Dana Gillespie, unplugged

Ahead of her performance in Mumbai next week, UK-based Dana Gillespie gets candid on her signature style of risqué Blues and her 35-year long connect with India

  Popular UK-based Blues singer, Dana Gillespie, who recorded her first album at 16, has come a long way. In a career spanning 53 years, and 64 albums to her credit, the singer-songwriter, who introduced the world to her signature style of risque Blues, has toured with greats like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger.

Dana Gillespie, Blues singer

She started her own music festival and also recorded 10 albums in Sanskrit. She also took to the stage as a theatre actress, playing Mary Magdalene for a year in the original UK production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1972. “I have lived many lives in the one life I have . This shows in my singing, where the whole experience of living this one glorious life is laid out through my voice,” says the 66-year-old in an email interview, ahead of her Mumbai gig, at the fourth edition of Simply The Blues. Excerpts:

Q. How has the Blues genre changed since you started and your signature style of risqué Blues evolved?
A. The Blues have not changed much. Yes, there is the Electric Blues Rock predominance, but the old-style Blues will always hold charm, and there are many Blues musicians across Europe who still stay true to old school Blues. Now, more people are listening to the Blues. I love doing the risqué Blues, because that’s what I am good at.Not many singers seen today can perform it as well as I can. As one gets older, what would have sounded pornographic at 16, seems naughty and wicked now. I find, introducing risqué Blues to audiences worldwide loosens them up and gets them on
the floor.

Q. Do you believe that younger listeners are tuning in?
A. Sadly, the Blues does not get enough airtime vis-à-vis other genres. Even in Europe, there is hardly any Blues on TV. But there are lots of radio channels playing it. That’s a good sign. The challenge lies in taking the Blues to the younger generation,Since so much of the modern music they know of, has its basis in the Blues. This is what I like about Simply The Blues, as they are showcasing the Blues in different styles to a larger audience not exposed to it.

Q. You’ve written on your website, ‘I believe the Blues should be sung by an older person because it’s about emotions and experience’. Where does this belief stem from?
A. There are some exceptional young Blues singers now, but my belief is that the Blues deals with emotions and experiences that come with age. You may feel you know about love as a teenager, but you encounter many different experiences of love or sex when you are older. So, you can put much more into your voice, make it better, and your singing, more believable. I’ve been in love many times, seen disappointments, breakups, disasters, highs and lows. When I started singing professionally and had my first recording at 16, my voice was very folk-sy since it hadn’t developed fully. The voice is a muscle; the more you use and train it, the stronger it gets. In singing the Blues, experience is everything, and it counts.

Q. You have toured with Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger. Tell us about that.
A. The most memorable part of the 1977 tour is that Bob Dylan said how much he appreciated my songwriting and that I had great style. Bob was the inspiration for my book of quotations, called Mirrors of Love. With Mick, it’s been a great experience because although we did not share stage, I produced the tracks while he was on stage at the Mustique Blues Festival. I’ve produced it for over 20 years. I never thought of them as icons; to me, they were ordinary blokes, though highly talented. We hit it off and always had a blast.

Q. India has played a major role in your musical journey and you have recorded albums in Sanskrit. What has the experience been like?
A. My spiritual journey and connection with India started 35 years ago, when I came to the Sai Baba Ashram where I fell in love with the rhythm and sound of the songs in Sanskrit, and felt they should be taken to a wider audience. Unfortunately, not many were interested then, in what was called world music. I felt that this helped me in my Blues music as I found that so much could be imbibed from it. I wish I could speak Sanskrit, but the language is so spiritual, that I
can feel it.

Can we expect any collaboration with Indian musicians on this visit?
I am excited about this visit. I will be performing in Delhi and Goa after ages. I always look forward to collaborating with local musicians. In fact, Ehsaan and Loy played with me long back, before they were part of Shankar Ehsaan and Loy. I don’t know what surprises are in store, but I think we have some things lined up.

Besides your music, you’re also known for your performance as Mary Magdelene in Jesus Christ Superstar. What prompted you to be a theatre actress?
I was young and trying my hand at various things. When I got the opportunity to play Mary Magdalene, I jumped at it as at that time, it seemed a good career move. It was a fantastic, though numbing experience, to be playing the part, every day for one solid year on London’s West End. The upside was that I got to sing on the first officially recorded album of JCS.

Any plans to return to the stage?
Not really. At the moment, I am totally committed to my touring and the blues. But if something really interesting comes along, who knows.

What's next with you?
My European tours start from March ’16, and the calendar gets chock-a-block. My last album was Cat’s Meow, and I am in the process of penning down my thoughts for material for a new album, which could be out in 2017.

On: November 25, 9.30 pm
At: blueFROG, Mathuradas Mills Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel.
Cost: Rs 500 
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