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Barb Jungr: Loving Living Life

Sammy Stein By

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Barb Jungr brings her infectious enthusiasm to even the most mundane of things. A stroll in the park is turned into a gleeful discovery as she finds a stand of daffodils; a walk home is turned into delight as Jungr snaps a picture of London by night from a bridge. She has that knack of spotting something you never realized was there and making you look at ordinary things differently. She plays with phrases and words—like 'polyglot,' or 'loop of life' and 'pants' (to mean something is rubbish, in this case the M6 motorway). Jungr loves words—she loves music, people, things—life in fact. Her new album Hard Rain is her personal take on songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and proves a worthwhile listen. There is, however, so much more to this lady than her mistral voice—although it is a big part of what makes her 'her.'

Born in Rochdale, UK, Jungr grew up in the town of Stockport. She is of Czech-German parentage and says of her childhood, " We were a refugee family in Rochdale, among Irish Catholics. We—people from The Ukraine, Poland, Germany and Austrian Jews, and more, were absorbed and made welcome. There was always music. There was radio and an old record player and my parents took me even as a tiny child to the cinema, theatre, opera and ballet. Europeans have that view of art and culture as essential. The church had pantomimes and performances and everyone took part—this was in the mid '50's when TV was rare and people made their own music and entertainment—I was really, really lucky to grow up in this community. So I grew up singing. As a tiny little girl in a terraced house in Rochdale I turned my front step into a stage and performed shows with my poor beleaguered dolls!"

Of when she realized she could sing, Jungr says, "I sang almost from day one. My Dad said you couldn't shut me up. I could remember tunes and melodies from the radio on one or two hearings and just launch forth. I learned the violin from age 7 through 15 and did all the exams. I appeared as a soloist at music festivals and played in the school orchestra. Somewhere around my mid teenage years, I formed a folk group with some friends from school and we trailed around Manchester singing our woebegone ballads. We called ourselves Arwen—you can't make this stuff up! We were drippy and dreamy. I loved it. I dreamt of running away and joining the cast of 'Hair' I was that daft! I sang and played right through my youth and when I went to university at Leeds I played in jazz bands and folk groups—I sang anywhere and everywhere I could."

Jungr completed her botany degree at Leeds before moving to London, where she became involved in punk, then alternative cabaret. She earned a Masters degree in music—ethnomusicology, she informed me to be precise, at Goldsmiths College later on. She wrote about world music for the magazine The Singer, before that publication sadly folded.

Jungr performs with many other musicians and singers. She says, "I've been a soloist pretty much all my life but I have had a long association with my great friend Julian Clary, the brilliant comedian, and wrote with and for him—songs that is. I have appeared with him on tour and on several TV series. I've performed with singers Ian Shaw, Mari Wilson, Claire Martin, Christine Collister and Michael Parker to name a few. The composer Mark Anthony Turnage wrote a piece for and with me and that opened the refurbished South Bank at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at their festival of re-opening. But for most of my life I was in bands or groups or myself that I'd formed—The Three Courgettes, the harmony group I formed in the late '80's had a top 100 hit with our theme song. Jungr and Parker—we travelled the world singing and playing."

Jung's musical influences are varied. She told me that recently she was chatting with her friend, the composer and pianist Simon Wallace, about just that thing. She listens to "tons of old soul, old gospel— the small harmony groups like the Fairfield Four, Blind Boys of Alabama, old blues. All of that is deep, deep for me. I love British traditional music and a lot of contemporary folk. I never tire of Philadelphia Sound, Motown and the American soul-blues record label Stax. I love performers such as soprano Maria Callas, jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and singer and pianist Dinah Washington— the greats."

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