The Singer’s Tale

: An Interview

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Photo Kasia Rose Hrybowicz ( My Daughter )

PREVIEW/ INTERVIEW: Carol Grimes –The Singer’s Tale, St James Studio, 9th and 26th Feb

Carol Grimes was one of the very first performers to appear at St James Studio (preview from 2012). In this new interview with Sebastian, she talked about the first outings of her new autobiographical project “The Singer’s Tale,” for which she will return to St James Studio with performances on Feb 9th and 26th 2015.

LondonJazz News: What does the show consist of? 

Carol Grimes: Songs, little beat poetry, it’s a tale interlaced with songs, a lot of them written by Dorian Ford and myself. It’s in two halves with an interval. Maggie Ford is directing. Neville Malcolm is on bass, Winston Clifford drums, Annie Whitehead trombone and Dorian Ford piano.

LJN: And the title? 

CG: I nicked it from Chaucer – he never wrote a tale about a singer, but he travelled through South East London, knew it, trod the same paths I trod.

LJN: Where did the idea come from? 

CG: I started writing a book and songs and poems in the 80s. And when some other people told me they wanted to write my life story – they sent me a draft script and I got cold feet about what they were doing. So I had the idea I would write my own.

LJN: And then? 

CG: You have to leap forward to Deptford High St where I was living in 2005. Because I’d been born in Lewisham it felt like I had got back to where I’d started – and I started writing it again. I had a song at that time “Blues for Louis” it was on the album Mother, it really worked, people tell me its a beat poem.

Then I had a terrible accident , I was knocked over by two blindfolded dancers preparing for a show in Brighton. That accident held me back as performer for a while I couldn’t even walk, so I picked up the book again.

By that time I’d started working with Dorian and showed him the bits and the piece that ended up as the 20 min thing you saw at MAP in Kentish Town (REVIEWED HERE

LJN: And both the book and the show have progressed quite a bit? 

CG:I have got a book pretty much done sitting there waiting for me to do edits which I hope to get published. And so the idea is to tour the show taken from the book, and to sell the book while on tour….

LJN: Is there a theme running through the book?

Why I am writing a book? It’s not because I’m a celebrity (I’m not) but other people have had lives which are just as interesting. My story goes from my birth in 1944 to now. When I write about myself I feel as if I am the fly on the wall. So the story goes through the miners’ strike, through the first few gigs of Rock against Racism which were put on by Red Saunders, David Widgery and Roger Huddle. We did a pub in the East End, and the Roundhouse.

If you look at the history all people talk about is Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson – and they lay claim to it , it became a much bigger thing. I got gradually left out. It is very easy to be written out of history. I did the first ever Glastonbury fair.

LJN: And mixed-race bands, reflecting the society you live in, are an important feature of your life as performer?

CG: I became aware that eighties two -tone bands claimed to be the first to be mixed race. They weren’t When I started there were bands like Graham Bond, and all the Windrush generation, and the exiles from South Africa. There there were a lot of mixed race bands.

The bigger bands in the 80s were all four white men. So I wanted to redress the balance and give people a flavour of what it was really like, life in the sixties.

The changes that are still happening the venues that have been lost.

LJN:  The show at St James Studio is going to bring lost of memories to life…

CG: It takes me back to London before the whole hippy thing. There were great bands. They reflected the city that I lived in – thy weren’t segregated bands. It wasn’t long after the austerity fifties – the feeling something good was going to happen

LJN: Do you have some lyrics from the show that capture that feeling you describe? 


“Inside her room

Single bed
Sink and gas ring
She listened to the blues
Black vinyl, warm spinning
Her heart wanting the sound in her mouth”

The Singer’s Tale has been assisted by a small Arts Council England Development grant.

LINKS: BOOKINGS for 9th FEB and 26th FEB

Carol Grimes at the 2013 London Jazz Festival

Taking My Singers Tale to The Edinburgh Festival



22nd – 24th August at 1.45pm

“Carol Grimes, the Piaf singer/songwriter of British music. This raw, in your face sublime performer takes you with her on a musical journey through her extraordinary life.

“The Singers Tale weaves its stories, sometimes shady, mad and bad, but with music and song at their heart. Street busker to Ronnie Scotts, from Notting Hill to Nashville and Memphis to San Francisco from Hackney to Texas and Eastern Europe, but always returning to London.”

22nd – 24th August 2015, 1.45pm at The Assembly Rooms (ballroom), 54 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2LR. Book at

“Carol Grimes has a fascinating story to tell. She also has a command of shaping and delivering words, a performance sense, and the musical and human depth and warmth to really make something of this. The story pulls in songs that reference times of her life. This project has such a strong heart, it really could go anywhere as it develops. Dorian Ford has no music, just her words in front of him.

His ability to match mood or word with chord or line, to evoke the ghosts of songs past is a revelation too.” (review by Sebastian Scotney)

Preview/Interview: The Singer’s Tale

London Jazz News, 13th February 2015


Carol Grimes was one of the very first performers to appear at St James Studio (preview from 2012). In this new interview with Sebastian, she talked about the first outings of her new autobiographical project “The Singer’s Tale,” for which she will return to St James Studio with performances on Feb 9th and 26th 2015.

LondonJazz News: What does the show consist of?

Carol Grimes: Songs, little beat poetry, it’s a tale interlaced with songs, a lot of them written by Dorian Ford and myself. It’s in two halves with an interval. Maggie Ford is directing. Neville Malcolm is on bass, Winston Clifford drums, Annie Whitehead trombone and Dorian Ford piano.

LJN: And the title?

CG: I nicked it from Chaucer – he never wrote a tale about a singer, but he travelled through South East London, knew it, trod the same paths I trod.

Like Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, Carol’s journey started in London. As a singer, she is the character Chaucer left out from his Tales. From her first gig, Carol has attracted enthusiastic followers who want to join her on her “pilgrimage”…..more on website

The Singer’s Tale

St James Studio, 9th February 2015

Link: London Jazz News

Large slices of British jazz history are disappearing. The music itself is documented, but the accounts of how it was made and the world for which it was performed are fading because they exist only in the frailest of formats – memory. So when an event like Carol Grimes’ The Singer’s Tale comes along, it forms an invaluable document.

For anyone who lived through the period from the early 60s on the London jazz scene, it will recall events, venues and people long gone, but which form names to conjure with”, summoning up memories and recreating events and feelings with a that power goes way beyond nostalgia into reliving. For anyone who didn’t live through it, here is an account of the life of a talented but uneducated woman and mother who did not fit easily into musical categories. Documents on women in British Jazz and Rock – and of their treatment by the almost exclusively male scenes where they were often treated as props rather than musicians – are rare, and this sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious look at life is probably unique.

Born an unwanted, illegitimate, wartime baby in Lewisham, and put into care by her mother, Carol was in dead-end menial jobs when she found a life in jazz and singing and reinvented herself, including a new name. There’s a great scene when she tries to claim her pension and tries to explain having been known by four surnames. She recalls hippiedom, psychedelia at UFO and the Roundhouse, busking, motherhood, recording Country Rock in Nashville with the musical team who did Dylan’s Blond on Blond, alcohol abuse, riots at the Carnival, Rock against Racism and the first Glastonbury culminating in her return to her first love – Jazz. I particularly liked her account of touring Northern Ireland in the early 70s with roadies who owned a Japanese ex-school bus which just happened to be bright orange. continued on website


Fringe Music and Cabaret: Carol Grimes with Dorian Ford and Arike: The Singer’s Tale, Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, Sinatra: 100 Years

Carol Grimes with Dorian Ford: The Singer’s Tale


Lennon: Through a Glass Onion

Assembly Hall


Sinatra: 100 Years

Assembly Rooms


Rob Adams

Carol Grimes needs longer than a Fringe slot to tell her life story. Heavens, she needs more words than a Fringe review has to accommodate the names she’s gone under, being as she candidly puts it “a bastard” London war baby who was put up for adoption, brought up in Lowestoft, wound up sleeping in Hastings’ caves, busked in Soho, joined a band, married, divorced, married again, and tied the pension authorities in knots trying to decipher who she really was.

To those whose lives Grimes’s singing has touched, she’s one of the UK’s great underappreciated talents and at seventy-one, she hasn’t lost the power to enthral with a blues or a jazz standard or with the song that ended this lunchtime gem so aptly, her friend, the late Sandy Denny’s Who Knows Where the Time Goes.

The Singer’s Tale is by turns charming, funny and a little sad without looking for pity. Grimes is a trouper, a survivor and with Dorian Ford’s splendid piano accompaniment and occasional added harmonica, she variously defies and takes encouragement from a sizable cast of alliteratively named alter egos – Betty Bluesbelter, Procrastinating Patsy et al – to follow her dreams and get through some nightmares. The triumphs are underplayed – she’s happy being a non-celebrity – the laughs are genuine, and the voice really should have become better known. Run ends today [Monday].

Busker’s bottler sings the blues

Carol Grimes might not include I Could Write a Book in her Edinburgh Fringe show, The Singer’s Tale. The London-born survivor of fifty years in the music business would, however, have every right to sing this Rodgers and Hart standard. Indeed, she is currently writing her autobiography after being given encouragement by a literary agent who subsequently disappeared.

“Typical,” says Grimes with a throaty laugh. “My timing has always been abysmal when it comes to business matters, and I know I’m not alone in this regard among musicians. I just like to sing. And write – I’ve been really enjoying getting the story down.”

Grimes’ problem as far as the publishing world’s concerned is that she’s not about to deliver a celebrity kiss and tell because, as she says, she’s not a celebrity. She’s known a few – Joe Cocker was reduced to sleeping on her couch when at a particularly low ebb – and she might have become a bigger name had the albums she made in Nashville and Memphis during the 1970s been promoted properly and had she not been silenced, as a recording artist at least, due to some dodgy deals shortly afterwards.

Promoted stories

The story, which includes Grimes pinching herself as she listens to tapes of Otis Redding rehearsals in Stax Records legend Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s Memphis home, begins with Grimes not singing but being the ‘bottler’ for a character called ‘Paris Nat’ Schaffer on the streets of London. He would sing and entertain passers-by and Grimes would collect the takings and look out for the old bill as busking was illegal back in the early 1960s. Schaffer also saw the merit of having an attractive teenage accomplice and encouraged Grimes to pursue her dream as they moved from making quick escapes down dark alleys to playing in London’s folk clubs.

From the moment, as a fourteen-year-old who spent most of her childhood in care, she heard Ella Fitzgerald singing Every Time We Say Goodbye, Grimes had wanted to be a singer. Later, hearing the great British blues singer-guitarist Jo Ann Kelly and Julie Driscoll, who was in the frontline of Steampacket with Rod Stewart and John Baldry at the time, inspired Grimes further. And before too long she got to follow their example by selling out London venues including the Marquee, Klook’s Kleek and the 100 Club.

By this time she had signed with the B&C wing of Charisma Records, then home to Van der Graaf Generator and Genesis. The resultant album, Fools Meeting, would become a collectors’ item and featured Grimes with a band called Delivery, whose members went on to work with Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt’s Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North and other Canterbury scene notables.

The album’s jazzier, more progressive side took Grimes away from the rhythm and blues she’d previously favoured. But not for long as she was invited to sing some demos with the London Boogie Band, which included her then partner, guitarist Neil Hubbard from Joe Cocker’s Grease band, and while that band morphed into the still active Kokomo, Grimes was propelled towards a solo career that promised much but delivered, as she says, “a nightmare.”

“It did get me to Memphis and recording with the Stax crew and the Memphis Horns, which was a fantastic experience, and much, much later that association led to me being invited onto Soul Britannia on BBC 4 and the subsequent tour, which was great,” she says. “But the album came out and stiffed due to lack of promotion and the guy who had me under contract wouldn’t let me out of the deal and stopped me from recording anything else.”

Grimes moved to Poland with her Polish husband and when she returned to London in the 1980s she became involved in The Shout, a choir organised by composer Orlando Gough that toured across Europe and America and visited Japan. She also took up teaching at the City Literary Institute and working with Parkinsons sufferers through Sing For Joy, a choir that she conducts and finds hugely rewarding.

She’s never stopped gigging as a singer, however, and her Fringe show features the pianist in her current band, Dorian Ford, as her sole accompanist.

“I wish I could bring the whole band because my drummer, Winston Clifford has a great voice and he normally sings behind me as I tell the stories. But I’ll just have to do it with one mouth,” she says. “It’s one of the advantages of never having had a massive hit and having kept working my vocal muscles that I don’t have to go on these 1970s revival tours singing three keys down from the original. And never having been a star, I can be the fly on the wall who played at the first Glastonbury Festival and who can share memories of people who have been written out of history.”

Carol Grimes & Dorian Ford: The Singer’s Tale is at the Assembly Rooms, August 22-24. 

 Carol Grimes

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