“I’m an independent artist. I have no manager, label, agent, nothing. I do everything myself,” declares singer Georgia Mancio, whose current CD Quiet Is The Star, a duo album with pianist Alan Broadbent reviewed here, is exceptional. “It’s tough. So many people are making great music and a lot doesn’t get the reward it should but just doing the album and putting it out is a success and it’s really positive to have achieved something in the timeframe of Covid when we were all feeling a bit bereft and helpless.”
All the songs are co-writes with Broadbent – as they were on the duo’s previous album, 2017’s Songbook. A book, The Songs Of Alan Broadbent & Georgia Mancio, illustrated with Simon Manfield’s artwork, has also been published with words and music to all 33 of their co-written songs.
“[Quiet Is The Star] feels a big step forward because with Songbook and the book we’ve created this body of work,” says Mancio. “And whether we sell 20 copies or two million – which I don’t think is going to happen! – we’ve done something, we’ve left something behind.”
The duo have a set way of working with Broadbent providing the music for which Mancio then writes lyrics. She explains that she never tinkers with Broadbent’s music: “Alan’s [compositions] feel like very honest statements, they feel authentic and that makes it easier to lock into that same emotion. So it’s for me to find lyrics that fit perfectly because I wouldn’t come up with a better solution melodically than what he’s already constructed.”
There’s something about the emotional power of the album’s lyrics that suggests that they are drawn from Mancio’s own life. “As you get older you have more and more life experiences and they seep into what you’re writing. The trick is to be personal but also universal because you want other people to be able to relate to what you’re saying.”
On ‘When You’re Gone From Me’, for example, Mancio communicates profound sadness but also a kind of stoicism, a determination to cope. “That’s spot on because it was written about a close family member who had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. You’re imagining a situation that gets worse but also imagining trying to make a difficult situation more manageable. Hence the bridge [is] more optimistic.”
Another song, ‘Night After Night’, is sung in the persona of someone suffering from depression. “I was trying to empathise with a friend who was going through a really tough time. After a lifetime of singing ballads about heartbreak it’s quite easy to be drawn to the moodier side of things. That’s not much of a stretch. The stretch is to write something that hasn’t already been said in the same way.”
‘All My Life’ is a loving song of gratitude addressed to Mancio’s novelist sister Marie-Anne. “The music has three parts and a motif that runs between them so I felt like it was that sort of story where you have time moving on, like a relationship over a period of time. How did my sister react when she heard it? It made her cry as much as it made me cry! I think she was very flattered.”
The lyrics of both ‘Let Me Whisper To Your Heart’, which was written about her late mother, and ‘Tell The River’, which was inspired by the controversial death of Sandra Bland, an African American woman, in police custody in Texas in 2015, suggest that Mancio is a spiritual person. “I don’t know that I am. I’ve never had any religion whatsoever! I’m a feet-on-the-ground sort of person. But I’m inspired by nature and I’m empathetic and I try and find positivity even in the darkest moments. I guess that’s a sort of spirituality.”
Mancio describes how she came to write Let Me Whisper To Your Heart: “It was [inspired by] this amazing letter my mum left to my sister and I for after she died. She said ‘Look for me in nature, look for me in the stars and the trees and the birds.’ It was such a beautiful, profound thing to say and I guess spiritual and it diverts you into finding something joyous and beautiful even if you feel sad. There’s a similarity with Tell The River of trying to find something pure and beautiful in something ugly and wrong.”
Quiet Is The Star was recorded in a day but Mancio doesn’t believe that the album would have been any better if more time had been available. “All the songs are pretty emotional and it’s just too difficult to keep summoning that up with authenticity every time so you have to just trust the first or second take. It might not be perfect but it’s real and in the moment and you’re not trying to chase that emotion – which is exhausting and you can lose the sense of what you’re trying to say.”
As a young woman Mancio worked part-time for five years as a waitress in Ronnie Scott’s, a dream job surely for an aspiring jazz singer. “Unfortunately when you’re busy you have to block out the music. But when I worked there they had alternating sets between the support band and the main act so, Monday to Thursday, by the time the main artist went on for the second set most people had left because it was just too late. So you could always sit down and watch the last set, which was magical. The artists were really hitting their stride because they were warmed up from the first set so to sit and watch Betty Carter, say, at two in the morning with a handful of other people, four or five times a week, was really special.”
[The editor remembers those halcyon days – in the 80s – when you could enter Ronnie’s as an MU member for £1 and see top-quality jazz as if in your front room, with very few tourists or day trippers.]
Mancio’s most recent album prior to Quiet Is The Star was 2019’s Finding Home, recorded with Kate Williams’ Four Plus Three. Three of the songs, ‘The Last Boy On Earth’, ‘Halfway’ and ‘We Walk’ (‘Slow Dawn’), were inspired by Mancio’s experiences working as a volunteer in the refugee jungle camp in Calais.
“Ian Shaw had started to go and when he asked me if I’d accompany him I didn’t hesitate. It was so close, that was the thing that was shocking – I used to go to Calais on school trips! And you see this waste site full of people living in shocking conditions knowing that by a twist of fate that could be you and your family. We brought food and clothes and helped to take records of people because there was no sense of [the authorities] trying to keep track.
“I certainly didn’t go there with the intention of writing about it but when we decided to write a project about notions of home it seemed too big an experience to not include, because it was very intense and profound and it became a good way to share that and inform people.”
Mancio co-wrote with Williams on Finding Home and she has also written with pianist Tim Lapthorn and others. “In a proper working partnership you’re not trying to impose your ideas. It’s the meeting place of both your sensibilities and you have to write what’s appropriate for the other person’s style. If you can’t then clearly it’s just not a good match.
“But I’ve been very lucky working with people where it has been a good match. You can think ‘I’m this kind of writer’ and then you work with somebody and you surprise yourself by adapting your style so therefore you keep developing. And that is great.”