Belinda Gillett

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Baked bean-loving, indie-folk singer suffering stage fright chats about how painting her music is her therapy.

Let’s begin with you telling us how you started writing your own songs and deciding to release them into the world.
BG:The short answer is: I heard Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’. I had never heard such amazing music and I knew I had to learn guitar so I could play it. As soon as I started learning to play, I was in love. With my guitar and writing music. I ended up never learning a single song that belonged to anyone else. I just started writing sounds from my head straightaway.

I was far too conscious to play them for many years. I played in bands and sung other people’s songs, but something clicked as I got older. Maybe realising that I will definitely die one day so I had better get on with it, made me start expressing myself to the world.

How would you describe the evolution of your sound & do you feel happy/settled where it is right now?
BG: I did what most people do at the beginning and tried to write songs that I thought would fit in with other stuff I had heard. I would try and lead the song down a certain path, which can be exhausting as it’s not a natural flow. I wanted to be cool and so I allowed everything to be pretty dark. There was also an avalanche of emotion in those first songs so it was rather intense. But I have let that all go now and just let the songs come out. I let go of the concept of ‘cool’, if I want to write a song about daisies, I will! Removing the worry of what the final thing will actually sound like and how the audience will receive it is very freeing. So, I would say, it’s pretty natural and very honest. I am incredibly happy with where it’s at.

We know the pandemic has been brutal for many, how have you coped mentally?
HC: I have coped and I haven’t. For a while I felt my life and everything I was aiming for slipping away from me. That was terrifying. I am a technophobe so I didn’t do anything music-wise online. I was afloat. And my mental health really suffered. Normal life has always been a struggle for me, having a long-term mental illness, so the pandemic has been such a test. On one hand, the peace and quiet was really good for my anxiety but the added fear and stress was painful.

Have you been able to reach a new audience over lockdown with any virtual gigs?
BG: I was so sure I wasn’t going to partake in the online gigging at the beginning. I was just going to wait it out. But it went on far too long and I had to adjust. And I am so glad that I did. I have actually enjoyed playing online, reading messages from people saying how much online performances were helping them through. I am coming out of lockdown with a far bigger audience than I had going into it thanks to virtual gigs.

What comes first for you with the writing process, the lyrics or the music?
BG: Depends. Sometimes I sit and just play a song, the whole thing pours out together, especially if I am feeling really emotional. Other times I play my guitar until something nice comes out, so I write a song. But the thing I love most, is seeing a painting or watching a film that moves me to think: ‘I have to write a song about this’, so I start the process knowing most of the lyrics are there in my head already.

There is a lot of emotion in your songs, do you feel you are empathic? And does that affect you in other areas of your life?
BG: Empathy can cripple me. I have learnt as I have gotten older to restrict the films I watch and the situations I allow myself to be in because I feel everything. And it’s painful. It can make life hard, but it also means the good in life can feel so incredible to me and I try to just focus on that these days rather than the misery you can experience. In terms of music, I think it is a gift. I want to put emotion into every note and try to allow others to see what I am seeing or feel what I am feeling.

Anyone in your family musical? 
BG: I did not grow up in a musical house. Far from it. But for some reason my brother and I loved music. Craved it and sought it out wherever we could, and we both started singing from a very young age. I do remember fondly though, how my Nan would sing constantly as she moved around the house and that her voice was beautiful. My brother has a great voice, though sadly rarely sings. My niece is so beautiful and has a fantastic voice and I have everything crossed that we can sing a song together one day.

Who have been your musical & non-musical influences?
BG: I can’t say I was a fan of anyone as a youngster, I just listened to anything. Classical, opera, grunge, pop, rock…..anything. I later fell in love with Radiohead, Edith Piaf, Nick Drake, Frightened Rabbit, The Sundays. I have found most inspiration though in film and art. Lars Von Trier has been a huge influence. As is Frances Bacon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Krzysztof Kieslowski and Andrea Dunbar – their art makes me want to write.

Which musicians do you feel you have learned from?
BG: I have learnt from many local musicians. Everyone you ever jam with or talk to or watch play, teaches you about your art. You always have to much to learn.

Are you self-taught on the guitar or have you had lessons?
BG: I am self-taught, as much as you can be. I was shown the basic five or six chords by a fellow musician and then I got on with it. I generally made patterns on the fret board and listened to see it I liked the sound. I had no books or cover songs to learn so I went with that method. It was very freeing and meant that if I wanted to play songs, I was going to have to write them first.

Any special skill outside of music that we don’t know about? 
BG: I once won a few-style disco dancing regional competition. I was about 9 years old and I had the most sparkly, amazing cat suit on. Not sure I can still call it one of my skills but I will never stop being proud of that trophy.

What types of music do you enjoy listening to when you are hanging out?
BG: I find it difficult to listen to music most of the time. I can’t do anything but concentrate on every note. I get emotional and wrapped up. So, generally, if I want to listen, I go for a long walk with it in my ears so I can get lost in it. Then it’s Sigur Ros, The Moody Blues, Unkle, Guillemots, The Flaming Lips. At home, I put music on to dance to, so it’s Deftones, Wilson Pickett, The Cure, Dead Kennedys.

Anything unusual happened at a gig?
BG: No. Not yet…..

When did you last remember a dream?
BG: My dreams are CRAZY. I tell them to people and they look at me like I am nuts. I remember them often as I had to learn how to control them because they would be so terrifying to the point I had panic attacks in the night. I am not telling you any of them. It’s for the best.

What was the last book you read?
BG: I am currently reading Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. He is a fantastic writer who has a great way of putting life into perspective. His Instagram is pretty wonderful too. But generally, I don’t read fiction, I prefer non-fiction books on artists and serial killers (hence the nightmares).

What’s your most treasured possession?
BG: My guitar. I love her. She was a very lucky, rare find and I have never found another like her. I tried to upgrade to a more expensive model but ended up taking it back to the shop because there is no other guitar like her.

What’s your favourite condiment? 
BG: Balsamic vinegar. Does that sound really pretentious?

What do you consider your greatest achievement so far?
BG: My children

What are some of the high and low points of your career so far?
BG: The high was obviously releasing a single with Brian May as a young teen. It was an amazing experience that taught me a lot but also did a great job of making me wary of chasing fame. And the low was around ten years ago. Trying to get my own music going but being so crippled by panic attacks when I wanted to play in front of an audience that I had to stop. For 6 years.

What would you do differently if you were just entering the industry today?
BG: Be more confident. Believe in myself. That is the hardest part.

What’s different in the music industry today compared to when you first started?
BG: The Internet. In the good old days, you had to gig like 5/6 times a week. And you had to travel the country. It was exhausting. Things were already changing when I started, but being a technophobe it took me a long time to catch up. Now you could make a huge impact without ever playing a gig and I personally think that’s okay. Saves on petrol too.

What was your favourite concert you went to when you were younger?
BG: The first time I saw Jeffery Lewis at The Swan in Ipswich. He was amazing. The way that he mixes his visual art with his music was mind-blowing and I have been to see him every time he comes to this country. I have seen many big bands: Radiohead was fantastic, but Jeffery made the biggest impact on me.

Name your five favourite top bands/singers.
BG: Radiohead, Nick Drake, Sigur Ros, The Sundays, Jeffery Lewis

How do you fit a giraffe in a fridge?
HC: I don’t. I am a vegetarian. No meat in my fridge.

If you were a flower, what kind would you be and why? 
BG: A daisy. I love them. They are so successful at what they do. Seriously, you see them everywhere. And children pick them to hear in the their hair wonderful. 

What do you enjoy most about being a singer? What do you hate most?
BG: I love singing. It’s very hard to say why but the physical act takes me to a place where time doesn’t exist and I love that. I am happy just sinking to the kitchen walls. It feels amazing. I hate the fear of performing though, at times it has been very hard to manage. I am incredibly self-conscious so getting up in front of people is something I have had to really work at to be able to do it.

Which musicians do you admire? Why?
BG: Anyone who plays and has the courage to get up and show the world. Especially those who write lyrics that are truthful. It’s such a brave thing to do. I admire them all for doing it.

What’s your favourite sandwich filling?
BG: Baked Beans

What album has got you through some hard times?
BG: The Sundays and Nick Drake get me through. Any album. His voice and Harriet Wheeler’s have a real therapeutic tone that instantly calms me. If things are rough, I go to them.

Name your favourite uplifting songs that always cheers you up.
BG: Friday I’m in Love – The Cure – pure joy and great for dancing.
Bugs & Flowers – Jeffery Lewis – puts everything into perspective.

How do you find the recording process?
BG: I love recording. It’s painting a picture with oils on the biggest canvas. Every colour and curve that is in my mind, I can paint onto the tracks. It’s the most creative life gets for me. I have just set up my own home studio so I can paint tracks anytime I want to.

If you could only eat one thing for a whole week, what would you choose?
BG: Baked Beans

Who was your most memorable teacher? Why?
BG: Mr Harrison was from South Africa and the most beautiful man 12 year old me had ever seen. I was so in love with him. Not just because he was gorgeous but because he told me I could do it if I tried. That I was smart and capable and that he believed in me. I just wish he had been my music or art teacher, rather than maths. Him leaving to go back to South Africa was my first experience of heart break.

What’s the least cool thing you’ve done recently?
BG: Everything. I am in no way cool I still secretly listen to ABBA and Barbara Streisand when no-one is watching.

What’s your favourite word?
BG: Sonder. I get is constantly and it makes me cry 

What’s your biggest pet peeve?
BG: Cats

Current/future projects: When is your next gig/release?
BG: I have live gigs coming up and am working on an album to be released in the early Autumn The first single from the album is out on the 21stMay. It’s a duet with the amazing Kevin Pearce. I will be playing a gig with him at The 2 Sisters Art Centre in  Felixstowe 17thJuly. Check out GrapevineLIVE for further gigs.

A shortened version if this interview appears on GrapevineLIVE.




Christian Smith

Jake Aldridge


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