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Caro Emerald at Hampton Court Palace Festival, 17 June

| Festivals, Music, Venues | 09/06/2016

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By Ian Cater, Chief Features Writer

This year’s Hampton Court Palace Festival has begun, with a star-studded line-up performing over the next two weeks in the stunning setting of the Tudor Courtyard.  The artists descending on Richmond include the great Tom Jones, Art Garfunkel, Katherine Jenkins and one name that has been a bit quiet recently: Caro Emerald.

Emerald burst onto the scene in 2010 with Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, and followed up her debut success by topping the UK album charts in 2013 with The Shocking Miss Emerald.

The engaging Dutch jazz and pop singer spoke to What’s On London about her rise to fame, movements since then and excitement at returning to these shores on Friday 17th June.

The rise of Caro Emerald shines an interesting light on the resurgence of jazz over the past decade.  Unlike certain of her contemporaries, there’s little edgy about her, no harrowing back-story or obvious pool of pain from which she can draw.  Instead, Emerald – born Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw in 1981 – is a down-to-earth soul who spreads a range of emotions through her music: evidence, if any were needed, that jazz can stand on its own two feet without leaning on the crutch of celebrity.

Caro_Emerald_2016_resized_1Some hold Emerald’s normality against her, damning with faint praise the upbeat, catchy and mainstream sound of her hits (such as That Man and Stuck).  But she’s more than that, founded on a broad range of musical influences absorbed growing up in Amsterdam.

“I listened to pop music, R ‘n B and soul with my friends and I only heard classical music at home,” she says.  “There wasn’t any jazz around so I don’t know where it came from!

“I just remember getting on stage to sing a solo when I was 11 and, for some reason, choosing a jazz number.  After that, it kind of stuck!”

The snowball grew as Emerald went on to study jazz at the Dutch Academy of Music.  Her timing was impeccable, entering the scene during a new era for jazz, led by the likes of Amy Winehouse and Gregory Porter.

“Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, music was becoming more electronic and produced,” she says.  “But people then moved towards things that were more authentic and true to the heart.  I think that’s why singer-songwriters and jazz performers became so popular, because people wanted that rawness of talent.”

Rise and shine

That’s not to say hers was an easy path to success.  For several years, Emerald worked as a music teacher to pay the bills, before two producers – David Schreurs and Jan van Wieringen – asked her to record vocals for a demo track called Back It Up in 2007.  Lacking a label, Emerald was forced to promote it herself.

“Before we officially released it, I put the song online everywhere, sent it to radio stations and did some live performances.  Fortunately, one station really liked it and played it over and over.  Then a friend helped me make a video, which got a big audience on YouTube.”

As she began to gain traction, Emerald worked on an album with Schreurs and van Wieringen, Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor, with very limited resources.  “I recorded vocals in my bedroom,” she laughs.  “And Jan’s living room was our office when we set up our own label, Grandmono Records.  It was pretty much just us: we had some studio musicians, but we couldn’t really pay them!  We spent nothing on marketing in Holland, so when the album got to No. 1 it seemed crazy.”

The album didn’t just reach No. 1: it stayed there for 30 weeks, beating the previous record set by Michael Jackson’s Thriller.  In 2011, it was released across Europe to considerable success.

Shock and awe

The following year, Emerald set her sights on debunking the age-old theory about second albums.  The Shocking Miss Emerald achieved even greater global success – reaching No. 1 in the UK.

“All of a sudden we had a budget!  We went crazy, tried stuff and experimented.  We just thought: ‘Wow!  Let’s record with an orchestra and let’s go and make some of it in London.’  It was such a blast.”  More thought went into the feel and atmosphere of the record, showing Emerald’s seemingly cheerful disposition in a different light: “We really tried to go to some darker places, be more artistic and a little more profound.”

Success opened doors: those to the main stage at Glastonbury, the Royal Albert Hall and Hampton Court, where she returns on 17th June.  Touring slowed down when Emerald gave birth to a daughter in March 2014.  Since then, she’s been working on a third album.

120620141_Panorama1_1“It always takes much longer than I hope – maybe I set my expectations too high!  We’re trying to go really deep and make a very different album.”  One influenced by motherhood?  “No, I don’t think so.  I thought it would impact my music, but it hasn’t so far.  My focus has been on making an album that’s unique.  So if people hear one of the tracks, I want them to know it’s me and it’s this album.

“We’re constantly producing and doing vocals, but it takes a while to get to where we want to be.”

Tour and pour

Production of the third album is taking a back seat for now as Emerald returns to perform at various summer festivals across Europe, starting with Hampton Court next Friday.

“I had such a fantastic time there a few years ago,” she says, “and I was amazed by the British public.  It was raining hard, but no one seemed to care.  They’d come to party and nothing was going to stop them.  I can’t wait to come back.  Even if it rains again!”

Emerald’s only frustration is that she won’t get to see any other acts.  “That’s the way it is with these festivals: they’re really spread out.  I love music so it would be great to profit from being near these great artists.  It’s a shame but, hey, that’s life.”

Any frustration need not be shared by her fans, to whom she’s promised something new.

“I think we’ve put together a lovely set from the two albums.  I’ll also be performing Quicksand – from my next album – and a cover I’ve been working on.  Some of the arrangements have changed and I have a new backing band.  They keep the audio really fresh and intense.  If anyone’s seen me play before, they’ll feel like this is something really different.”

To book tickets for any of the superb acts performing at Hampton Court Palace Festival, go to the event’s website.  For more information on Caro Emerald’s tour schedule and album release date, keep your eye on her official website.

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