Having forged a successful career writing music for theatre, Sadie Jemmett’s London Love Songs started as a collection of songs about being a working mother and single parent trying to build a musical career in the capital city. The song cycle has spiralled out, capturing a vivid landscape by casting back over Sadie’s nomadic life, her loves, including the special bond with her daughter, but also the misunderstandings, the heartaches and the tragic death of her father. The original sessions in the legendary Abbey Road Studio have been patiently built up into a mighty fine record, as her other commitments have allowed. Sadie has generously acknowledged, “I’ve been so lucky, so many people have shown such love and goodwill and desire to be involved in this album. I feel that it has been a truly communal effort and that the album belongs to everyone involved.” But, of course, their efforts would be nothing without those London Love Songs and there are some real gems to be had here.
Sadie had something of a musical salvation at the age of 12. It was then that she first picked up the guitar and also finally settled into something like a family life, albeit not with her natural parents. She was boarding with a family in Hertfordshire having already run through and away from a half a dozen such arrangements already. Her actor parents had separated, her mother becoming a priest and the unconventional childhood that Sadie had lived started to go well and truly off the rails.
Finally something started to make sense as Sadie explained it, “They had a great record collection and I got to hear people like Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin. It was perfect timing and it was my opening to a new world. I was in such a state of anxiety because I never knew what was going to happen next and then I discovered this music. I found I could play it and it was mine and nobody could take it away from me. It was the first thing in my life that made me think everything was going to be OK”.
Sadie enjoyed a period of relative stability and found a particular solace in Joni Mitchell’s Blue. As she has explained, “Everything about her songs was reassuring. It seemed like she had the most familiar voice I’d ever heard. I didn’t want to copy her. But she inspired me to become myself.” It was short lived, however, and by 16 Sadie had once again moved on. She moved to Edinburgh, where she fell in with a reggae band called the African Ambassadors and spent a year on the road with them as a backing singer, giving her a first taste of musical life.
That didn’t last either and was followed by a period as an au pair in Switzerland, an unsuccessful stint in drama school, a period back in Scotland working with adults with learning difficulties before an inevitable drift to London, joining another band. Sadie was unable to settle and the unexpected death of her father proved another jolt and prompted a move to Germany, as she has revealed, “That was my way of dealing with things – leave and hope it would be better over there. I suppose I was looking for somewhere I could feel grounded, somewhere I could call home because I’d never really had one.”
A year or thereabouts spent in Berlin, just after the wall came down, living in a squat, singing with a band called Easter Island and busking by day, proved an amazing time, but still she felt the need to move on. Sadie’s next move was to Ireland via Spain, where she lived on the West Coast in a tumbledown cottage. It was here, inspired by the regular sessions in local bars, where everyone was expected to take part, that Sadie started to write songs with serious intent. It was also in Ireland that she first worked with a theatre company, writing music for two plays staged at Galway Arts Theatre.
The theatre work proved to be key and she has subsequently enjoyed great success, first in Paris, where she collaborated on a show called Resonance, getting considerable exposure on French radio for her song Making Sense. A follow up record deal was scuppered by Sadie’s pregnancy. Sadie has admitted, “I walked into this record company office and as soon as they saw I was seven months pregnant, their interest drained away.”
Sadie did what she always did and moved on, settling in London with her daughter and writing songs but with a new found confidence. A debut album duly followed, The Blacksmith’s Girl, released through Judy Collins’ Wildflower Records in 2011.
It wasn’t long, however, before the call of theatre work uprooted Sadie again. As we reported with our Song Of The Day feature, she’s been performing the original songs for the play Shakespeare’s Sister, first in New York and then in France, which has kept her busy with nightly performances.
Somewhere amidst the recent run of theatre work the material for London Love Songs took root. It started with an offer of a few hours in the legendary Abbey Road Studio 2, with what Sadie has described as, “Some exceptionally talented and generous friends.” She still ended up racing against the clock, trying to capitalise on the vibes and make the most of her time. Keeping things simple, with mostly just guitar and voice, Sadie surprised even herself and emerged with what would become the core of the album. After such a frantic start, however, things slowed right down with Sadie moving the recording to the Kent based studio of good friend John McBurnie, working as and when time allowed, taking a year or so to get the record finished.
Sadie plays acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica and had help notably from Lawrie Wright who contributes piano, Hammond, Rhodes and bass, with Joseph Carey on sax, Matt Wilson on drums alternating with Tony Myers on cajon. Strings come from Emma Darlow on violin and Benn Hess on cello and there are also Anthony Wimshurst playing guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar and Nathalia Cerqueira on accordion.
Sadie and John have done an excellent job of bringing these songs together, which unsurprisingly, given Sadie’s extraordinary story, have a strong autobiographical streak. The lilting melody of These Days gets us off to a strong start and is packed with little descriptive details. The summer rain, painting the house, keeping busy, but above all the loneliness and longing that Sadie experienced as a single mum. She has described being on her own, her daughter being away for a few days, not long after they’d moved into a new flat in London. The flat had a piano, left by a previous tenant and Sadie sat down with it and this song about her father tumbled out. It’s an emotive piece of writing as Sadie sings, “If you knew how much I missed, You’d be back like a shot,” that makes good use of both piano and Rhodes, with the cello and sax also making telling contributions to the arrangement, while Sam Gannon features on bass.
The album lives up to its title very well, dotted with London references and also love songs, albeit written though with misunderstandings, longing, heartaches and hurt. So Tonight finds a woman feeling invisible and just wanting her lover to notice her new clothes or hairstyle. But it also offers to paint the town red, “While the hot sun’s still beating down on Soho Square.” A night of passion might stir the complacency of familiarity it seems. Strings and sax add to the lush feel of Stay, although here the relationship has burned up and Sadie sounds desperate as she sings, “I’ll do anything to be near you.” There’s a clever rhythmic shift into the chorus and the pleading of “Stay with me.”
It’s not all about love, however and Adventures In Sobriety and Come Down are exactly as their titles suggest. The former takes the struggles of an old friend as they fight the demon on their shoulder and try therapy to overcome a family curse. It also features additional vocals and guitar from Sadie’s current friend Russell Joslin. Come Down is bad drugs and bad men, although Sadie has pointed out, “It could equally be about bad women, depending on your preference.” Even so, love rears its head as Sadie sings, “And I couldn’t say that I believe in the love affairs, The way I did when I was young.” Again there is just a hint of desperation in the lines, “I was hoping you would hold me, ‘Til I get back up again.”
There’s a jazzy tinge to the title track, which has a warmer, if bittersweet, glow as various love affairs are merged with a love of London. Sadie invites, “Sweet darling Billy,” to kick the country mud off his shoes and follow her into the Soho bar, where she’s playing the song’s she’s written for him. Stamford Hill and Dalston are also name checked, although her lover has long since headed out for the West Country for the light and life of a painter. Five Things That I Noticed is about the daily walk that Sadie took with her baby daughter as they left their tiny flat and took in the sights of the local Camden market, as it bustled with tourists and traders. Again the detail is well written, from the busker with his broken shoes, the thin woman smoking and the music on Delancey Street.
Those two London-centric songs sandwich a bit of California sunshine and a version of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Teach Your Children. The song, written by Graham Nash, which appeared on Déjà Vu, actually predates that band and was apparently inspired by a photograph by Diane Arbus of a child with a toy hand grenade. Sadie originally recorded it for an album called Music Is Love, a multi-artist charity project that included a considerable cast recording the songs that the famous quartet recorded together and individually. Sadie’s version is heartfelt and was well received, warranting inclusion here.
The album also finishes strongly and On My Mind was recorded entirely at Abbey Road. It features Sadie playing harmonica, which she admits to never having recorded before, but it works really well and the song has the feel of classic 60s’ singer-songwriter about it and gives Sadie a chance to show off her finger style guitar playing. By Sadie’s admission it’s a straightforward love song, about realising the person you love the most was there in front of you all of the time. It’s love of a different kind, everlasting and unconditional, the love of a mother for her daughter that lights up the sublime closer Entirely. It’s blessed with one of those magic chord sequences and the layered, multi-tracked voices add an extra frisson as the song heads to a gentle, tender finish. It’s truly beautiful stuff.
This is a great set of portraits and vignettes that capture the emotional landscape of Sadie’s life in the city, peppering vivid details throughout to bring the stories to life. In common with many great records, the more you play it the more it reveals, but once Sadie’s voice has you in its spell, you’ll want to return again and again. Credit too for the sound, as Sadie and John have done a great job of marshalling the extra payers and using the tonal colours to enhance the emotional journey into the heart of this city-scape. Credit too to whoever got her started at Abbey Road, because Sadie has more than repaid that faith and, wherever you happen to be, these are London Love Songs to take to your heart.
Review by: Simon Holland
London Love Songs is available from 15th July and can be pre-ordered via her Pledge page here:
Basement Bar at The Betsey Trotwood (56 Farringdon Rd, Clerkenwell, London, EC1R 3BL) on Wednesday the 15th of July, at 7pm.