did they didn't go to schools for that. But a lot of terrific musicians have come out of the jazz conservatoires, and look at the great people that passed through RADA and Central School of Speech and Drama, and The Actors Studio. So maybe its about the type of school and what they offer. Amy Winehouse came through a performance school I think. Maybe it’s about that. And no matter what you know, you can always learn something else. Even Yehudi Menuhin practiced and studied with the greats. There's always something more to learn.
ZANI - What do you think about the whole X Factor, Britain's Got Talent phenomenon? The whole 'cult of celebrity'?
Barb Jungr - I don't think much about it. I've got a lot of other stuff to think about that's more interesting. I do watch some telly, I watch Law and Order UK and Downton Abbey and Spooks, and Question Time because it’s fun to look at the trending tweets when it’s on. But I'm not a fan of reality TV on the whole, and I'd class all the ones you mention as that. It’s too manipulative, for my tastes. When the public wanted that man to win the dancing programme and the judges didn't, that told you everything about what was going on. And hello? Susan Boyle?
ZANI - You have a niche, that's your living. But are you interested in a wider range of music? What other stuff do you listen to? Are you likely to continue to experiment covering different artists, or vary your own writing and performance style?
Barb Jungr - I listen to pretty much every kind of music. Lately I've been listening to a lot more classical work. I've always loved African music and I'm really interested in the modern music coming out of South Africa. I look for the writers I'll work on, there's a bunch on a list. I write for myself for the collaboration I do with Kuljit Bhamra, Durga Rising and the vocal style in that is far more into the centre of jazz improvisation.
ZANI - What's your experience of the business side of the music business been like? Managers, agents, deals, record companies etc.
Barb Jungr - I like the people I work with and I've met some excellent folk through the years. I learnt a lot from them all. I steer clear of the other lot.
ZANI - What's your view on the ongoing shift in emphasis for artists away from being dependent on large corporate recording companies now that there's so much better access to affordable, good recording for individuals and ease of digital self distribution. Do you think there is a real shift in the relationship between recorded product vs live performance as an income generator for artists? And is that a good thing?
Barb Jungr - It’s great what's happening. Small is beautiful. So much can be achieved now because the traditional structures have become less dominating and the Internet and festivals and digital radio have made it much more easy for like minded groups to hook up. I think that's a great thing. Having said that, when I was in The Three Courgettes, we were on Island Records, and we had a ball. As for income generating, I think that depends on which artists and which set ups. Generally I think the major record companies going in the toilet direction is no bad thing as I think they're pretty much single handedly responsible for manipulating media.
ZANI - Would you describe yourself as a feminist, and if so, how do you feel about charges that female artists, especially high profile artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, believe they have to use a soft porn approach in order to kick start their pop careers?
Barb Jungr - Yes, I would describe myself as a feminist. There's a lot written about the politics of image, and much of it worth reading. I have a fair amount of admiration for Madonna, less as a dancer/singer, more as a businesswoman. There's also a lot written about pornography. It’s a slippery slope. But I liked Poker Face as a track, a lot. I'm not sure I care that much for Lady Gaga, generally, I don't see what she's doing that artist - real artist - Andrew Logan's legendary beauty contests didn't do a thousand times over, and with maybe a bit more humour......
ZANI - So what’s coming up for you?
Barb Jungr - I'm just back from a month in the States, I'm back there again next year. I'm working on my next recording and Durga Rising in the coming year, and doing a couple of big writing projects, more about that soon. 2012. Bring it on.
© Words - Rhiannon Hill
(Rhiannon Hill is a freelance journalist, rock musician and therapist specialising in performance anxiety: www.brightonhovecounselling.co.uk)