Naomi Payne, jazz and blues singer and
entertainer and forties/WWII entertainer based in Shropshire.
Naomi also covers from 1920s - 1940s gangster and moll
parties, murder mystery, tea dances, vintage balls.
Here, Digger talks to Naomi Payne,
singer and entertainer, who specialises in jazz and blues and
who has wowed audiences at vintage events and private parties.
As a solo artist or with her four-piece or sixteen-piece
bands, Naomi comes with a grounding in the material of the
greats of jazz and blues like Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith,
Leadbelly and Billie Holiday. This pedigree manifests itself
in her performances.
Naomi Payne is
available to perform in Shropshire, Staffordshire,
Cheshire, Hereford, Wales, Birmingham and the midlands
and further afield by arrangement.
Digger: Hello Naomi.
Naomi: Hello Digger!
Digger: You sound very
happy and upbeat as usual. Are you ever grumpy?
Naomi: (Laughs) Yes at about
10:00 in the morning.
Digger: So you're like me and
need a few coffees first? My girlfriend is like the woman in
the old Ski yoghurt TV ads. You know, she jumps out of bed and flings
the curtains and windows open with a big smile. Nothing like
Naomi: Yes, I remember that.
(Both laugh) That's not me either.
Digger: Please tell us a bit
about your musical background and your musical inspirations.
Naomi: I suppose it was my
parents, who are both into the folk scene, who influenced me. I
was brought up on folk music and was encouraged to sing from
an early age at folk clubs, parties and that sort of thing.
My parents used to have people round with guitars and
accordions. They would get me to learn songs and to stand up and
Digger: Doing your party piece?
That could have gone one of two ways, either you'd go with it or
you'd rebel as a child and a teenager.
Naomi: Yes, it's funny isn't
it? I don't remember ever feeling particularly nervous about
it. I did enjoy it, whereas my two girls who would now be at
the sort of age where I was doing that sort of thing aren't
keen on doing that at all.
Naomi: But they both play piano
and would gladly play a piano piece.
Digger: That's good.
Naomi: But they wouldn't ever
get up and sing.
Digger: I think that's
wonderful that they play and it would be nice if everybody
could learn an instrument.
Naomi: I think so too. I would have
loved to have learned an instrument. It's so expensive,
it? When the bill comes through for theirs I think "Oh my
Digger: It could be worse, it could be ponies.
Naomi: Absolutely. So as a
child I learned to play a flute. But when I got to about
fourteen I didn't want to carry on with that. (Laughs)
Digger: A very handy sized
Naomi: Exactly. I learned quite
a few chords on the guitar, because my Mum had quite a good
collection of blues LPs which I'd rummage through. People like
Gerry Lockran, who is fabulous and I used to listen to him
all the time. Have a listen to him on YouTube - an album
called Blues Vendetta - he is brilliant. In fact I've got it
on cassette, not on LP. He has a fabulous voice and I'm always
drawn to that sort of blues style - John Lee Hooker, Muddy
Waters, Elmore James, Bessie Smith, Lil Green and those sorts
of people. So I was singing and playing a few chords of blues
and then I met up with a piano player in my later teens who
suggested I join him as a duo. We performed at restaurants and
hotels, which meant jazz-style, so I went down that route
because that's where the gigs were. I did people like Billie
Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, although I still
prefer the raw side of things. Ella is a jazz icon and great
but I find it a little too perfect.
Digger: I know what you mean.
Naomi: I've always listened to
people like The Inkspots and so on.
Digger: Were you not also into
the contemporary stuff that your friends would have been into?
Naomi: No. It's funny a few
months ago I bumped into somebody who I knew from school and
she said "Oh yes, you were a bit odd, weren't you?!
liked jazz." (Both laugh) I thought "Hang on!" I was one of
the kids who would hang around with others who played
instruments and the others were listening to Bros. Mind you, I
used to like Terence Trent D'Arby.
Digger: (Sings song) "Sign
your name across my heart.."
Naomi: Yes, that's the one. I
listened to people with more unusual voices I have to say. I
was lucky enough to have parents and grandparents with a large
78s collection of twenties and thirties stuff - Paul Robeson
and that kind of thing.
Digger: We have a client called
78RPM DJs who does shows based on the vintage 78s. Have you
heard of him?
Digger: He might be worth
getting in touch with. So this passion for vintage was down to
Naomi: I think so. Her blues
collection and my Grandfather's huge 78s collection - Johnnie
Marvin, Jay Wilbur...
Digger: You do pretty well on
remembering the names.
Naomi: (Laughs) You know, that
sort of thirties sound?
Digger: I do and I love that
and the rawness you mentioned as well. I suppose you're like
me - not having a problem with the scratches and the bumps on
these old records?
Naomi: No, and in fact at my
gigs I usually plug an iPod in through my PA system with thirties
and forties songs on there. But I also have one of those wind-up
gramophones and take the 78s along with me. It does men
winding it up all the time though.
Digger: Who are your typical
audiences and customers Naomi? And what sort of feedback do
Naomi: I don't have
a stereotypical customer. I have jazz gigs where people sit and
listen and then I have the vintage-style gigs with my Hotsy
Totsy Band where people get up and dance and then I have the
gigs where I play at fashion shows. I've got one in February
where I've got to play at an 007 Casino Evening. I get a lot
of repeat bookings - I do a lot for a charity called Hope
House and the lady there organised this casino evening and
said could I come and perform there as a quartet. "Is there any
chance you could sing a few James Bond numbers?" she said, so I learned a
few specifically for it. That's also vintage as well now,
Digger: It is. The first James Bond
movie was '62.
Naomi: So it's very retro.
Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever. I
think there's about ten of them. I'll learn them and then I
will throw them in occasionally on a jazz gig.
Digger: It adds to your
repertoire. If people hear you doing something that's not what
they'd expect you might get some other bookings from it.
Digger: You're very flexible
aren't you? You're doing an eclectic variety of styles but
also saying that you can turn up as in individual or a duo or
a quartet . You have to do that these days I suppose?
Naomi: I don't go out on my own
with just a backing track. People have asked me to do that,
because times are hard and maybe they can't afford to splash
out on a full band. But it's not something yet that I've gone
down the road of doing. There's pros and cons of working with
bands and singing to backings and I'm not sure if it's for me
or not really. It's a case of "never say never really" isn't
Digger: And that takes us back
to James Bond again! (Both laugh) So in an ideal world what's
your favoured format and favoured genre?
Naomi: With the jazz, it's still
vintage because it was popular in the thirties and forties and
the ragtime era so I'm not going into any other genre
really. I'm doing the same performance at each gig in reality.
It's just that with the Hotsy Totsy gigs you're dressing up
and it's a bit more theatrical and a bit more of a show rather
than a jazz gig where you're going along in your everyday
Digger: Sometimes people are
sitting down with their arms folded listening intently,
sometimes they're going with the beat and dancing and having a
rave-up and at other times you're just background music
to what is basically a vintage fair. They're very different
Naomi: Yes, I think it's
probably the way it's advertised that effects people's
behaviour. I think if you let people
know that they can get up and dance then they will, but some
people are self-conscious and not sure if it's the thing to
do. At jazz gigs, you've got people foot-tapping along.
Digger: A little bit of alcohol
helps me there.
Naomi: Not much of that at tea
Digger: You can put a bit of
sherry in there. What would you say are the reasons why retro and vintage
are so popular?
When I started it was a bit niche, but now...
Naomi: I suppose it has become
much more popular. I've
always been into it, because I've been drawn to the vintage
radio and vintage objects and music obviously. But I suppose
people look back at it with a bit of envy, I suppose. Because
there did seem to be a lot more order and people seemed to be
more happy with their lot rather than now where we all seem to
be wanting a bit more. Everything seems to be a bit more
chaotic and with The Internet everything's got quicker. I suppose
we look back with rose-tinted glasses.
Digger: The wartime community
are very obsessive about it but they seem to forget that people
were dropping big lumps of explosives on us and we were losing
loved ones as well, but they still say what a wonderful time
it was. And in some ways I suppose it was.
Naomi: I think that has to be
remembered and people who do look back and say "I wish we'd
lived then" need to consider that. The films have a lot to do
with it - the thirties and forties films with shiny hotels and
Digger: That's true and the
funny thing is that most of those films were made as an escape
for people, most of whom were in desperate circumstances when
they left the cinema with the depression and the war and so
Digger: I can remember saying
to a celebrity pen pal once that I'd love to go back to the
days when people were more polite and they all wore smart
clothes and she said "Oh no. All that illness that we have
cured and people are much better off in so many ways these
days." And she had a point.
Naomi: Fashions then - people
did seem to be smarter. People made much more of an effort.
Digger: Working class people
looked clean and smart, didn't they? And now we're all such slobs.
Naomi Payne at a forties
Naomi: Yes. Just like me now in
Digger: I'm wearing jeans and a
T-shirt today and that's typical for people of a certain age
Naomi: I always remember my
grandfather had a tie on and trousers and a cardigan. Very
much that thirties look still into his eighties when he
Digger: My Irish granddad
had a stroke so was bed-ridden so what I remember about
going over there is the smell of pipe tobacco and wee!
Because he had a chamber pot under the bed. (Both laugh) It's a happy memory.
Naomi: It's actually
similar to my grandmother only it was fags - singe holes in
Digger: What are the most rewarding
and enjoyable things about what you're doing Naomi? There must be quite a lot?
Naomi: Oh absolutely. I
mean it's hard work to research the music and to get the
band in order. I have to write chords out and download music
and all that type of stuff, but when you get to the gig and
people are enjoying themselves... I try and take a visitors
book with me and read the comments that people have put. At
the end of the gig people come up and say "I really enjoyed
Digger: Any odd comments?
Naomi: I had one at a tea
dance where someone wrote "Well it would have been nice
there was coffee." (Both laugh) At the dancing gigs I have
a lot of serious dancers who do ballroom and you have to
keep an eye on your tempos because they're very strict on
tempos. That's the great thing about working with a band
that you wouldn't get with a backing track. You play a quick
step and if it isn't quick enough you can speed them up
easily. You haven't got that sort of flexibility if you're
working on your own and have to play around with your iPad
or laptop of whatever.
Digger: It's one of my
favourite paradoxes that you're doing something that is very
vintage and retro, yet you're using the latest technology
and also relying on The Internet. It's quite a
Naomi: Yes, that's why I'd
like to take the wind up machine with the 78s with me rather
than play it from an iPod, or even just record it from the
78s. You have that sound with the crackling of the needle
going onto the record.
Digger: How hard is it to
reproduce the different styles?
Naomi: There's not a lot of
different styles because most jazz standards are from the
thirties and forties.
Digger: Unless you're
doing James Bond?
Naomi: Yes, I don't do
many of those. At a masquerade ball in December I was asked
to play Andrew Lloyd-Webber stuff and O Sole Mio and that's
out of my comfort zone completely but I did learn it and do
it. I grinned my way through it! It was all in fun, a masked
ball where people were really dressed up and they knew when
they booked me they were booking a jazz and blues singer so
it wasn't my normal sort of stuff. I'll give it a go. I have
the odd gig where people ask me to sing stuff I don't
usually do and I'm happy to sing it if I can.
Digger: What are your vintage
passions? Do you live in a vintage house?
Naomi: I have an old
farmhouse, so I suppose it's vintage - it's a black and
white timber-framed house.
Digger: I had visions of
you saying you lived in a black and white world! Both Petula
Clark and Kenney Jones told me that they still see the
fifties and the early sixties memories in black and white and then
suddenly it went into colour. Isn't that strange?
Naomi: (Laughs) Technicolor.
Digger: Yes, they remember
it almost as you do when you watch TV and film.
Naomi: It is funny. I love
the music, the fashions interest me. But I find it quite hard
getting into vintage clothes.
Digger: Quiet a few people
have picked up on that and are making reproductions in
Naomi: Yes, they were a lot
smaller then. I'm five foot ten and so trying to squeeze into
little tiny clothes, like dolls clothes, is a challenge.
Fashion interests me and I've always been drawn to vintage
objects like radios and cameras and so on since I can
remember. I have those around the house.
Digger: And you
can use them as props.
Naomi: I do yes.
Digger: Do you
think The Queen's jubilee will have a big impact on you this
Naomi: I do
quite a few gigs for the Royal British Legion so yes they've
booked me for Sunday 3rd June and then I've got one in
Solihull where they're doing an event for the Diamond
Jubilee celebrations - they've booked the jazz quartet. And
possibly one in Shrewsbury the week before on 26th May so it
seems to be spreading over quite a few weeks. So hopefully
there will be a few wanting to celebrate it. Streets and
villages are being encouraged, aren't they, to lay something
The Naomi Payne Quartet
Digger: I think
it will be a very patriotic year because we have the London
Olympics as well. It's got to be good for you.
Digger: So can
you tell us about your plans for the future Naomi?
Developing the act and what would you like to achieve in
terms of how far you go with it?
would you be happy? (Both laugh) Probably you would!
Appearing all over the world?
Naomi: I think
most singers or musicians would like to be recognised as
much and as widely as possible.
Digger: Yes and
play to the biggest audiences you can.
Naomi: Yes, I'd
love that. But in the near future I need to lose a few
Digger: I lost a
stone in three months by eating less bread and butter and
chocolate and more fruit and vegetables and just eating a
little bit less of the wrong stuff and more of the right
stuff. You can do it.
something I'm aiming towards. Also, most of my gigs are
based in Shropshire although I have a couple floating around
the surrounding counties but I'd like to break out of
Shropshire a little bit more. But it's very hard because
obviously I get re-booked by the same sorts of crowds that
come to the gigs. Although I have people travelling in from
all over the place. So that's something I'd like to do more.
that odd that they all seem to come from within the county
border? You'd think you'd get some in Cheshire,
Naomi: No, it's
funny. I think it's because if you advertise then it's only
included in the Shropshire papers and you never end up in
the papers in the surrounding counties.
we'll mention your wider availability. Thanks for letting us
know about what you're doing Naomi and best of luck for the
The sixteen-piece band
Naomiís musical talent and
extraordinary voice were first recognised when she was
just a young teenager. This was hardly surprising
given the way in which her parents had immersed her in
the music of Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson
and other blues Greats and it was only natural that
she should move onto listening to such jazz Divas as
Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
Naomiís desire to entertain led her to sing with a
number of different bands on the jazz and blues
circuit in her early twenties, and she was chosen to
sing live on BBC Radio Shropshire in 1996.
Despite taking a short break to marry and have
children Naomi inevitably returned to her singing
career three years ago and immediately found herself
in great demand at a variety of society functions,
including weddings, fashion shows, tea dances, vintage
themed dances, parties and balls (playing popular
music form the 1900s - 1940s) and the 2009, 2010 and
2011 Ludlow Food Festival.
Currently Naomi provides a stunning front for a
sixteen piece show band as well as mesmerising the
audience with her more intimate Naomi Payne Quartet
which plays jazz, blues, classic and latin numbers.
Together these two allow her to give full range to her
magnificent voice, equally comfortable delivering the
husky blues classics as the show stopping Broadway
This incredibly versatile singer can only go from
strength to strength as more and more people
experience the rich, unusual and beautiful voice of
Naomi Payne is
available to perform in Shropshire, Staffordshire,
Cheshire, Hereford, Wales, Birmingham and the midlands
and further afield by arrangement.