As her new album, Shelter From The Storm – Songs Of Hope For Troubled Times, with pianist Laurence Hobgood, is released, vocalist Barb Jungr reflects on how nature has always played a major role in her music.
For me, a year when I can be in a bluebell wood, or catch sight of a rare wild animal in its habitat, when I can roam a coastal path for a couple days or more, or stomp over a moorland in the wind – that’s a good year for me. Walking and nature have inspired most of my work. Every decent idea I’ve had, whether for a song, an idea or a snatch of melody, has come when outdoors and maybe even just in my local park.
And I’m lucky because my local park is Battersea Park and it flanks the River Thames and has a little lake, (by which three herons stood the other day) and often I see foxes and small mammals there, and birds on the river, with its changing tide and moods.
The connection between music and landscape for me was forged early. At home we had (Smetena’s) Má vlast (the celebration of the mighty Vltava River as it runs from a tiny spring until finally it majestically flows through the city) from a concert recorded in Prague. My father patiently explaining the music and the river to me as we listened, together. We had Nat King Cole and Nature Boy, and I dreamed of redwoods and the ocean, and we had an album of South Pacific – for years I thought all tropical islands would look like that old record sleeve, on which the technicolor artists had had a field day or were, possibly, hallucinating, because those colours were wild……ah, the disappointment of reality, afterwards!
Once that link was made though, it could only become stronger.
Three years ago I began working on Hard Rain, the collection of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’s songs with a clear focus on their philosophical and political writings. As the world turned and it became evident that everything was under threat in one way or another – not least of all our gigs and fundings and audiences, I knew that the new collection had to offer us something new. And that ought to be hope.
I’d always wanted to sing Dylan’s opus Shelter From The Storm, and, as anyone who has ever walked on the Isle of Skye or the outer Hebrides in heavy rain will know, shelter is a marvellous thing! The idea of Shelter… came to me as I walked along the Thames on a particularly windy day. An album celebrating the things that give us hope. For me so much of that is about the opening of a perfect rose, a stunning sunset, the sight of an adder on a Devon footpath, the clouds massing over Dartmoor, or a heron on the river bank at low tide. That, and of course the sheer, unutterable beauty of the kindness of strangers, and the unbreakable love of friends and family, and the innocence of the smiles of small children.
When we walk in the wilderness, we feel the so much of the rhythm of the world. Likewise when we make or listen to music with our full being and soul. The two for me are the conjoined halves of a perfect heart. When we walk in the wilderness we are as open and as vulnerable as we are in a concert hall when music reaches inside of us and a piano solo makes us gasp with wonder, or a staggeringly haunting trumpet brings tears to our eyes.
Music, nature, vulnerability, heart and soul; they are inexplicably bound. They are, as Miles Davis knew well, all a Kind of Blue.
- Shelter from the Storm – Songs of Hope for Troubled Times, by Barb Jungr, featuring Laurence Hobgood on piano, is released on Linn Records, available in all formats here.