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Joe Stilgoe interview

The jazz star talks about his upcoming Christmas shows.

Joe Stilgoe

Jazz star Joe Stilgoe has built up a solid fanbase through relentless touring around the world.

The pianist, singer and songwriter has two critically-acclaimed albums under his belt and has just announced some festive shows for December.

We caught up with Joe to talk about the new shows, find out about his BBC Radio 2 festive special and discuss his new music releases.

How are you today? Where does this Q&A find you?

I’m very well, thank you. I’m up far too early…so forgive me if my answers betray my tirednnnnnnnnesssss. I’m at home, finishing off an arrangement of the song ‘Love Potion No.9’ by Lieber & Stoller, which I heard on the soundtrack to American Graffiti and have loved ever since. It’s for my new show.

You’ve just announced two shows at Ronnie Scotts for December. What can your fans expect from them?

Well, we’re just easing into December at that point, so without wishing to alienate those who deem any mention of Christmas or any uttering of the word ‘reindeer’ to be a pact with Satan, there will be a hint of the Advent season among the usual mixture of slick musicianship (from Ben Castle) and inept talking (me). I’m toying with the idea of writing a song called ‘Soho (ho) Christmas’, but the reaction from your readers could jeopardise this. Confirmed in the set will be a ripping cover of Get Ready by the Temptations, my own songs and some seasonal nuggets that will warm the soul of even the curmudgeonliest humbug.

Before those shows you’re going to be playing the London Jazz Festival. The show is called Joe Stilgoe – Songs on Film. Tell us a bit about it.

Songs On Film started as a suggestion when talking to the London jazz Festival about a new project, and has become an obsession. There are so many songs to choose from I often sit at the piano and shout “HELP ME UNRAVEL THIS MYSTERY!” I’ve whittled the list down to 950, so I’m well on the way.  I’m trying to include a historical edge, as we’re nearing the centenary of Hollywood and though there weren’t any record songs in films from 1913, I’ll be going back as far as I can, through to the present day. Back To The Future plays a big role in the show as it’s the best film ever, and I’ve tried to include hints to all my favourite things about film and cinema. Tarantino, Kubrick, Pixar, Hitchock, they all get a mention. Oh, and I’ve written two brand new songs celebrating the golden age of Hollywood (no, Michael Bay, it’s not now) and popcorn.

You play a lot of live shows. What’s your favourite part of being out on the road?

Service Stations (current favourite – Charnock Richard).

You’ve played all over the world. What differences do you notice with your fans in different countries?

In France, don’t try to translate the joke you think works so well in English. Milton Keynes isn’t funny in France. I find audiences in New York have a reverence and pride of the great standards from Gershwin, Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart/ Hammerstein and co, as those songs are such a rich part of America’s heritage. Dare I say it, but the patriotism inspired by Elgar, or The Beatles, or The Kinks in Britain is trumped by the ownership and love they have for the Great American Songbook, so playing those songs in New York is very special.

Just before Christmas you’ve also got your own one-off show on BBC Radio 2. How did that come about?

Radio 2 approached me to come up with something earlier this year, and we recorded a pilot show at Ronnie Scott’s with live band, amazing guests, interviews, beatboxing over the Black Beauty theme tune. Nearly all of it worked. So, they’ve very kindly allowed me to do it again, but this time on air. It’s called Jingle Bell Joe, so unlikely to work so well in February, but it will feel like the best party you’ve never been to. Tim Minchin will be joining me to perform the world’s first ‘Singterview’, and other EXTREMELY good guests will be dropping by to sing, laugh and cry as we celebrate the festive season in a TFI Friday/ Later/ That Was The Week That Was sort of fashion. It goes out on December 23rd so I really can get away with some Christmas songs.

You released single Abracadabra back in July. What other music release plans do you have in the coming months?

I’m going to release a live album of the Songs On Film show, which hopefully will come out just before Christmas as a limited edition run, and then I’ll be back in the studio early next year to record a studio album called Gold On Silver, which will again be based on the Songs On Film idea, but with larger forces and more timpani.

Which artists would you credit with influencing your sound and music?

This is a list that in its entirety would make your website much too long (you know really long websites..?) and prevent people from reading the rest of the interview, but here’s a heavily reduced offering. A sauce Bordelaise, if you will (that also isn’t funny in France). Fats Waller, Fats Domino, Nat King Cole, Carole King, Liane Carroll, Harry Connick Jr, Sinatra, Dudley Moore, Oscar Peterson, Michel Petrucciani, Gershwin, Louis Prima, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong (all the Louises. But not Louise from Eternal) Randy Newman, Michael McDonald, Ivor Novello, Noel Coward, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Hoagy Carmichael. The Beatles. The Beach Boys. Motown.

What artists would you like to work with and why?

I would like to work with Lianne La Havas because she’s completely amazing. This is unlikely, as she’s a good deal hipper than me, but you never know…

What plans do you have for the festive season?

I will be reading Entertainment Focus.

Joe will perform two shows on December 5th and 6th at Ronnie Scotts.

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