Barb Jungr talks to Patricia McLoughlin about life and her latest album, Hard Rain, which sees the British singer turn her unique talents to the compositions of musical giants Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
You don’t have to have lived a life less ordinary to be a thoughtful writer/lyrist with a penchant for Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen but it certainly helps.
For Barb Jungr, growing up in Stockport the daughter of a father from what was to become the Czech Republic and a German mother must have made her at least a little remarkable.
She has, at 59, outlived her two younger sisters, her former husband Dan Bowling, the first black painter to have work accepted by the Royal Academy, whose life was complicated and finally ended by drink, and survived close friends and relatives.
“I’m coming to a point in life where you ask different questions and give different answers,” says Barb, whose new album ‘Hard Rain – The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen’ is released on 24th March.
The songs suit her personal philosophy and politics and are, she says “truly prescient. Many feel as though they were written in response to the news today. I wanted to make an album contributing to the potential for change. I don’t feel that sense of optimism in the world, the need to examine things, to respond to them. I thought where are the songs that reflect what we are going through and there they were the Dylan and Cohen songs.”
A case of plus ca change plus le meme chose (the more it changes, the more it stays the same) then? So what’s the point? “I think music can achieve quite a lot. You do what you can to take part in society and it’s too late for me to suddenly become an MP! You have to use your particular skills.
“This is not some great moral crusade,” Barb explains. “The songs came to me and demanded to be sung. It felt right, like it all fitted together. Growing up happens. I have had a great deal of tumultuous change in my life. I don’t have children but I do have a nephew who I am second guardian to and I do feel for children growing up now. We need to ask some tough questions.
“We might not think that young people care but a couple of years ago when a young woman died in Ireland because of their abortion laws I heard people were going to stand outside the embassy. I was walking into town and went to stand with them. I was the oldest there, among young women and their boyfriends, making articulate speeches. They were all well behaved, impressive, it astonished me and I came away feeling transformed. This record is part of that.”
Once described by Time Out as the politicised chantoniere, Barb was bound to have a sense that both her parents arrived in the UK as a direct result of World War II. Her formative years were spent among the Irish Catholic community in the cold North of England “at a time when people looked after each other’s children and left their doors unlocked.”
Barb, now having lived in the capital for many years, has had a life shaped by belonging to the “skint, supportive musician community. My peers are fantastic singers, musicians, most of us outside the actual music industry by genre choice.”
And thanks to support from some of them, Barb has put her current album out herself. “It’s my label, my decision making. It’s the way other artists are realising their vision. This album is very personal to me and it’s great to see other musicians coming through, finding their own way to make it work and doing it independently.
“You can be independent if you have a web of people around you strong enough to help and support you and it is astonishing to take these songs out and perform them live, to have people coming up to say it’s great to hear them and be reminded of what they mean.”
So Barb is off on tour from Norwich to Chester, London to New York. “I’ve pretty much said set it up and I’ll go. That’s what makes you a musician, being in front of people who want to listen. That is the joy!”
Or to quote Dylan:
Then I’ll stand on
the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
We have 3 copies of Barb Jungr’s new CD Hard Rain – The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
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