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Notts-Born Singer-Songwriter Natalie Duncan on Her New Album, Free

8 August 20 interview: Becky Timmins

There aren’t many things in life that are a given these days. One exception, however, is the guaranteed beauty of a new album release by Notts-born singer songwriter Natalie Duncan. Free, which was released on 31 July this year, is Nat’s first full-length album since 2012, and is full of her customary soul-infused melodies and candid lyrics. Featuring tracks written over a number of years since 2012, it’s one heck of an expansive record, brimming with vivacity and ambition. We caught up with Nat to chat about her Notts roots, the new record and her musical life in the age of COVID-19….

If you could describe the new album in three words, what would they be?
Warm, heartfelt and honest.

You penned recent single Sirens while recovering from vocal surgery – how did that impact on your writing process, and ultimately your performance of the track?
I had a huge burst of creativity during my recovery time, which was unfortunate to say the least! I wasn't allowed to make any sound at all for the first couple of weeks. Then I slowly built up to talking again. So all I could do, beyond playing the top lines with my right hand, was to whistle the melodies over piano chords and hope to God that they sounded half decent when I could actually sing them! In the case of Sirens, they did.

What’s been the most surprising or unusual source of inspiration for the new album?
I wrote each song at different points in my life, so it’s hard to look at the album as a whole entity. Most of my song writing comes as a direct result of tension in my life and these songs are no exception! I recorded the second demos out in Thailand at Goldie's house and I actually wrote one of the tracks there  Atrium. So I guess it was somewhat surprising that I was able to write one of the songs in the morning, in a bright and airy room overlooking tropical scenery, sipping herbal tea far from my usual comfort bubble of chaos! I'm very comfortable being creative and feeling inspired in more tumultuous conditions. The hedonism of performing in bars in Soho often leads to intoxicated 4am writing sessions at the piano in the basement of my North London flat. Bliss.

Does your experience of flourishing as a musician in Nottingham still influence you today?
I was very lucky to have been raised in a creative city full of world-class musicians and artists. I learnt so much from them back when I was younger and was beginning my career. It will always remain a part of who I am as a musician. Notts has always been a loyal supporter of my music and of musicians in general.

I do believe there's a light at the end of all this. I mean, I can't be the only one who is sick of watching groups of musicians on split screens and concerts on Facebook, YouTube or Zoom

What is your happiest memory of performing in Nottingham?
I have so many! I think it would be unfair to only pick one. Hockley Hustle 2015 at Jam Café with Rob Rosa, who played violin and arranged strings for the quartet, was very special. I still look fondly at the photos from that gig. All of the Peggy’s Skylight gigs I've done in recent times with my London band have been really lovely. Plus, back in the day performing with various bands at The Maze which we all know and love and miss dearly. Messy times! The Maze was legendary.

Last year you performed a stunning version of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy for the Moonshine Sessions. What’s your favourite track written by another artist to cover, and why?
It literally changes with the wind! I've taken to covering Stevie Wonder a lot over the past few months. His approach to playing keys and his vocal style resonate in me like a musical hug. He is constantly making me a better musician.

How have you found being a musician during lockdown?
My favourite moment of lockdown was definitely the gig I did for Nottingham’s Light Hustle hosted by the epic Mrs Green. I stayed up all night recording it with a few red wines. It was at the very start of lockdown when it was still a bit of a novelty. I was having a lovely time! 

But more broadly, I've actually found the space to regroup. My voice was constantly fatigued from gigging every night in piano bars, and my writing wasn’t flowing as freely because I was so busy. So from that aspect, I've had freedom to get back in touch with the musician that I truly am. I just wish I could get out there and play!

What are your thoughts on the impact of the pandemic on the UK’s music scene? What do you think needs to be done to help the sector to survive?
As a self-employed musician, I've been hit really hard by all of this. I lost all of my work overnight, as many of my friends did too. And rent in London isn't cheap! I'm continuing to struggle every day, hoping not to have to move back in with my Mum. 

But I do believe there's a light at the end of all this. I mean, I can't be the only one who is sick of watching groups of musicians on split screens and concerts on Facebook, YouTube or Zoom. People need to go out and see live music. There will be public demand for music venues and theatres to reopen. Because musicians, artists, actors, dancers and all other creatives, are vital for the sanity of humankind. But this pandemic has further marginalised us and has proven to me, on some level, how undervalued and disregarded we are, not only as creators of art but simply as members of this country’s workforce. 

Free is out now and available to stream.

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