Self-taught on guitar and able to work with a wide range of jazz, blues and world musicians, we corralled the singer – songwriter on the eve of several live shows


Sarah is performing a full band show at The Albany Theatre, Deptford, London as part of The London Jazz Festival on Saturday 23rd November 2013. For tickets visit: 


BM: The idea of this is to have a quick chat about you and what you are doing

SG: Cool, Pete

Where are you now and where are you headed?

Right now I am in the West End and I am going to BBC London Radio. I’m on tonight at about eleven. I’m just taking myself out to a date at the cinema before that.

Whose show are you on?

Simon Lederman’s late show….I’ve been on before talking about politics and playing music

You’ve got some upcoming dates, so let’s just run through those. I understand you are doing a show later in the month which is a bit key for you. 

Yeah it’s at The Albany Theatre in Deptford on 23rd of November which is quite an important one for me because I was born in Greenwich and I did my Master’s Degree at Goldsmiths. I’ve never actually done a proper gig in that area so… it’s the first one

So, how would you describe your music to a Martian?

I’d say I’m a singer-songwriter mixing blues and folk. Bits of jazz, too

Right. Who would you say are the three artists to be found on your turntable? New or old. 

Bessie Smith… Bob Dylan for his wordsmithery. Gosh… it depends on my mood. Maybe Tom Waits, Lou Reed, all the usual suspects

Ok. Obviously this is a piece for readers who are likely Blues and Roots followers -are you equally influenced by male or females singers in that genre?

Originally, the blues when I was a kid was the first music I ever listened to and fell in love with. It’s completely informed the way I play guitar and write. I didn’t really think in terms of who’s the male and who’s the female. But I loved it as a kid and still now, things like Bessie Smith, Fats Waller for their song writing. Then of course getting into Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and all those guys. I just loved the songs they came up with and the humour. There was a LOT of humour in those old blues songs. Fats Waller’s titles like You’re Not The Only Oyster In The Stew or All That Meat And No Potato there’s so much sexual innuendo! The same with Bessie Smith.

I did wonder if you were related in any way to Dana Gillespie because she was a very rootsy Bessie Smith type singer. Very bawdy and she once pinched my bottom very hard on stage from behind! When you are writing a song yourself, I know it’s a cliché question but I like to ask whether the lyrics come first or the music. I put that question to Joe Bonamassa and he always works back from the lyrics. He reckons with a snappy title and a strong lyric you can build music around that….

(Ponders) Ok. Well obviously there’s no right or wrong answer. Everybody has their own method and I’ve written songs that have probably come out in different ways. But usually for me, the sound of the words and the rhythm of the music are kind of dependent on each other. So they all fill out at the same time for me and I have written a couple of tunes with other people when I have just done the lyrics and it’s interesting. It’s a very different experience for me to be divorced from, because you have pages and pages of words and there’s a way you can bring out hidden meanings in lyrics

I would say that someone like Erykah Badu is working in that sphere

Yeah you’re right. Totally. You can hear it when people write like that, like she can.

I can hear Miles Davis in what she does.

You’re right. Blues is probably if I had to pick one thing to describe my music it probably would be blues. I have so much of it in my guitar playing, but most great musicians are mixing things together. Miles Davis obviously, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday it’s a mix of blues and jazz. Nina Simone same thing

Well one of my heroes I look up to because he can make simplicity very soulful is Bill Withers 

(Brightly) Oh yeah!!

To me, Bill Withers is a great artist because he knows how to get straight to your heart and lay his message in there. I admire people like that a lot 

When you mentioned Mose Allison, my dad used to play me a lot of Mose Allison records and that song Young Man Blues and similarly he wasn’t screaming his head off. It had a modesty to it

When you play live, I am picturing a sort of Bex Marshall thing. I don’t know if you know her?

She’s a good friend of mine!

Do you play solo or with a band?

I mix it up. It depends where I am and what I’m doing. When I was in America last, I was doing solo gigs. I like that, taking it right back to the guitar and really focus it. I also sometimes play trio with double bass and a drummer. When I play at The Albany on the 23rd November I have a full band. I have an amazing Mercury nominated jazz piano player who is really getting into the blues with me and he’s playing honky-tonk mad stuff. I also have double bass, drums and two backing singers.

Tell me about your latest recording

My latest recording is much more guitar based than my previous albums. It’s my third album.

What’s it called?

It’s called Glory Days. I just thought about stripping it back. That was my idea with it. I was getting a bit jazzy with clarinet and sax solos, so I wanted to take it back a bit. Play it live and feel it out. It’s done really well, five stars in Rock and Reel, four stars in Mojo, four stars in The Independent and all that stuff

Do you like harmonica?

Yeah I love harmonica. I liked Rory McCloud when I was little. Do you know him?

Absolutely. I come from a chap called Paul Butterfield in Chicago way back. You’re talking to a guy who puts tribute shows on for Howlin Wolf sometimes! What film are you off to see?

I’m off to see ‘Gravity’. I keep hearing about it so I thought I’d see it.

Are you going to the 3-D version?


Have a great evening and have a good show on BBC Radio London.

Thanks love. You too.


By Pete Sargeant


Sarah Gillespie’s new album Glory Days is out now!

Sarah is performing a full band show at The Albany Theatre, Deptford, London as part of The London Jazz Festival on Saturday 23rd November 2013. For tickets visit: 

For more information and more 2013/14 tour dates visit: