Louise Golbey: Don’t Call Her A Jazz Singer

London-born, Bournemouth-raised, singer-songwriter Louise Golbey works hard, very hard. Without a record company or even management behind her she has over the years steadily built a solid reputation on the live scene as one to watch. All this has been achieved whilst holding down a part-time job. Still, the hectic schedule hasn’t taken its toll on Louise’s disposition. The ever-genial songstress exudes even more warmth off-stage than she does on.

Golbey’s musical journey seemed to have been written in the stars. She comes from a long line of entertainers; a grandfather who played violin for silent movies, a pianist uncle, a mother who’s an amateur vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist father. Louise herself first treaded the boards at six years old having been exposed to musical theatre by her mum. Meanwhile her Hip Hop loving brother was introducing little Louise to pioneers such as De La Soul and her interest in soul music was piqued by her parents’ Motown collection.

In the midst of this she was also getting to grips with learning the piano. Yet a significant amount of time passed before singing became Louise’s focus. As a child and during her teens, dance was her main creative outlet. She studied ballet, tap, modern, jazz and street dance. ‘I actually thought I’d be a dancer… It was always a battle between my singing and dancing; what was strongest.’

Life gave Louise a gentle push towards the path she was eventually to take, however. Whilst studying French and Drama at University she started gigging to earn extra cash. She sang and danced throughout the year she spent in France as part of her course. Shortly after moving to London on finishing her degree, an acquaintance set Louise a challenge she couldn’t resist.

‘The reason I’m pursuing [singing] today is because a friend of mine used to put on a night for artists at different stages of their career. I did a show for her; a set of Jazz covers. She said “I’d love you to do another show for us but the point of the night is [to do] original material. Do you have any of your own stuff?” ’

Louise had written a few songs but they were yet to be tested on the public. Nevertheless, not one to pass up an opportunity, on her friend’s suggestion Golbey decided to showcase what she had at the next event. This audacious move paid off when she got a very encouraging response from the audience. ‘We had just a 15 minute set and it went really well. It was quite a moment singing my songs for the first time. So then I just started booking gigs and writing more stuff and it kind of spiralled from there’. Louise remains eternally grateful to her friend for being the unwitting catalyst for her musical career. ‘Every time I see her I say, “It’s because of you I’m doing this”!’

Recently, the mighty British institution that is the BBC has taken Louise under its wing. This most felicitous patronage got started when DJ Ras Kwame picked up on future classic ‘Same Old, Same Old’ and played it on his ‘100% Home Grown’ show. Its irresistible, undulating groove caught the attention of the listeners, beating off Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle to become track of the week.

It’s been a rollercoaster ride of festivals and airplay ever since, Louise explains. ‘[They have] just been so supportive of me. I got to do Glastonbury on the BBC stage. I’ve been played on 1Xtra, 6 Music and Radio 1. I got invited on 1Xtra to Ronnie Herel’s show …’ At the start of 2010, Louise was also asked to record three of her tracks at the BBC’s famous Maida Vale studios, behind-the-scenes-footage of which is available on YouTube:

To garner such coverage is quite an impressive feat for anyone let alone a one-woman marketing machine. What are the most taxing aspects of being an independent-artist-cum-manager according to Louise? ‘It is hard work, balancing a day job four days a week and being out on the circuit every night. The admin takes a lot out of you, booking your own gigs and sorting out stuff. The PR side of it is hard on your own [too]. There’s only so much you can do and only so many avenues you can reach.

‘But I’ve got this crazy passion and determination which just keeps me going. Every time I get close to something, I’m like “It’s so worth it”. I’ve [also] got people around me like my brother, fighting my corner. It’s exciting and I quite like being in control of it.’

Louise’s foursquare approach to her art also extends to her work ethic in the studio. ‘I’m very hands on. I really like to be involved in the process. Some artists give their track to producers and let them get on with it whilst I like to be involved in every decision’.

In this regard, Golbey has found a kindred spirit in Drew Horley – producer for the likes of childhood heroes De La Soul as well as Estelle, Roots Manuva, TY and Nate James to name a few – with whom Louise frequently collaborates. ‘We do have really similar ideas. He’ll do something and I’d be like “That’s Amazing” or I’ll suggest something and he’d say, “I was just thinking that.” He’s brilliant to work with, so talented.’

Prior to working with Horley, Louise only had acoustic recordings of her material. He has helped her make the successful transition from a purely unplugged feel. ‘I was always looking for someone to work with who would help me create a sound I was really happy with. The tracks I’ve done with him hit the nail on the head with [what] I’m trying to find.’

Louise counts Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone amongst those who have impacted her craft. But whatever you do, don’t call her a jazz singer. ‘I’m trying to steer away from the Jazz title. The music I’m making is soul and I don’t want to be pigeon-holed in a kind of Jamie Cullum/Jazz way. I love what he does and he’s really talented but I’m trying to make soul music’.

She admits, nonetheless that the two genres have a shared musical history which is apparent in some of their modern day proponents. ‘Erykah Badu definitely crosses the jazz vocals over the Soul/Hip Hop thing. The sound I’m going for is Neo-Soul. I use Erykah and D’Angelo as a reference for what I want production-wise.’

It’s somewhat ironic that Louise is happy to embrace the Neo-Soul label; a term one of her icons, Badu, reportedly dislikes. Golbey is surprised to learn of this aversion. In any case, she maintains an open attitude regarding the whole categorisation debate.

‘Sometimes I might be writing new stuff and someone says “That’s got Pop-cross over [appeal]”. I’m like “Ooh, Pop? No!” But that’s good surely? You don’t want to remain underground. I enjoy performing at a lot of soul nights but hopefully my stuff fits a multi-genre night as well. It’s a good sign if I do a multi-genre night and people come up to me saying they like the stuff. That means it does cross over.’

With the exception of John Legend, Louise is sweetly patriotic when it comes to her future collaboration wishlist, keen to join forces with fellow Brits. ‘I’d love to work with Omar – his voice is just something else – and Vula (Louise has previously been a support act for both). Vula’s a good friend of mine. Her voice is incredible. There’s a singer called J’nay, he’s amazing. His voice is a cross between Bilal and Al Green. We do a lot of the same gigs and we’ve often performed together on stage. I actually said to him the other week we have to write a song together. We respect each other musically.’

Strangely enough, despite currently working on an ‘album’s worth of material’, Louise is not in a hurry to actually release one. ‘Physically I’d like to have something and call it my album but I’m also aware that I want to keep the momentum up. I want to just keep having stuff out on iTunes. People don’t necessarily buy albums anymore; they buy the singles [online]. I’m not going to spend too much time worrying about an album per se. I just want to have singles ready to go.’

Louise Golbey – How It Is (EP)
Louise Golbey - How It Is - EP

Golbey has witnessed some significant milestones in her career within the last year alone. Besides playing Glastonbury and supporting soul legends in concert she also formed part of the line-up for the opening night of the world-renowned London Jazz Festival at the Barbican in November 2009, performing with a full band in her own one-hour slot. On the back of this alone she has been asked to play some dates in Moscow this summer. Still, there’s one feather in her cap that Golbey is eager to attain.

‘My goal is to go on Later…with Jools Holland. It has always remained as a benchmark. I think the show is the only one now that has got that respect. If you get invited on, that’s a big deal. Who knows if it’s do-able?’

For someone as determined as Louise? Anything is possible.

–Tola Ositelu

Photography by Neil Raja for SoulCulture

www.louisegolbey.com /Blog / MySpace / Facebook / @LouiseGolbey

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