A series of intimate charity evenings full of music, laughter and special guests, acclaimed singer songwriter Judith Owen and her husband, actor and humourist Harry Shearer (The Simpsons, Spinal Tap) will once again spread their special brand of yuletide cheer for the 11th anniversary of 'Christmas Without Tears' to London’s “King’s Place” Concert Hall, kicking off this year’s run of shows.
We caught up with Judith ahead of her event to talk a little about the motivations behind this event.
Can you tell us a little about the event?
“It’ll feel like a party at our house, but on stage, and is pretty much like the ones we threw at our beach cottage in California to help get me through the crazy stressful Xmas season!
“In the first act our wonderful guests each do a party piece, then in the second act the group singing begins, and that includes the audience, who are also are party guests.
“It’s a reverent and irreverent show that’s a throw back to times when we entertained ourselves and each other around the piano. And ALL for a great cause. so you get to have a great night out, And give back.
“Plus there’s really crap prizes to win!!!!”
What was your motivation behind organising this?
“Eleven years ago Harry and I were asked by the booker at Walt Disney Concert Hall if we’d ever consider bringing our now infamous home party to the stage. We never considered it till Hurricane Katrina. We’ve been touring it every year since around the US raising money for charities and are thrilled to return to London with it this year after a 4-year hiatus.
“It’s hard trying to fit both the UK and US in to just a couple of weeks, but so many UK fans were asking when was it coming back, I just had to come home this year!”
Was it easy to get some of the high profile celebrities involved?
“It’s always hard to get high profile guests, not because they don’t want to do it, but because their schedules are always so packed and they might get work last minute. They’re giving their time and talent for free, so we tend to have a core group and then add to that up to the night before. And yes I do get grey hairs every year, but it’s worth it!”
How did you decide on who to approach?
“We reach out to friends, colleagues, collaborators, people we’re fans of who we know and like. Basically the same people we’d invite into our home, and that’s what keeps it authentic.”
Obviously you are highlighting the plight of the homeless. Why have you taken this particular issue to heart?
“I’ve just spent 3 months on the road promoting my album “Somebody’s Child” singing songs about not missing the important stuff in life. The Title track was about seeing a homeless, high, pregnant 16 year old, singing and dancing in the snows of Manhattan. No shoes, no clothes, just rubbish bags for a top and skirt and her glorious pregnant belly bursting out from the middle. As I ran away in shock and fear, I was struck by the sudden realisation that she was somebody’s child, just like me. I’ve been down in life and I know better than anyone how childhood, brain chemistry, luck, makes us all vulnerable and close to the edge. We forget that the homeless are people just like us, with family and homes and childhoods. It’s easier to ignore them than face what we fear...how easy it is to end up lost and desperate on the streets. So of course helping the homeless was of paramount importance for me this year.”
Do you think enough people realise the challenges that exist out there?
“No I don’t, take homeless teenagers, for example, kids who’d prefer to live on the streets than in an abusive home…how bad must that be? There are a high proportion of mentally ill people on the streets, with no where to go and no one to take care of them - and that includes the drunks and drugged-out who are self medicating. In the US there’s a man who lives in his car because his wife’s medical bills bankrupted them. These are desperate times where more and more people are on the street. I always say,…”if the tables were turned it could be you”. I’m not saying I know all the answers I just know that these are human beings so don’t dismiss them, give what you can, leftover restaurant food, or buy hot drinks or give them blankets and gloves. Don’t ignore them.”
Tell us a little about your musical journey?
“Music is my life and has kept me going thru the darkest of times. I’ve written about my life and all our struggles in every album. Now with 'Somebody’s Child” I’m seeing the world outside of me too and the music and my life has expanded with that. My job as an artist is to give the listener and audience permission to feel. That’s what’s it’s done for me all my life, now I get to do this for others with my own music. An amazing privilege really.”
You don't tend to stray too close to the mainstream. Is that a conscious decision?
“No, it’s just who I am and how I express myself. Growing up I was surrounded by classical music, opera, jazz, gospel, blues, folk, and it all became my 2nd language. And I naturally write in all of these styles. They’re colours that embody the mood of the lyrics. That makes it hard to “pigeon hole”, which is what the mainstream is all about. But you can’t be who you’re not. I’m singing about authenticity, so I really can’t be faking it to fit in. And anyway my fans love me for who I am, and isn’t that what it’s all about?”
Is Harry very supportive of your music?
“The most supportive person in my life. He fell in love with my voice first and has been my biggest champion every since. It’s pretty rare for a famous person to be so generous, but I lucked out and found my perfect mate...someone who’s a true artist who lives for 2 things music and comedy.”
Where will you be celebrating Christmas this year?
“In bed, sleeping. Seriously we finish this tour by Xmas eve back in New Orleans where we live, so I’ll be eating turkey in bed!!!!”
Do you have any special plans for the festive season?
“Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep….”
What’s next for the New Year?
“The North American release of “Somebody’s Child” with touring to support that starting in January and continuing throughout the year. Writing and recording the next album and returning to Europe for more dates.
“So more touring and recording ….. my favourite things.”
If you would like more information about Judith Owen and her music, visit her website here.
George R Vaughan