Harrogate Music Festival: Jazz singer Jo Harrop's musical journey

Jo Harrop says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t singing. “My parents aren’t musical and there was no one in my family who played an instrument or wrote songs, but I was just obsessed with music from a very young age. My mum said I used to wake up singing when I was a baby so maybe that’s got something to do with it,” she says, laughing.

Today, the Durham-born singer has a loyal band of fans, including the “godfather of Punk” and BBC music presenter Iggy Pop, who has called her a “very fine jazz singer.” Harrop has just released her latest solo album, The Path Of A Tear, and is performing a special gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London in July to mark its launch, followed by a mini UK tour this autumn. Before then, she will take the stage at the Harrogate Music Festival, returning to the Spiegeltent where she thrilled audiences in 2022.

“It’s a beautiful venue. You see it from the outside and you go ‘wow’ and then you see it from the inside and it’s the same reaction. I remember walking in and thinking ‘this is going to be an experience.’ And it was, I had such a great response from the audience,” she says. “Harrogate’s a beautiful town and there’s a lovely energy to it. I remember the sun was shining when I played there last time and I’m really looking forward to going back.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Jo Harrop performing at Dizzy's in New YorkJo Harrop performing at Dizzy's in New York
Jo Harrop performing at Dizzy's in New York

She’s speaking to The Yorkshire Post from New York, where she’s just done the first of two stateside gigs to promote her new album. She recorded it in The Village Studios in LA, hooking up with legendary producer Larry Klein who has worked with such famous names as Joni Mitchell, Madeleine Peyroux and Herbie Hancock. The album is a laidback slice of mid-70s soul blended with a shot of jazz and a subtle twist of Americana, and features Harrop’s songs along with three covers, including a brilliant funked up version of Leonard Cohen’s Travelling Light which Klein, a close friend of the late troubadour, chose.

She says working with Klein was inspiring. “It was pretty nerve-wracking sending him songs that I’d written. But he put me totally at ease and was very complimentary about my songwriting which meant the most to me, because it’s one thing to be able to sing a song, it’s another to feel you can write a good song.”

Harrop’s passion for music was evident from an early age, but she says she wasn’t a natural performer. “I was a very shy and quiet child so why I wanted to put myself on stage in front of people I don’t know. But I listened to pop music all the time, people like Whitney Houston, and I’d learn songs from the radio and songs from musicals so even though I never had any formal lessons I was learning all the time.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Going to a Tony Bennett concert proved something of an epiphany. “My dad took me to see him in Newcastle when I was a teenager and I remember thinking at the time ‘how does somebody move an audience quite so much just by singing?’ And I realised that I needed to sing. I wanted to be able to touch people with my music in the same way.”

However, this is easier said than done. “It wasn’t really encouraged to be a performer in the North East. It’s a very practical place, you’re encouraged to get a solid job like a teacher or a librarian, but I just had this dream to be a singer.”

She moved to London when she was 18 in a bid to kickstart her career. “I just went for it. I auditioned for anything and everything, like girl bands, though I couldn’t keep up with the dance moves.”

The early days were a struggle and often involved singing at functions and events. “A lot of people probably want to do it [be a singer] but can’t keep up that lifestyle of not knowing where your next gig’s coming from and wondering if you’re good enough,” she says. “I can remember performing to three people in the audience and not getting paid and having to pay my band out of my own pocket.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Despite the setbacks she got an agent and became a backing singer going on to perform with the likes of Rod Stewart, Neil Diamond and Enrique Iglesias, when they came to the UK. “The longest standing thing was with Enrique Iglesias. You performed with them when they came over here to promote an album, and it was fun. You’d do three minutes on TV, on things like The Graham Norton Show or Top of the Pops, and you’d all go out afterwards because you got invited to some crazy parties.”

Harrop has developed her songwriting skills in the last few years which led to the release of her first self-penned solo album, The Heart Wants, in 2021 with Lateralize Records. “I’ve always written lyrics and bits of poetry, but it’s about having something to say and finding the confidence to say it,” she says.

It’s given her another string to her bow in what can be a tough business. “You have to be healthily competitive because there’s a lot of singers out there and not too many gigs. It’s not about becoming famous, it’s about being successful and making music that people want to listen to,” she says.

“I get people messaging me on social media saying they heard one of my songs and had to stop the car – that kind of thing blows my mind because it means you’ve reached people in a way that the music I listened to when I was growing up did to me.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s this validation from people and the buzz of performing live that matters most to her. “I played in Dizzy’s Club in New York in January and SF Jazz in San Francisco. To go to cities like these and perform in those places is really humbling,” she says. “It’s the audiences you meet along the way and making a connection, that’s what makes it special for me. Also, you never know what’s going to happen…”

Jo Harrop plays in the Spiegeltent, Crescent Gardens, Harrogate, June 30, 7.30pm. For tickets visit Home - Harrogate International Festivals or call the box office on 01423 562 303.

The Path Of A Tear is out now.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.