N-n-n-nineteen reasons to love Becki Biggins
Published on: 03 Dec 2015
Becki Biggins is a jazz singer. Actually, she’s a very good jazz singer. But don’t take our word for it, let her three number one US albums do the talking. Oh, and she lives in Downend. Jayne Taylor catches up with the multi-talented musician.
HER singing voice has earned her a Grammy nomination, but the truth is you may never have heard of her.
And certainly you won’t recognise her as she walks past you, pushing a buggy, through the streets of Downend.
For Becki Biggins is quite a different creature when performing on stage. Gone are the jeans and trainers and in their place a 1950s-style dress, heels, carefully curled hair and a slick of red lipstick.
She has achieved a staggering amount in her 34 years but the reason Becki is not a household name is because her style of music - jazz - is perhaps not the most popular of musical genres today.
Becki makes no apologies for this as jazz is what she is passionate about and where her not inconsiderable talents lie.
Becki said: “Jazz has got a bad reputation. It’s seen as being a bit off the wall and crazy but I love it because it tells stories. That’s what I aim to do when I perform; I aim to get a story across and make people cry - that’s my raison d’être. If I make people cry I think I’ve done a good job. It’s nice to know I’m having an effect on people.”
Having honed her musical skills with a school Big Band called Adjazz from the age of 12 (she was brought up in North Shropshire), she discovered she could not only could play the clarinet and saxophone, she could actually sing with some accomplishment. So much so that Becki, along with two other girls singing in close harmony, won the Daily Telegraph Young Jazz Competition. Even though Becki had toured with Adjazz in Europe and the US, the award gave her that first taste of fame, appearing on The Big Breakfast, This Morning and Blue Peter.
After leaving school, Becki studied at Leeds College of Music before training to be a teacher. A part-time job at a “high end” girls’ school in West London meant Becki could carry on gigging but it was only when she responded to an advert in The Stage in 2005 that she realised her voice really could hold the key to her future.
“The ad was asking for a jazz singer so I sent in a demo. I had a phone call back saying I wasn’t quite right for that particular project but if something else came up they would call me.”
Becki didn’t think any more of it but a year later she was to take what would become a very important phone call.
The man introduced himself as Paul Hardcastle and invited Becki to his recording studio. Although she accepted his offer, Becki remained as cool as a cucumber, largely because she had no idea who Paul Hardcastle was. It was only when she recounted the call to her mother later, she found out Paul Hardcastle was actually quite something. He was, without putting too fine a point on it, somewhat of a legend in the music industry since changing the course of dance music with his worldwide 1980s hit ‘19’.
“I didn’t have a clue who he was,” said Becki.
“I agreed to go to his studio and write a song with him. I phoned my mum and she said ‘What the Paul Hardcastle?’
“When I realised who he was, I felt sheer panic. I kept relaying the conversation in my head to make sure I didn’t say anything stupid and that I was polite and nice to him!”
It was to be the start of a fruitful musical relationship.
“We made three original albums together and all three went to number one in the US jazz charts. The third was nominated for a Grammy award and won Billboard’s Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year award.”
Although Becki still talks to Paul regularly, the birth of her first child, Archie, in February has meant any further projects have been put on the back burner.
“We enjoy working together. The style of music we were doing was smooth jazz and that has really changed in recent years. It isn’t as prevalent in America so we’re not doing that type of project again but hopefully we will be working together again soon.”
Becki, who has also worked with Laurie Holloway, musical director both for Michael Parkinson’s chat show and for the first three series of Strictly Come Dancing, has made two of her own jazz albums and has worked hard gigging those, working at famous jazz clubs such as Ronnie Scott’s and Pizza Express Jazz Club.
Recently she performed with her three-piece band (Malcolm on piano, Vicky on bass and Kevin on drums) at the Future Inn Hotel, Cabot Circus, which boasts its very own jazz club.
“It’s great there,” enthuses Becki.
“I’m performing on New Year’s Eve in Cheltenham and will probably be back performing in Bristol in around March/April. Since having Archie I’ve tended to stay gigging in the South but I’ll be all over the place again soon!”
Becki lists her favourite singers as US jazz heavyweights Sarah Vaughan and Chet Baker, who died in 1990 and 1988 respectively.
“They are completely different singers but they are both wonderful. I love to listen to them.
“Sarah was a proper old school jazz singer who came up through the 40s and 50s and Chet was a trumpet player who started singing. He couldn’t handle fame and was haunted by addiction all his life. The recordings that he’s left behind are just beautiful.”
Luckily, Becki, who has lived in Downend for the past six years, is a woman of many talents which has helped finance her latest offering, an EP of original music called DIY.
“It was done through a Pledge Campaign which is like fan funding. I’m into ‘housey’ things like baking my own cakes and making bunting so I raised the money for the EP by selling things. I played everything and sang all of the parts and it was recorded in the spare room upstairs at home in Downend.”
As Becki is a qualified music teacher, she is looking to start teaching saxophone.
“Archie is at nursery one day a week and I think I could teach two or three people. I enjoy teaching so it would be nice to keep my hand in.”
And as if Becki wasn’t busy enough, she has put together a show-reel in the hope of breaking into TV, encouraged by her husband Andy Torbet, action and adventure presenter on the BBC’s The One Show.
You may be thinking there really is no end to Becki’s talents, but she does confess to a little ‘shortcoming’.
“I’m not one of those singers who can sing anything. I can sing jazz, opera and classical but if someone said ‘Can you sing us a bit of Adele?’ I wouldn’t be able to do it; it’s just not in me.”
Becki is pretty content with her lot, but she wouldn’t say no if a record deal should come her way.
“There are lots of different things going on so I don’t get bored. Everyone would love that big recording contract but they don’t really happen in jazz that often. I guess it’s got to happen to somebody, so why not me? But if it doesn’t, I would be happy carrying on doing my jazz gigs. I’d love to do performances in Downend. Now that would be lovely.”
You can find out more about Becki and listen to her music at www.beckibiggins.com