Photography: Ellie Koepke
The Amy Winehouse tour is the first in a series of new commissions designed to promote emerging musical talent in the UK. The upcoming tour recognising the life and music of the once-NYJO-lead-vocalist arrives a decade after her tragic passing and features two unique talents in composer, Olivia Murphy and vocalist, Lucy-Anne Daniels.
Check out our interview with the pair below, where we discuss the challenges of tackling such iconic material and the excitement that comes with having a multi-date national tour right around the corner!
Olivia Murphy is an award-winning composer, saxophonist, and improviser based in Birmingham, U.K. It was her passion for large ensemble jazz that led her to become the first and only two-time winner of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Jazz Composition and Arranging Prize, winning in 2018 and 2019 respectively. After graduating from RBC, Olivia became NYJO’s composer chair in January 2020.
After relistening to so much of her [Amy’s] music I’ve realised that it’s clear that her music will live on forever and so it’s exciting to explore it in all of these different settings. These live gigs will allow audiences to revisit her songs in a fresh new context and remember her contribution to music as a whole.Olivia Murphy
Lucy-Anne Daniels is a natural performer, practiced vocalist and creative improviser hailing from Leeds, whose vocal sound draws inspiration from singers such as Betty Carter, gospel duo Mary Mary and Amy Winehouse. Having been raised in a musical household, Lucy-Anne found herself in the world of performance at a young age, often singing in church and at local events in her hometown. At the tender age of sixteen, Lucy-Anne became the vocal chair holder for NYJO, in December 2019 and has since established herself as an emerging artist on the Birmingham jazz scene in her own right.
She [Amy] was so good at capturing emotion and channelling it through the music, whether it was happy or sad. Everything she wrote and performed was incredibly personal but in a way that still draws the listener in and makes them feel seen and understood.“Lucy-Anne
Q: When did you first hear about this project and what were your initial thoughts when asked to arrange Amy’s music?
O: This project has changed and developed over the last 9 months or so that I’ve known about it – I think it’s definitely gotten a lot bigger than I initially thought and I’ve arranged so much more music than I thought would be possible! I’ve always really liked Amy’s music and I already knew a lot of the songs quite well, so I think my first thought was immediately how I was going to develop each of these iconic songs, so they work with and effectively utilise a jazz orchestra.
Q: What were your first thoughts when you heard Olivia’s arrangements?
LA: I was completely blown away. With Rehab in particular, Olivia did such a great job of meshing her unique compositional style with the fundamental, familiar elements of the song, keeping it intact but breathing new life into it completely. That goes for all of the arrangements – she really captured the character and colour of each song so incredibly! It’s an intensely wonderful musical experience and it’s such a pleasure to be able to sing all the work she has produced.
Q: What were the main challenges and the most rewarding moments of the process?
O: A big part of this project for me has been trying to stretch myself to create a varied and interesting two sets of music that don’t take away from the original songs but also highlight all of the wonderful colours and timbres a modern jazz orchestra is capable of. I also wanted to stretch and challenge the instrumentalists within the band. Amy’s song-writing is incredible and I wanted to stay true to this while still adding my voice as a composer into the mix. I think at times it has definitely been difficult finding the right balance between all of these things. However, I think I’ve gotten there now and I’m really proud of these reimagined pieces that I have created and am so excited to hear the band play them live!
Q: Were you able to bring a little bit of yourself into the way you interpret Amy’s words? Did you find the process challenging?
LA: It was challenging for the fact that Amy hardly dictates any of her words – haha! No, I’ve done and am still doing a lot of listening. One of my favourite things about Amy is her phrasing – she was a master of that. Somehow, although it sounds and is extremely loose, it’s still so meticulous in time and sits around the beat so perfectly. In interpreting the charts and singing her music I’ve naturally brought my own flair to the songs, singing them from my own perspective and in my own style, which is a refreshing factor on its own but considering she is one of my major influences, elements of her own sound naturally find their way back into the music and I think that’s necessary too. I convey a lot of Amy in You Know I’m No Good in particular. Running it for the first time during a rehearsal, I couldn’t help myself – her conversational tone and delivery is so unmatched, that it only feels right for that song.
Q: Lucy-Anne will have a massive role in bringing your work to life. How have you found working with her on the project?
O: Lucy-Anne is incredible and has one of the best voices I’ve heard in a long time. I think she is so perfect for this project, and I trust her completely to sing my arrangements and bring her own style and character to them!
Q: How did you find the collaborative process throughout?
LA: We are still in the collaborative process and will continue to be until the project is over because things might get changed or tweaked to keep the arrangements fresh. I really appreciate the fact that I was allowed to take real ownership over the set list. Of course, there are her most famous songs that were vital to include, but these are also accompanied by a few less well-known songs that hold some sort of sentiment for me. I picked a range from across all three albums, so we cover her life’s work, even though, unfortunately, her discography is quite small. I was also really keen to do some standards; Amy’s version of Someone to Watch Over Me was one of the first standards I both heard and learnt so there is definitely sentiment attached to it and I’m excited to be able to sing it again in this context. A large portion of the work has been done by Olivia and all credit is due to her because she has done such an incredible job, and thus made my life a lot easier! When we finally get to perform all the music to live audiences, it’ll then be my turn to interpret Amy’s music and hopefully do the arrangements justice.
Q: After such a hard year with barely any live music, how did it feel to finally hear your arrangements played by the NYJO Jazz Orchestra live?
O: It was incredible! The band have some of the best young jazz musicians in the country and they bring so much life and character to these arrangements. I loved standing in front of the band directing them too – it feels so special after spending so many hours on my computer writing the music for it to be played back to me by real people!
Q: You have at least one thing in common with Amy, who sang with NYJO at the very beginning of her career too. How does it feel to celebrate her life coming from the same role she once held?
LA: I’m glad to have been given this opportunity to reimagine her music in a way that still celebrates the elements of it that made it as incredible as it was. It’s also an opportunity to celebrate her in a way that isn’t shadowed by all the drama and ultimately the tragic end to her career. Of course, part of me feels pressure to do her and the music justice – I want the audience to hear and feel Amy, whilst staying true to myself – but more than anything I’m so excited to be singing such incredible music, and telling her stories, from the same position that she once held. Maybe I’ll wear a beehive and winged liner for luck!
Q: What can people expect from the gig?
O: I think it’ll be exciting, fun, even maybe emotional. It will showcase the Amy Winehouse songs everyone knows and loves while also showcasing what the amazing musicians in NYJO can do and the huge sound and power a jazz orchestra can bring. They’re reimaginings of songs that are interesting and bring out the emotions of the lyrics and I think it’ll be a really special run of gigs!
LA: It will be really ear-opening for them to see and hear how these well known songs have been transformed by Olivia and placed in a big band context. Each arrangement has Amy and the original ‘sound’ of the songs at its core, in various mediums, but it’s really refreshing to hear the stories within her music be expanded and retold by myself and the 24-piece orchestra. I genuinely think that in hearing it reimagined, the audience will be able to connect with and appreciate the original work on a deeper level.
You can catch this show up and down the country from September ’21 through to March ’22. Come along, have fun and celebrate Amy with Olivia, Lucy-Anne and the rest of the 24-strong jazz orchestra. See all dates below!
10.09.2021 • Leeds • Leeds Town Hall
23.09.2021 • Nottingham • Royal Concert Hall
24.09.2021 • Southend • Palace Theatre
07.10.2021 • Bexhill-on-Sea • De La Warr Pavilion
14.10.2021 • Poole • Lighthouse
21.10.2021 • Basingstoke • Anvil Arts
04.11.2021 • Oxford • Music at Oxford, Oxford Town Hall
06.11.2021 • Bradford • St George’s Hall
28.11.2021 • Cambridge • Cambridge Junction
14.01.2022 • Saffron Walden • Saffron Hall
20.01.2022 • Lichfield • Garrick Theatre
21.01.2022 • Northampton • Royal & Derngate
23.01.2022 • Bury St Edmunds • The Apex
10.02.2022 • Sunderland • The Fire Station
11.02.2022 • Manchester • Band On The Wall
20.02.2022 • Derby • Derby Theatre
25.02.2022 • Leicester • De Montfort University
02.03.2022 • Truro • Hall For Cornwall
10.03.2022 • Portsmouth • Portsmouth Guildhall
11.03.2022 • Redditch • Palace Theatre
13.03.2022 • Cardiff • RWCMD
19.03.2022 • London • Woolwich Works
10.04.2022 • Milton Keynes • The Stables