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Jo Harman on her influences, live performances and living her lyrics

PUBLISHED: 10:51 17 August 2015 | UPDATED: 10:56 17 August 2015

Jo Harman

Jo Harman


Former Brighton girl and award-winning vocalist Jo Harman will be among the acts appearing at the fourth Rye International Jazz & Blues Festival this month

Honey-voiced chanteuse Jo Harman, voted Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2014 British Blues Awards, is having quite a summer. Fresh from performing at the Amnesty Ambassador of Conscience Awards in Berlin, in honour of awardees Joan Baez and Ai Wei Wei, she has a string of festival dates, including a date at Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival. Then there’s the small matter of finishing the writing of her second album, which she hopes to release in March next year.

Audiences at Jo’s gig at St Mary’s Church on 31 August will be among the first to hear the new material: “We have just started putting new stuff into the set list,” she says. “It’s really nice to play the songs live, you get a feel for them and they really start to take shape.”

Jo has a passionate following – including Fun Lovin’ Criminals’ Huey Lewis, who said of Jo on his BBC Radio 2 show, “Sometimes you hear a singer who leaves you speechless – I am.” Perhaps inevitably for someone who grew up among the written word in her father’s Devon bookshop, she says story-telling has always been integral to her music: “Writing hasn’t necessarily come easily – I have had to work hard at it – but I think all those years reading as much as I could definitely influences how I write now.

“The kind of music I do is all about narrative. It’s all about the story and I am generally the protagonist. For me it is really important to be able to tell my story, and whether that is something that has affected me very personally or whether it is something I have observed, people connect with that. People look for honesty and sincerity.

“When I was about 13 I discovered Aretha Franklin and discovered I had this real connection to African American music. I am heavily influenced by the story-telling and the faith of gospel, the connection that gospel performers feel with what they are singing about.”

Now London-based, Jo lived in Brighton from 2007-2012 before spending two years living in Worthing, so locals may have the satisfaction of recalling gigs from ‘before she was famous’ at Brighton’s Great Escape festival or elsewhere – “I have done a fair bit in Sussex,” she says. As well as her Rye date she will be performing at Worthing South Pavilion, which she names as a favourite venue, later this year on 16 October.

Rye International Jazz & Blues Festival takes place from Thursday 27 to Monday 31 August.

Headline acts include Paul Jones; blues singer, guitarist and founder of Doctor Feelgood Wilko Johnson; Sussex-based bassist Herbie Flowers; jazz singer James Tormé; jazz singer Ian Shaw; the charismatic jazz singer Liane Carrol; Mercury Prize award-winning GoGo Penguin; jazz singer and pianist Theo Jackson; US soul diva Avery Sunshine; the Neil Angilley jazz trio; jazz diva Kitty LaRoar and Cuban band Son Yambu.

The festival programme also includes many free live music events at local fringe venues, acoustic sessions, and marching bands parading through the streets over the August bank holiday weekend.

For further updates and to book tickets go to



Family day out in Rye - things to do and places to visit - This month, Emily Bamber offers her suggestions for a day out in Rye

Clare Holman on life after Lewis, moving to Rye and her favourite Sussex locations - For Clare Holman, best known for playing Dr Laura Hobson in ITV’s Lewis, Rye is a place of “utter peace”


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