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Barb Jungr: Smart, Sassy, Sexy

John Eyles By

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AAJ: I must say, I love your so-so hand gesture [used in concert to accompany the line "I'm young, I know" in "Love Hurts"]. That is so incredibly charming, honestly. I've seen you do it twice now, and it has given me a wry smile both times.

BJ: It's not as though people are idiots, they can tell. And also, I think, that at a certain point in your life you go, particularly as a performer, there is a rough area when you are too old to be Lady Gaga (if that were your intention) and you are not yet into your "dame" territory. It is sort of a no-person's land and quite a difficult area particularly for women, I would say. And then there's a place you get to, which I think I have come to really, where you have gone past that and you can go, "No. I really have been around the tree; you know I've been around the tree; I know I've been around the tree; we can take that as read. Therefore if I sing this, you know that I know what it means." Then people can go, "No. I get that" and they can be at any place in their lives and know that. Whereas I find it problematic if I go and see someone and I think, "You don't know what that means. I'm sorry, you've no idea what that means." You can't make that work then, you know. So, you can't kid an audience; they're not stupid. So that [gesture] tells them that I know that they know I know they know, and that they know that I know they know... Which is great. So we're all in the boat together.

AAJ: Yes. You are of an age but so is lots of the audience members. But you are an attractive and sexy woman, and you trade on that. You are electric on stage. You are; you know that, surely.

BJ: Well, you don't think about things like that.

AAJ: Would that be like thinking about walking upstairs, where you can't walk because you're thinking too much about it?

BJ: Absolutely, you can't think about that. Obviously, I think you do your best to present yourself in the best possible way. In that way, I don't think I was ever doing anything different. I don't like the slope on stage with your old trainers on—because I think if I've paid, the least you could do is to scrub up. It is the least you could do. I don't like it. I want people to have scrubbed up, whatever that means to them. I loved Amy Winehouse in concert recently; look at the amount of effort in that image; there is a lot of effort has gone into that. I might look as if it has just been knocked off in a dressing room, but it's not; a lot of thought and effort has gone into it. I'm really all for it.

AAJ: Onstage, it is not that you put on a persona. What is onstage is you, isn't it?

BJ: I think that is true of everyone.

AAJ: Amy Winehouse? There are people who almost put on a different persona when they go onstage.

BJ: I don't know. It came up yesterday on this Woman's Hour thing, with this whole thing of working on the alternative cabaret circuit. And I do think that was my training ground; I think I learned so much there. And everything that people did there...I count among people I work with and know some of the greats who are now on television. They are all people who you see something of them on stage. You may not see all of it, but there is not a huge difference; there is a real connecting thread between Paul Merton-funny on Have I Got News For You and "Paul Merton sat beside you in a pub after a Julian [Clary] gig." There is a direct line. It is not like, "My goodness. I would never have thought it." There is not that, and I think maybe that something that came from that was... I remember Ivor Dembina—who has taught a lot of young comics and is a really, really nice man—saying to me, very early on this was, when you go onstage don't do anything, just be yourself and tell people things. That was a real gift, what he said, because that is enough actually. Just go on there and tell people things—that is enough; you don't have to make a big effort. I think that whole thing which maybe is what you are talking about, if I think about it, is what I see a lot in America, this whole scripted-by-someone-else thing. I hate it. I don't want to hear that. I like it if I know the person has written it. I went to see Carrie Fisher's show, which is called Wishful Drinking and she is a great writer. She has obviously written her own text and it is her, and it is fantastic. The same with Elaine Stritch, it is her. You are getting her, you are not getting somebody else. Somebody else may have helped shape it, somebody else may have directed it but you are getting them. That is what I want if I'm watching somebody, I want them

AAJ: With you it seems that it is not scripted—obviously it isn't, you just take it as it comes. You talk about the people on the train the day before with a pit bull terrier and all of that. It is almost like a blog where people just tell you what has happened in their day.

BJ: But it is true. I don't say anything on stage that isn't true, that I haven't experienced or that someone has told me. It is a real part of life. I think that is what makes it interesting and relevant.

AAJ: It seems like what you would say to someone if you were chatting to them. "I was on the train..." and there it is. And you are doing it to an audience. It is almost like a conversation with them, except that they don't converse back.

BJ: Every so often, somebody does. I do get the odd person who'll heckle or communicate something. Which I think is quite courageous, actually.

AAJ: It'd be a brave person who'd heckle you, Barb. Good grief.

BJ: I have this marvelous friend who is Danish, and he can get slightly pissato. And one time, suddenly for no reason at all, he shouted something like "Blue Tuna" and the whole audience was completely nonplussed as indeed was I. I knew it was him. He was so thrilled with himself that he'd done this great heckle, afterwards he said sorry but just that he thought it was funny. I went, "I know. I know you did." I had to say to the audience, "It's a friend of mine. Don't worry about it. He's Danish." And they laughed, because of the "He's Danish."

Selected Discography

Barb Jungr, The Men I Love: The New American Songbook (Naim, 2010)

Barb Jungr/Christine Collister/Helen Watson/Michael Parker, Hell Bent Heaven Bound: Money The Final Frontier (Stereoscout, 2009)
Barb Jungr, Just Like a Woman: A Hymn to Nina (Linn, 2008)
Barb Jungr, Walking in the Sun (Linn, 2006)
Barb Jungr, Love Me Tender (Linn, 2005)
Barb Jungr, Waterloo Sunset (Linn, 2003)
Jonathan Cooper, The Moon Behind the Clouds (Self-produced, 2002)
Barb Jungr, Every Grain of Sand (Linn, 2002)
Barb Jungr, Chanson: The Space in Between (Linn, 2000)
Barb Jungr, Bare (Irregular Records, 1999)

Various, Ne me quitte pas: the songs of Jacques Brel (Irregular Records, 1998)
About Barb Jungr
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