- July 20, 2021
Barb Jungr is an acclaimed cabaret chanteuse around the world and admired for her interpretations of the work of Dylan, Cohen and many More. Andrew Kay caught up with her before her appearance at PierFest on Brighton Palace Pier.
When did you first realise that you had a voice Barb and that you would make it your career?
I don’t know if I ever realised that! I always loved performance and as a small girl would make a stage on our front step à la Gracie Fields, at school I wrote sketches and did daft characters. So there was always something crook in there for sure.
Was it an easy path to have chosen and was there a definitive moment when you thought yes, I have made the right decision?
No, no and no. Hilarious. I cannot imagine a nicer way to spend a life than playing – playing music, playing theatre, playing. Sometimes I’ll be sat in a rehearsal and I’ll think, how lucky am I? I did a ton of jobs during my growing up time in order to stay alive and I can honestly say this is the best, the best the best.
Were your family supportive of your choice to be a performer?
I have to stop myself laughing uproariously. No. They were I think nonplussed. If you are Lawrence Fox or something everybody probably goes “Oh fab. Tidge is going to go into the business” and they all go “cheers” with a litre of Beaujolais. Whereas my parents sat in chairs and pondered how I could have gone so wrong.
As a young woman who were your musical icons?
I loved Maria Callas and Edith Piaf, Nina Simone and Diana Ross and The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Sandy Denny, Dionne Warwick, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Aretha, Mahalia Jackson….it’s an endless list this one.
You are not just a singer but also a songwriter, does that part of your work come easy?
I love writing. I love sitting and waiting for something to pour down from wherever it comes from and I hope I never, ever take that for granted. Dylan has said this is a vocation not a career and I have always thought that.
Your early career and perhaps your first exposure to a wider audience was working with Julian Clary on his first TV show, Sticky Moments, was that fun? Is Julian as funny off stage as he is on?
Julian is a friend and has been for such a long time I can only say I love him dearly. Working with him in those days was glorious and I think back and remember it all with great fondness particularly since two of our touring companions and my co-musicians Russell Churney and Michael Parker, are no longer with us.
I next became aware of you when you came to Brighton’s Laughing Gas comedy festival with a show called Hell Bent Heaven Bound working with some great musical associates, how did that come about and where did it lead?
I had met the wonderful Christine Collister through friends I think and then we decided to do something together and originally it was Christine, Michael Parker and Ian Shaw and myself and we made a beautiful show about death, as it happens. We did in in Edinburgh and the now hugely famous theatre impresario Nica Burns directed us. Then we lost Ian because he had some commitments and we’d been offered a tiny tour of Canadian festivals so we asked Helen Watson who is an incredibly under rated singer and musician in my opinion – she works a lot with Snake Davies and now also with Daphne’s Flight – Helen joined us and we all went to Canada. I loved it – we met such wonderful people and got to sing with The Fairfield Four -they’re legendary for goodness sake! It was amazing. And after it we went to Vancouver Island and had a holiday and spent ALL OUR FEE on this cabin on a beach and went up in a plane from the sea and I picked up our whale watching captain and went off in the night and ended up walking back through the bear filled forest to our cabin as dawn rose – those were the days! We went to a little cove where a waterfall of fresh water came down and then the sea salt tide splashed over you – bliss. We did see whales by the way!
We next saw you hosting a regular cabaret series here in Brighton, usually at Komedia which was very much you showcasing rising talent, is that something that is very close to your heart?
I love being part of a line that starts before me and goes on after. I think we all are part of a bigger picture and its good to remember that and take note of the fact that none of us matter ore nor less than others of us. If only some governments agreed…
You also have been a respected vocal tutor, do you still have students?
I have performance students now. They are wonderful. They are mainly, but not exclusively American. I taught a lot on the old zoom over the last year and a half and enjoyed it immensely.
One of my favourite shows was called Girl Talk, a set filled with brilliant but incredibly misogynistic songs that gave you the opportunity and your stellar co-stars to make a humorous but powerful statement. Tell us something about that and your fellow performers?
The songs were not so much misogynistic as very old fashioned and a bit stupid. They were fun and we loved them. Working with Claire Martin – who’s my friend – and Mari Wilson – who’s my friend – was a joy and I learned so much from them both. Then Gwyneth Herbert joined Mari and I as Claire had something going on and we did another couple of years of the show with new bits. I love harmony work and both with Hell Bent Heaven Bound and Girl Talk there was plenty of joy in harmonising.
At the same time as pursuing your rising star on the cabaret circuit you also had an increasing engagement with musical theatre and children’s theatre as a writer. How did that come about?
I think it called me somehow because I didn’t seek it out and now it’s most of what I do and I couldn’t be happier or love it more. From those doorsteps all those years ago we are now in rehearsal rooms and making work and perhaps making young people want to carry on going to see live events forever. We wish.
In recent years your prominence and acclaim has mainly come from your much applauded interpretations of some of the most important songwriters of the last century, Jacques Brel, Leonard Cohen, Sting, The Beatles and perhaps most importantly Bob Dylan. What set you on this route?
If I told you I had a premonition that a voice said to me “you must sing the songs of Bob Dylan” would you think I was … Well, that happened. Jacques Brel was different, I loved those songs and somehow they pulled me in and then one night I was singing his song Les Marquis in which of course he is contemplating, in some ways, his own demise and to-be-truncated reduced longevity, and in the room I heard a dog howl – well, we were in Pizza on the Park which was a basement in Knightsbridge and utterly dog free, you couldn’t hear the outside from inside, so that happened. Things happen. I listen to them.
You were recently voted in the top ten artists globally who have covered Dylan, how did that feel?
Oh that felt unbelievable quite honestly. I was knocked out. I felt so proud of the work that all the musicians and arrangers I have worked with put into that. We made some lovely things and are making more, I think!
You are a great collaborative artist, are there still people who you would like to work with?
I will work with pretty much all the people I love, always. And there are more and more of them. I am open to work always.
And again are there songwriters whose work you would still like to interpret and who?
I am open to all doors and doorways and archways and tunnels.
For PierFest on Brighton Palace Pier what should audiences expect?
I am going to dig deep into my Bob Dylan and bring out my favourite songs but I can tell you now my version of Sara is going to be in there as is Isis, probably Tangled Up In Blue, and Man In The Long Black Coat. I hope to see you there I am beyond excited about it.
Barb Jungr plays PierFest on Brighton Palace Pier
26 September 8pm