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Cabaret singer Jessica Walker talks Jacques Brel, performing songs by Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, and her appearance at Grassington Festival (20 June).

What have you been up to since last summer?
I was in the Skriker with Maxine Peake at the Royal Exchange. After that I started work on my new cabaret play – All I Want Is One Night – which the Exchange is producing this summer. I’m also currently touring in a great family opera called The Rattler, with Mahogany Opera Group. It’s about Rumplestiltskin, and I play the evil queen.

How would you describe your performance?
Love is a Drag is an evening of highly-charged cabaret. It’s my spin on love songs mainly written and performed by men. Among others, there are songs by Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, by my father Pete Brown, who wrote for Cream, and by my particular hero of the north, Jake Thackray. All the arrangements are new, by my brilliant MD Joe Atkins.

What are you most looking forward to about performing at Grassington Festival?
I performed at the festival in 2013, and had a wonderful evening. The audience was warm, and the atmosphere was terrific, so I’m looking forward to more of that.

Who would you most like to see at this year’s Grassington Festival?
From this year’s lineup I’d like to see Marc Almond. I’ve always loved his strong theatricality and powerful presence. In fact, we are due to be performing together in a project slated for 2017/18, which will be pretty amazing for me if it comes off.

If you could curate your own festival what would the line-up look like with artists dead or alive?
As my passion is song, there are a few artists I’d like to bring back to life, so that I could have seen them in the flesh. Number one would be Jacques Brel. Number two would be another, more obscure French singer-songwriter called Barbara, who wrote songs with such emotional depth. Number three would be Lotte Lenya, probably the greatest cabaret singer of all time, and number four would be folk singer Sandy Denny. I’d add to that a few live artists: Barbara Cook, for me the greatest living singer of popular song, Marianne Faithfull, another wonderful artist, and Meow Meow, because I’ve never seen her live.

What’s your best festival memory?
That’s tough. Possibly seeing singer Ute Lemper at the Bath festival when I was a teenager. It was her first time in England, and my introduction to German and French cabaret music.

Apart from music, what should the ideal festival have?
I think a festival should make the whole community feel as if it is involved in one long, exciting party. Grassington does this very well, with its diverse programming and events that the whole family can take part in. I perform at a lot of festivals, and I particularly enjoy it when there is a designated festival space, in which artists and community can come together, share a drink or two and savour the special festival atmosphere.

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Jessica Walker

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