Raising of the standards - Gerard Black and Bill Wells on The National Jazz Trio of Scotland
If you can’t stand the heat…
Gerard Black’s advice might be to get out of Paris, especially during the current heatwave.
“Everyone’s loving the weather, but I can’t really handle it,” says the singer, who is mid-tour with Gallic icon Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of musical legend Serge, and Jane Birkin).
“But I can’t complain,” he smiles, “it’s been pretty sweet.”
However, the Fife-born vocalist can’t display these levels of exuberance and excitement all the time.
“(The album)’s all about her half-sister Kate who she lost maybe five years ago so the content’s really heavy in places – it’s got an Italian horror film soundtrack feel and lyrics about losing loved ones, so it’s quite difficult.”
Black’s usual brand of electrpop has a more ‘upbeat’ vibe. “I also play with Francois and the Atlas Mountains and we have as much fun onstage as possible – because it should be infectious, the crowd can have fun as well.
“So I have to catch myself – ‘maybe not smile on this one Gerard, the song’s maybe a bit heavy!’”
It seems that Black fits right in with the woman he describes as “French music royalty”, and he is enjoying the high life while it lasts. “I never imagined this luxury before, even getting your own hotel room is crazy for me.
“The thing is, she releases one album every seven years so at the end of this tour at August that’ll be me slumming it again!” he laughs.
“But that’s fine.”
The end of the Gainsbourg tour will at least give Black the chance to get on with his other projects – a new Babe album, and working with former Fence Collective member, Rozi Plain.
And, of course, the National Jazz Trio of Scotland – the group led by Bill Wells and featuring a rotating cast of vocalists. The new album, featuring Black, has been a decade in the making.
As Wells explains: “Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake let me hear a track by Findo Gask (Black’s band at the time), then I went to see them play live and I was really impressed.”
That led the two bands collaborating live and Wells and Black working on a couple of songs. However, the singer moved to France for six years, which somewhat slowed down the project.
Eventually the new album - released on Cologne-based label Karaoke Kalk - took shape. And as with anything with the Wells name on it, it’s an eclectic mix – containing songs from 'Fiddler On The Roof' and Gershwin and even words taken from Shakespeare.
“I didn’t think I would be able to do something in that field, but that’s Bill’s attitude. He’s the punkiest jazz musician I’ve ever met.”
“I like the idea of taking familiar songs and arranging them very differently and taking lyrics from various sources and putting them to music,” says the Falkirk-born composer.
“Also I was thinking of it as a showcase for Gerard’s voice.”
“It’s actually really difficult for me to listen to it because it’s me singing on my own,” Black says.
“It’s the first time I’ve had my voice so upfront and so dry – I’m a massive Cocteau Twins fan (indeed, his first band Otteley took their name from a Cocteaus track).
“Usually I’m drenching my voice in reverb so it’s a tough one for myself!"
So with such impressive results surely the two work together again?
“I’d love to,” Black replies, “but Bill’s busy – he’s got four albums coming out in a year.
“Maybe I’ll quietly join the back of the queue again and see if we can get another 10 years worth of material together!”