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Madeleine Peyroux: If it’s not beautiful, it’s not interesting





In official pictures, American jazz singer extraordinaire Madeleine Peyroux tends to ooze self-confidence and a sort of timeless, old-school glamour.

Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Yann Orhan
Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Yann Orhan

But the last time we spoke – ahead of last year’s cancelled UK tour – she seemed a bit sad as we chatted via Zoom. I put this to the star as we reconnected via a video call once again.

“Well, I hadn’t been out on the road for quite a while,” explains the softly-spoken New York City-based singer. “We did a little bit of touring right after that in September. I’m currently working almost every week, performing – I think it’s nourishment for the soul, really.

“At many periods of my life, the transition from the way you feel before you walk on stage to the way you feel once you’re on stage can be drastic. It’s a really sacred place, the stage; it has the ability to transform people that walk across it into whatever they want to be, it’s a place where you can do or say anything... It’s the world of all imagination.”

Madeleine admits that she didn’t do as many solo livestream concerts as she had expected to do during lockdown. “To some extent that’s not music for me – live performance without another pair of ears or any other bodies doing anything just doesn’t feel like music,” she states.

Last year’s UK tour, which was to have included eight dates throughout November – including Cambridge – was supposed to have been a celebration of Craft Recordings’ deluxe reissue of Madeleine’s best selling 2004 album, Careless Love, and the album was to have been played in its entirety. Is that still the plan?

“We’ve been playing a mixture of most of the songs from Careless Love,” notes Madeleine, “and we’ve prepared all of them. But we are at the moment returning to places where I did my Careless Love shows, in some cases, and it just feels like the moment is right to add some new songs as well.

Of course there’s time for them – I mean Careless Love is only 45 minutes long and our shows are usually twice that, so we have room to add lots of material. So it’s a mixture of a bunch of things, with the idea that Careless Love is a theme and it’s at the centre of all of that, in terms of not just the song but the record, and the ideas are very important to me.”

Born in Athens, Georgia, USA, in 1974, Madeleine moved to Paris with her mother in 1987 following her parents’ divorce. Much like Edith Piaf, the young songbird spent her teenage years busking on the streets of Paris, befriending the street musicians and making the city’s Latin quarter her first stage.

“Well it was a long period of time...” recalls Madeleine, whose atmospheric version of Serge Gainsbourg’s La Javanaise was used in the soundtrack to the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. “It was France and I had been living in Brooklyn till I was about 12.

“My mother got a job in France and all of a sudden we all packed up from this kind of lower middle class, slightly poorer side of town, in this Irish, Italian neighbourhood of Brooklyn, and my mother and my younger brother and I moved to the suburbs of Paris.

“It was extremely different – it was suburbia instead of a low-quality apartment complex – but it was France and I didn’t speak the language and my mother got me a guitar. I just was obsessed with walking

around the neighbourhood with my guitar and I would give up on trying to converse in French because it was too hard for me and instead would play songs for my friends and hang out.

“I had my guitar and I eventually started bringing it with me to the subway. I had to take a bus to a commuter train to get into Paris and I took my guitar with me, and one day somebody put money in my case! I wasn’t thinking of that at all, I was just sitting there playing.

“So part of what I’ve always said is that the irony to me is that I had to go to France to learn American music – and I had to go outside of America to appreciate what I have and what I learned from America. And I had to go out and play on the street to appreciate the intimate aspect of music and how precious it is.

“It wasn’t when somebody gave me money that I decided I’d be a street musician, but it was the first step along a path that made me drop out of high school and join a band and spend the next few years, basically till I was 18, playing with street musicians and driving around Europe and doing private parties and pub gigs and things like that.”

Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Yann Orhan
Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Yann Orhan

[Read more: Madeleine Peyroux interview: ‘We all just pine for love’, Review: Dionne Warwick performs live in Cambridge]

It certainly sounds like Madeleine’s story would make for a good film. “Yeah, there was a documentary... I was in a band that sounded really good,” she remembers. “You have to be a good musician, otherwise is it really that interesting? It’s funny how that is: none of it is really interesting if it’s not beautiful.

“We had some beautiful sounds that we made with that band and there was a documentary made called Working for the Good Life because the bandleader often said, ‘The only two kinds of people that are truly free are buskers and millionaires because you can do whatever you want’.”

Madeleine has been writing some new, slightly more politically influenced songs of late and hopes to release a new album at some point. Before then, catch her performing live at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Monday, October 3.

Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Shervin Lainez
Madeleine Peyroux. Picture: Shervin Lainez

For tickets, visit cornex.co.uk. For more on Madeleine, go to madeleinepeyroux.com.



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