Thursday, 2 February 2012

Interview: Theo his own words.

Interview by guest blogger Sandra Nicholls-Marcy, editor of The Social Jazz.

Childish Things is three nights of music and comedy, raising funds for Helen & Douglas House in Oxford.  Since 2004 the event has attracted an all-star lineup - this year including music from Jamie Cullum, KT Tunstall and Eliza Doolittle and comedy from Jimmy Carr and Jason Manford.  

Here we introduce the songwriter, singer and pianist Theo Jackson, who will also be performing at the event.

Hi Theo – can you tell us a little bit about Childish Things?
“It’s an event that happens every year, organised to raise money for Helen and Douglas House, a hospice that caters for terminally ill children and severely ill teenagers and young adults.  Over the last several years they’ve had the biggest names in comedy – last year they had James Corden, Miranda Hart and Jimmy Carr, who visits the house quite regularly.  
“Two years ago I was asked to play the final tune so I had to wait through the whole show before going on to play.  I played the Bill Withers song “Lean on me” and we were joined onstage by Phil Jupitus, Rob Brydon, Rory Bremner and Graham Norton - everyone’s so keen to get involved with the project.”

What’s your connection with Helen and Douglas House?
“I moved to Oxford three years ago and, as I wasn’t very busy in the daytime, I decided to try and use my spare time productively so I got in touch with the hospice and asked them if they might be interested in having me play for the guests there.  They have a music room with a piano, and I try to go along around once a month.  
“I try and adapt what I play to the guests who are there – one guest is a musician himself. His name is Ally Craig and he will also be performing for Childish Things with his band Bug Prentice.  He has hereditary muscular dystrophy which is a degenerative disease, but he is able to play the guitar by laying it across the top of his wheelchair – he’s a brilliant musician.  There’s also a lady who’s very severely disabled and she enjoys singing so I try and mould my piano playing around her singing, which is more of a therapeutic role.  Normally the sessions last around an hour to an hour and a half.  All the guests require 24 hour care so while I’m there the carers can relax a bit with the music – it’s a fantastic facility.”

Tell us about your career as a musician?
“I didn’t start playing until quite late – I was 14.  I started by playing lots of Elton John and Billy Joel and then thought that maybe if I learned lots of jazz that would be a good substitute for classical training.  As I got more interested in jazz I became more of a jazz performer and became more heavily influenced by jazz artists.  I started to lose touch with playing pop music, with the exception of Stevie Wonder, whom I still adore.   I went to Durham University to study music and then moved to London and started playing in hotels and restaurants.  
“It was only just over a year ago that I started gigging at a higher level – I played The 606 on my 25th birthday.  It was my first gig there, and my first with (saxophonist) Nathaniel Facey.  I’d completely lost my voice and was temporarily deaf in one ear – luckily Steve, the manager of the club, liked me anyway and subsequently invited me back four more times that year!”

Can you tell us about the album you’ve just released?
“I consider myself a songwriter first and foremost and all the tunes on the album are all original.  The tracks span quite a few different influences, from the traditional jazz standard-like inspiration of “Fairytale” to the opening track “Excuse Me”, which is inspired by contemporary musicians.
“My father listened to the tracks and said “It’s a good representation of where you are now” so I decided to name it 'Jericho', after the area of Oxford I currently live in.  The album depicts where my writing is at – I suppose it’s like a photograph.”

Jamie Cullum is also playing at Childish Things - what’s your connection with him?
“It’s quite strange that the early part of my career mirrors the early part of his career – and we’ve shared some of the same gigs which makes comparisons inevitable, although most people tend to find our styles quite different.  I’m looking forward to meeting him as he’s opened up jazz to a much wider audience in the UK, while promoting jazz artists including those very different to him.  A little bit of me is hoping we might get to duet on the evening – you never know!”

Theo will be joining Jamie Cullum, KT Tunstall and Eliza Doolittle at Childish Things on Monday 27th February. You can find out more here

Theo Jackson’s new album “Jericho” is available at
You can catch Theo live with Nathaniel Facey at The Forge in Camden on 16th February, and at The 606 in London on 13th March.

Read more guest posts from Sandra:

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