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Cherwell Introducing: Phoebe Blue

Joining me this week is the radiant Phoebe Blue, a 2nd year classicist at Balliol, singer-songwriter, and bassist. Meeting me on a blustery Saturday afternoon outside the Ashmolean, Phoebe told me all about her neo-soul sound, her first busking experience at age nine, and the importance of songwriting as a creative mode of emotional expression.

Please introduce yourself!

I’m Phoebe Blue, I do classics at Balliol, I’m in my second year and I’m also a singer-songwriter who plays bass. I mostly play music in the genres of jazz, neo-soul, r&b, but my music taste is widespread…eclectic!

Who is your biggest musical inspiration?

As a songwriter, Aimee Mann. I think that the way she writes her lyrics is so beautiful, when you listen to them it just gives you that feeling – her musicality is also incredible. As a singer, I find Nina Simone incredible – a basic answer, but it’s basic for a reason!

We all know Feeling Good, but I watched this film recently called Perfect Days and it was used in such a beautiful ending scene – it means something different to me know, something more. As a bassist, Marcus Miller is an inspiration. There’s a performance I love of his is at the Blue Note in New York, playing his piece Untamed. I could watch it a million times. Nik West is also an amazing bassist.

What has your experience at Oxford been like musically?

I was very lucky to get into the music scene quite early on. From first term I was in DFO (Dot’s Funk Odyssey), Oxford University Jazz Orchestra, and Doubletime. Performing with a jazz orchestra is something I’d never done before. Being able to learn about my voice, and how I work with other people and why has been so important. You cannot do this – music – alone, you need people around you. Every musician should value that. Music is, after all, communicating.  Especially in a jam, where nothing is prepared. You have to listen to each other with improvising and scatting.

What is your first musical memory?

I guess one is when my mum got me this keyboard which played different rhythms and styles of music with each key: I loved exploring different genres. I’ve always loved how music is literally just vibrations in our ears, that somehow make us want to move and dance, to react. 

My first experience of busking was when I was 9.  I’m certainly not in my nine-year-old mindset anymore but performing remains a wonderful feeling. Doing something you love whilst giving people joy simultaneously: that’s what music is about really.

Do you find any connection between your studies and your music?

With the oral tradition, there was a heavy emphasis on the performance of poems. While we now read in our own heads in an isolated way, poems would be sung aloud by a bard. There’s also representation of music in antiquity in what I study on vases, and work I’ve done on the aulos, a type of flute.

Just as music is very present in our society today, it was very present in antiquity. It was entertainment, it made people happy – while being a musician wasn’t respectable as a profession back then, it can be seen to have served the same purpose.

Describe your sound in three words.
Sentimental, soulful, and free.

What’s your favourite song right now?
Love has fallen on me by Chaka Khan, and America by Simon and Garfunkel.

What about a favourite song of all time?

I have a list of all my favourite things I’ll need to check. Ok, I’d have to say Your Song by Al Jarreau, his version.

What is a song that made you want to become a songwriter?

Becoming a songwriter just kind of happened. But Ella Fitzgerald made me understand that you can do anything with music. She changes her lyrics and is amazing in the way she was so free with her music. To have the ability to put your words and feelings to music and sound is therapeutic.

It sounds like flexibility is important to you.

Yes! I guess I had this gradual realisation that I have the capabilities to make music a mode of expression. I always loved creative writing, so to put them together is something that I love that I can do!

Catch Phoebe Blue during her set with Roo & The Smyths on the 16th of June at Common Ground, and all across Oxford throughout Trinity!

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