Interview: Lucinda Belle
Robbie Williams’s favourite harpist
Lucinda Belle: from the family launderette to £1 million record deal
It would probably be easier to list the things that session musician, recording artist and all-round busy bee Lucinda Belle has not done. She has toured with the Pet Shop Boys and Annie Lennox, been Robbie Williams's backing singer and harpist at the BBC Electric Proms, performed a duet with Mel Brooks and jammed with Tom Jones.
She has been an amateur boxer and undertaken extreme survival trips. She has socialised with most of the James Bonds - tea with Sean Connery, on the set of The Living Daylights with Timothy Dalton, a party with Roger Moore and a game of pool with Pierce Brosnan ("Now I just need to meet Daniel Craig," she says, conveniently forgetting George Lazenby). She even came close to applying to be a spy for MI5 until she realised it would not be quite as glamorously dangerous as an episode of Spooks.
The modern-day north London Mata Hari can do down-to-earth as well - she runs the launderette that has been in her family for decades, and teaches music at a school in Hampstead.
However, it is her album - My Voice & 45 Strings, credited to The Lucinda Belle Orchestra - that is earning her serious praise. Fans of Norah Jones or Madeleine Peyroux will love the mellow jazz-pop and waltz-time rhythms, but if you are looking for something a little more ethnic - a little more, well, Jewish - there is some of that on offer, too.
Music does not run quite as freely in her family as the desire to dry-clean clothes. Her great-grandmother played piano in cinemas to accompany silent movies while her mother sang in the shul choir, but that is about it. Nevertheless, she is mildly horrified at the suggestion that her album may not sound like the work of a Jewish musician.
"I find it shocking that you say that," she says. "I totally disagree." She cites the minor-chord melodies as particularly "Jewish-y", and admits that the song Valentine was an attempt "to write something a bit Fiddler On The Roof-y", although she concedes that you probably have to see the Lucinda Belle Orchestra live to appreciate fully the music's eastern European roots. In concert, the "klezmer-ish vibe" is more to the fore.
"We draw on Baltic gypsy traditions, with lots of clarinet, trombone, ukulele, accordion and harp. It can sound quite…"
It really has been a strange, circuitous journey for the singer-songwriter born Lucinda Kladovsky in 1972. She fell in love with the harp aged six, when her mother dragged her to a classical recital at the Royal Festival Hall. After graduating from London University in international relations, she entertained party-goers at weddings and barmitzvahs, then played harp in hotels and restaurants while simultaneously running the launderette and teaching.
She became a harpist for hire for everyone from Rufus Wainwright to Missy Elliot, and appeared alongside super-producer Trevor Horn at his 25-year anniversary concert at Wembley Arena. Amateur boxing and those extreme survival trips gave her the stamina and confidence to pursue a full-time music career; the Robbie Williams gig was the breakthrough, capturing the attention of Radio 1 and Universal Records, which offered her a £1 million contract and the chance to record her own album.
My Voice & 45 Strings was written in numerous locations around the world, notably Nashville - where she once studied jazz - with collaborators including Graham Gouldman of 10cc, "One of the most talented people I've ever worked with," she says.
It is an album that runs the gamut of themes, from "indecision and loss to romance and hope", because she is nothing if not an optimist. "It sounds naff and corny, but you've got to have faith," she says. "I'm ultra-positive. I guess I was born with it."
Her affirmative outlook has paid dividends: her album recently shot to number 1 on Amazon's pre-orders chart. The future looks bright indeed. But what about the launderette?
"I don't think I'm going to have time to be there any more," she says, sadly. "This is what I really want to do. As long as I can remember I've been trying to get a record deal." Suddenly, she perks up and that positivity kicks in. "It's not a good time for running a launderette anyway. The price of gas has gone up."
The single 'Dodo Blues' is released on July 5, the album 'My Voice & 45 Strings' on July 12. She appears at the Jazz Cafe, London NW1 on July 14 (www.jazzcafelive.com)