by Ian Mann
January 27, 2021
Ian Mann enjoys the original songs from this new, genre fluid project, co-led by vocalist and lyricist Zoe Gilby and bassist, multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Champion.
Living In Shadows
“Living In Shadows”
(Evening Play Records EPR3)
Zoe Gilby – vocals, Andy Champion – double bass, cello, keyboards, drums, programming
Mark Williams – guitar, Paul Edis – piano
plus guest musicians;
Graeme Wilson – tenor & baritone saxes, George Milburn – mandolin, Emma Fisk – violin
Living In Shadows is a new project led by the award winning vocalist and lyricist Zoe Gilby and her husband, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Champion.
Based in Gateshead in the North East of England Gilby has established a national reputation as a jazz vocalist, having toured widely, playing venues ranging from major festivals to village halls. She has released three albums to date “Now That I Am Real” (2007), “Looking Glass” (2010) and the excellent “Twelve Stories” (2013). The last named, her best so far, is reviewed here;
Gilby’s creativity and hard work paid off when she deservedly won the 2019 Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Vocalist.
As well as performing in Gilby’s groups Andy Champion is a bandleader in his own right, his most notable project being the jazz-prog ensemble ACV which released two albums “Fail In Wood” (2010) and the excellent “Busk” (2013), both of which are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann.
Playing electric bass Champion is also part of the electro-improvising trio Shiver, led by guitarist Chris Sharkey, with whom he has recorded a series of EPs. In a more straight-ahead jazz context he is an in demand sideman on double bass and has recorded with many of the North East’s leading musicians, including the solo projects of album personnel Williams, Edis and Wilson. Gilby and Champion have also recorded the limited edition EP “Voice & Bass”, which does what it says on the tin and includes a stunning version of Nick Drake’s “River Man”.
Although primarily regarded as jazz artists Gilby and Champion have always been open to other areas of music. Gilby’s albums and live shows have often included imaginative interpretations of pop and rock material, some of it mined from the most unlikely of sources, a brilliant version of “Parents” by the Welsh heavy rock trio Budgie immediately springing to mind. Gilby has covered Thin Lizzy too, in addition to songwriters such as Kate Bush, Paul Simon and Tom Waits.
Gilby’s albums have also included some excellent original songs, featuring her lyrics set to music by Champion, with guitarist Mark Williams also often involved in the songwriting process. Particularly impressive examples include “Red Headed Girl”, “Red City” and “The Midnight Bell”, the latter inspired by the novels of the late author and playwright Patrick Hamilton.
This discussion of original songs brings us on to this latest project, Living In Shadows. A band name as well as an album title this project provides an additional outlet for the songwriting of Gilby and Champion. This new album comprises of all original material, with two of the pieces “For The Day” and “Sending Electricity” having already been released as digital singles.
These are songs that do not fit in neatly with Gilby’s jazz career and the album has more of a rock and pop feel about it. “We listen to lots of 70s and 80s pop and rock. It’s natural for us to write music that mightn’t fall under the jazz umbrella” the couple explain.
The choice of a separate band name suggests that Gilby and Champion are trying to distance this project from their jazz output and are aiming, perhaps, at a different audience.
Living In Shadows has a separate website and Bandcamp page, from which the following statement of intent is taken;
“Vocalist Zoe Gilby (Parliamentary Jazz Vocalist of the year 2019) along with multi instrumentalist Andy Champion have embarked upon a brand new project, Living In Shadows. Their distinctive sound, follows in the tradition of great English alt pop and progressive rock whilst also reflecting their background in jazz”
Besides the core duo of Gilby and Champion Living In Shadows also features guitarist Mark Williams, a key player in Gilby’s jazz trios and quartets, and the versatile pianist Paul Edis. Additional instrumentation is provided as required by saxophonist Graeme Wilson, violinist Emma Fisk and George Milburn on mandolin.
The music was documented at Gilby and Champion’s home studio between 2016 and 2019, the recording sessions no doubt squeezed into their busy touring schedules. Fast forward to 2021 and the musical landscape looks very different now, with performances taking place on line. Not that this has stifled the couple’s creativity, with the “Living In Shadows” album being brought to completion during the lockdown period.
The album commences with the Gilby / Champion song “For The Day”, introduced by Edis at the piano. Gilby’s well enunciated vocals sing of watching migrating birds in flight, and of how those migratory patterns match the rhythms of human experience. The song’s structure is unusual, making use of ‘pre’ and ‘full’ choruses. Wilson adds a suitably soaring tenor saxophone solo in the latter stages of the song.
The lyrics of the suitably urgent “Running Feet” address another form of migration, the ongoing refugee crisis, the words evoking a sense of fear and desperation. The music has a poppy, r’n’b feel with Gilby’s vocals frequently multi-tracked, and with guest Milburn’s mandolin augmenting the sounds of the core group.
“Try To Take It Twice”, co-written by Gilby, Champion and Williams, has a lyric that addresses the theme of domestic abuse. The insistent, chant like, multi-tracked vocals evoke a sense of claustrophobia and obsession. It’s a dark, dramatic, unsettling song and one that sees Champion referencing his prog rock past, in a musical sense at least.
The second digital single, “Sending Electricity”, is rather more cheerful in tone, a celebration of Gilby and Champion’s own personal and musical chemistry. Again there’s an element of prog in the arrangement, with Williams’ guitar playing a prominent role.
“Believe” appears on the CD and digital releases only, but is absent from the vinyl. It’s perhaps the piece closest to Gilby’s jazz output, with the sound of acoustic double bass, brushed drums and guest Emma Fisk’s violin. Williams features strongly, his graceful guitar solo augmented by Fisk’s violin textures. A degree of vocal multi-tracking is also deployed in a song that appears to be a close lyrical relative of The Beatles’ “Nowhere Man”.
Gilby has spoken of performing in a disused railway tunnel at a jazz festival in Romania. That experience forms the basis for “The Tunnel”, a song that sings the praises of long forgotten railway workers and their craftsmanship. The words contain the line “living in shadows”, the lyrical phrase that gives this project its name. Musically it’s another piece that would sit neatly alongside Gilby’s jazz output with Edis providing an acoustic piano solo and with Williams’ guitar again again featuring prominently arrangement. That said the production also adds a more contemporary pop sheen to the performance.
As alluded to previously Gilby’s writing is often inspired by works of literature. “Postcards” is inspired by the 1947 novel “Alone In Berlin” (sometimes also referred to as “Every Man Dies Alone”) by the troubled German author Hans Fallada. The novel tells the tale of a family that resisted the Nazis and tried to undermine their authority. As on the earlier “Try To Take It Twice” lyrics and music combine to create an atmosphere of paranoia and claustrophobia, with guest Graeme Wilson’s burly baritone sax solo adding to the frightening ambience. There is no happy ending here.
The album concludes with the nine and half minute “Smoke & Mirrors”, which was commissioned by Jazz North East to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2016. The piece is credited to Gilby, Champion and Roy Budd, the late jazz pianist and film composer who wrote the score for the 1971 film “Get Carter”, which was famously set in Newcastle. I assume there are some quotes from Budd’s score in there somewhere.
Such a nine minute epic allows Champion’s prog rock impulses full rein. The lyrics reference the three day week and the civic corruption in 1970s Newcastle, a merger of the “Get Carter” story and that of T. Dan Smith, thus making the song a kind of latter day relative of the late, great Alan Hull’s “Dan The Plan” if you will. Musically the extended nature of the song gives the band’s instrumentalists a chance to stretch out, Edis with an extended acoustic piano solo and Williams on electric guitar. With its metric changes, intricate arrangements and layered production the song does indeed display many prog traits, but is none the worse for that, with Gilby delivering an uncharacteristically savage vocal.
Although I’ve been a fan of Gilby’s regular jazz output for many years, and of Champion’s various projects too, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from “Living In Shadows”, fearing that it might be a little too ‘poppy’ for my tastes. It may not be a jazz album as such, but it’s far too serious and intelligent to be dismissed as a mere ‘pop’ record either.
Gilby’s lyrics, which are reproduced in full on the CD packaging are intelligent, perceptive and often poetic and deal with a broad range of subjects, both personal and political. She delivers her words with eloquence and conviction and the quality of her singing is matched by the instrumental contributions of Champion, Williams and Edis, plus the various guest musicians. The opportunity to study the words added greatly to the overall listening experience, which represents a tribute to the quality of the writing. There are songs here that explore parameters normally regarded as being beyond the remit of ‘popular’ song and the reading of the lyrics adds to the listener’s understanding and serves to emphasise the importance and significance of the subject matter.
Arguably the final triumph is Champion’s, who in his role as multi-instrumentalist and producer is instrumental (pun not intended) in bringing all the elements together. His skills as a bassist, both acoustic and electric, are well known but his playing of a range of keyboards and of other instruments adds colour, depth and texture. In addition his performance at the drums is also highly convincing, which is no mean feat. It’s difficult for a non-specialist to impress behind the drum kit, but Champion seems to manage it.
“Living In Shadows” strikes a good balance between the electric and the acoustic with Champion’s playing and production skills aided by the singing of Gilby and the playing of Williams and Edis. These two help to bring a real band feel to the album, a humanising touch that ensures that Living In Shadows sounds like a ‘proper’ group rather than just a voice and electronics duo.
As I say, I was worried that I might not like this album. However the quality of both the songs and the performances have ensured that my fears were ungrounded. The album appears to have been very well received, even by the regular jazz audience, but let’s hope that it reaches out to a wider constituency too. That’s the very least that these hard working, highly accomplished and creative musicians deserve.
“Living In Shadows” and associated merchandise is available at;
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