You don’t sing with the perfection that is the John Wilson Orchestra, for six years, as she has in the past, without massive talent and perfect technique, so that now, as a solo artist, Sarah Moule stands in the very top flight of UK singers. And so it was that last week’s launch of her latest album, Songs From the Floating World, at Dean Street’s Pizza Express, was both a special occasion and a tour de force. With nothing of the haughty diva about her she projected a real presence and knowledge of how to ‘sell’ a song without histrionics and an easy relationship with her favourite musicians, MD Simon Wallace (piano) Mick Hutton (bass) and Paul Robinson (drums), laced with more than a little humour.
The range of material was wonderfully wide and sometimes courageous, as when she divested I’ve Got You Under My Skin from decades of perception arising from Sinatra’s ring-a-ding-ding reading, treating it as it was originally intended, as a slow, tender ballad, in complete contrast to Willy Dixon’s My Babe or Clarence Williams’ I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl when she came close to sounding like the classic black singers of the twenties and thirties.
As ever with a Moule programme there was a fair sprinkling of songs written by the collaboration between the legendary Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace – I am amazed that more singers haven’t picked up on Scars, for example, a deeply touching lyric combined with a strong melody that you can actually remember – and her reading of Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, the Landesman/Tommy Woolf classic, reminded me of why it is probably my all-time favourite standard.
Matching Sarah all the way and making for a special evening her musicians were on tremendous form, light years removed from the bad old days of near-disdain for singers they were paid to turn up and accompany. Every Wallace solo was understated story telling perfection,with each note seeming to exist in acres of space. On his writing collaboration with Julie Burchill, Lots Of People Do, his rolling left hand was the very essence of blues inflected playing and swing. Bassist Mick Hutton, one of the UK’s finest, showed his ability to embroider slow ballads with almost Spanish guitar lines or lock into Paul Robinson’s drums with a huge walking bass line intro toMy Babe that was truly exhilarating. As for Robinson himself; is there any drummer who listens more and who truly converses with the lead voice, with a projection of power without volume that to me is unique on the scene,with little twists on the rhythm patterns, like the 12/8 feel of The Secret of Silence, that keeps everyone alert and fresh. A wonderful band and a tremendous artist; this was a truly special occasion.