Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019


Living In Shadows

Neon Burning

by Ian Mann

June 13, 2024


Ian Mann enjoys the second album from this genre fluid project, co-led by vocalist and lyricist Zoe Gilby and bassist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Champion.

Living in Shadows

“Neon Burning”

(Lamplight Social Records LSRDL31)

Zoe Gilby – vocals, Andy Champion – guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, programming

Mark Williams – electric and acoustic guitars, Chris Sharkey – electric guitar, production

“Neon Burning” is the second album from Living in Shadows a project led by the award winning jazz vocalist and lyricist Zoe Gilby and her husband, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Andy Champion.

It follows the eponymous debut release from 2021 which saw Gilby and Champion joined by guitarist Mark Williams and pianist and keyboard player Paul Edis. The album also included guest appearances from saxophonist Graeme Wilson, violinist Emma Fisk and mandolin player George Milburn. Review here;

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 four albums to date “Now That I Am Real” (2007), “Looking Glass” (2010), the excellent “Twelve Stories” (2013) and most recently “Aurora” (2021), which finds her singing her own ‘vocalese’ lyrics to melodies composed by the American trumpeter Tom Harrell. Meanwhile her as yet unrecorded Pannonica project was inspired by the 1988 Carmen McRae album “Carmen Sings Monk”, which saw the vocalist putting her own spin on a set of Thelonious Monk tunes with ‘vocalese’ lyrics largely written by Jon Hendricks. It’s a highly influential album for jazz vocalists . Gilby’s project is also known as ‘ The Baroness and Monk’ and is a celebration of the ‘Jazz Baroness’ Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter (nee Rothschild), the friend and patron of Thelonious Monk and his fellow bebop pioneers.  

Both “Twelve Stories” and “Aurora” have been reviewed elsewhere on the Jazzmann as have numerous live performances, the latest being a brilliant five star show by Gilby’s quartet with Champion, Williams and drummer John Bradford at Black Mountain Jazz in Abergavenny in April 2024.

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, a 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, also featuring guitarist Chris Sharkey and drummer Joost Hendrickx,  with whom he has recorded a series of EPs and the full length album “Night School” (2021). More recently the Shiver trio have released two albums recorded with pianist and keyboard player Matthew Bourne.

Champion’s growing interest in free improvisation has also resulted in “Shoes for Losers”, a wholly improvised duo session with saxophonist Graeme Wilson that was released in 2021.

In a more straight-ahead jazz context Champion 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 Williams, Edis and Wilson. Gilby and Champion have also recorded the limited edition EP “Voice & Bass”, which does exactly what it says on the tin and includes a stunning version of Nick Drake’s “River Man”.

Champion is also a member of the Voice of the North Jazz Orchestra, led by the jazz composer John Warren.

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.

Living in Shadows provides an outlet for original songs that do not fit in neatly with Gilby’s jazz career and the music  has more of a rock, pop and electronica 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”  Gilby and Champion 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 has 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”.

As a long time  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 the first Living In Shadows album,  fearing that it might be a little too ‘poppy’ for my tastes.  However the intelligence of the songwriting and the quality of the performances quickly dispelled such fears. “Living in Shadows” was very well received in critical quarters and was also embraced by Gilby’s regular jazz following. I’m less certain as to whether it succeeded in its aims of reaching out to a wider musical constituency, but I’d like to think that it did.

In any event the success of that fist album has resulted in Gilby and Champion continuing with the Living in Shadows project in addition to pursuing their individual careers. Following Edis’ re-location to London this second album is essentially a duo recording with Gilby handling the vocals and Champion providing the majority of the instrumental parts as he plays guitar, bass, keyboards and drums. However he does hand over the production to Chris Sharkey, who also adds guitar to one track. Mark Williams contributes guitar to three other cuts.

This latest recording features eight new original songs co-written by Gilby and Champion with the duo adding 1990s grunge bands Soundgarden and Nirvana to their list of prog rock and alt pop influences. Williams is credited as a co-writer on the songs “Silently Dancing” and “Wide Open Sky”, although according to the album credits he doesn’t actually play on either of them.

The album opens with “Cast Away”, a song already released as a single, which sees Gilby urging her listeners to “take risks, enjoy challenges and thrive”. The line “embrace the change” seems particularly pertinent here, particularly as the music is so different to the duo’s jazz output. The singing is powerful and authoritative, but is still very recognisably Gilby. Champion handles all the instrumental parts, his electric bass a driving force alongside keyboards, guitar and even drums. The music embraces elements of prog rock, allied to an indie rock sensibility.

The lyrics of “Who Are You?” confront a narcissistic character and introduces the stinging lead guitar of regular collaborator Mark Williams. Gilby’s accusatory vocal is complemented by music that draws on indie and grunge sensibilities, with the majority of the instruments again played by the ever resourceful Champion.

“Silently Dancing” describes some kind of pagan moonlight ritual and invites us to re-connect with nature. The hippy sentiments of the lyrics are offset by a sophisticated electro-pop arrangement, rich in terms of colour and texture.

“Wide Open Sky” feels like the morning after the moonlight ritual described in the previous track – it’s tempting to think of the two songs as being intrinsically linked. Acoustic guitar forms part of an uplifting arrangement that features buoyant grooves allied to Gilby’s yearning vocals. Pop and prog sensibilities mingle as the music develops an irresistible momentum.

Acoustic guitar, this time played by Williams, also features on “Leaving Light”, one of the album’s more reflective episodes, and the one song that might be adapted for jazz performance. Acoustic guitar and acoustic piano feature in the song’s early stages but the arrangement later takes on more of an anthemic quality with the addition of string synth sounds and an eerie theremin like wailing. Gilby’s lyrics are a paean to love and the indomitability of the human spirit; “In our lives we have tried, Learning how to survive, With you here by my side, Shadows pass, leaving light”. A tip of the hat to Joni Mitchell in that last line, maybe?

The album’s second single, “Satellites”, introduces Chris Sharkey on lead guitar. He also excels in his production role on a track that addresses nostalgia as a psychedelic trip, with Gilby’s vocals subtly treated and with the swirling sounds of a Hammond organ prominent in the arrangement. It’s a brand of psychedelia driven by pounding rhythms, a dizzying musical roller coaster ride.

“Page by Page” is inspired by Gilby’s love of literature, the lyrics a paean to the transformative power of the written word. The album’s lengthiest track it moves through a series of distinct phases in a largely upbeat arrangement that combines pop and prog elements and includes a soaring lead guitar solo from Williams.

Title track “Neon Burning” compares the life cycle of a star to that of a human, the title also representing a lyrical tip of the hat to fellow North easterners Dire Straits. Gilby’s evocative lyrics are complemented by a sparse but effective arrangement that includes the subtle treatment of her vocals, giving the music a wistful, sometimes anthemic quality.

“Neon Burning” represents a worthy follow up to the Living in Shadows debut album. Lyrically it’s a little more oblique and personal, with less obvious political content. Gilby sings with her customary assurance and her voice will be clearly recognisable to her jazz listenership, it’s a unique vocal signature, whatever musical context it appears in.

Champion again excels in his role of multi-instrumentalist, even his drumming is convincing, and it’s clear that he is an immense musical talent.

Williams and Sharkey both make impressive instrumental contributions, with Williams also featuring as a co-writer and Sharkey doing an excellent job in the producers’ chair.

The promotion of the first Living in Shadows album was hampered by the pandemic and it is to be hoped that following the release of “Neon Burning” that Gilby and Champion, and presumably Williams, will be able to take the project out on the road.

“We have our strong A-team live band at the ready to perform this on stage. We are looking at festival billings and hosting our own gigs” Gilby told

Although I have seen Gilby and Champion in a jazz context on numerous occasions I’d love to see the Living in Shadows material performed live. Let’s hope that they can indeed get some gigs together. This should be a live music experience well worth waiting for. 

“Living In Shadows”, “Neon Burning” and associated merchandise is available at;

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