Natasha Barnes hit the media in a major way when she stepped into the role of Fanny Bryce after Sheridan Smith was unable to perform, only 50 minutes before curtain up of Funny Girl. After receiving critical acclaim and 5 star reviews, she went onto to various other acting and musical theatre roles proving the testimony “a sensation in her own right”, she is now releasing her debut album Real. [1] Writer Ruth Phillips attended a media showcase for the upcoming album including a stunning performance from Barnes of some new work and some old musical favourites. Ruth interviewed Natasha the next day discussing her latest endeavour including the influences and ideas behind the album, her career so far, and hopes for the future.


Firstly, congratulations on your performance yesterday, it was wonderful! You performed a few musical theatre songs and a few of your own, do you feel a difference within yourself when performing your personal work or does it feel the same?

Yes, there’s a massive difference actually. Even if you’re just singing a musical theatre song stand alone there’s still a little bit of prep that goes into the story line and the character but you have to sort of make that up and fictionalise it yourself when its your own material and it’s a lot more personal. So when I’m singing my own material I’m singing as me so it’s quite like stripping in a way. But I love doing both, especially as I did last night chopping and changing between the two because it keep everything so fresh.

You have said previously that “you love trawling through vintage record stores”[2] so I wondered if you had any particular musical influences for your new album or more generally any musical idols?

I’ve got tonnes and I didn’t really know how many I had until I was writing the foreword for my album artwork because I wanted to list out all my musical influences and I realised it was just music in general! Some of my favourite records are from Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall is one of my favourites. I love tortured female artists basically, anybody with a story and sings with pain. I think it incredible because it’s such a selfless thing to do and I really believe that. And I also love Amy Winehouse, I’m a massive fan of hers because I feel that you can hear her influences in her music and that’s something I kind of aspire to.

Is there a particular theme running through the album or do you work more song by song?

The songs came together really organically, we didn’t really have a story line as such until we looked back at the collection of songs and we realised there sort of is a story to it. It’s about a girl becoming a woman I guess, about growing up and learning about yourself and I think everybody whether you’re male or female or whoever you are, you can identify with that as I think we all get to a point in our lives where we have to sort of accept things about ourselves and it can either make you or break you. And Supermodel [the first single released of the upcoming album] is definitely about that, being in a situation that you’re not really sure you can handle and being there anyway and thinking ‘sod it’ I’m going to stand here and I’m going to go through this because I am who I am and that’s not going to change.

Natasha J Barnes in Funny Girl. Photo: Paul Coltas

One of the phrases used on your website about the album is ‘Northern Soul’ and I just found that quite interesting and wondered if you could expand on that?

There’s not a lot of things on Northern Soul that are not live. We went through a lot of old recordings of live gigs and records and it’s mainly a big brass sound and really big bluesy vocals; quite a lot are like The Commitments sort of music. There is a lot of really gutsy powerful singers that you’ve never heard before, like I think one of our tracks was sung by Towanda Barnes, similar surname but not forename! She was incredible, and it was this live track we found on YouTube of her singing with this huge brass band and it’s really ‘stompy’ and brash, kind of a little bit jazzy but there’s a lot of soul in it as well. It’s such an interesting genre and something that I don’t think has been touched upon in the mainstream lately and so it was really great to thread that in. And I never like to say “this is what my voice is” because everybody has a different opinion on their art and what they like to listen to but I’d been told that its soulful and it just fits my voice like a glove, singing from the stomach – well singing from the heart last night as I couldn’t sing from my stomach [Barnes performed heavily pregnant].

If you had any advice for people who are trying to get into singing or musical theatre, especially young women, what would you say to them?

It would totally be to not try to be anything that you’re not. I think I spent years trying to be something I wasn’t, trying to fit a category. The minute I stopped and took a long look at myself, and thought what can I make better and what can I draw attention to about me that’s good, I stopped trying to be someone who could put their leg over their head and somebody that had a voice that comes from me. I put myself out there with my voice. Once I realised that was a strength, the work started coming and the opportunities started coming.

You just have to be in a position to yes to everything, so follow every blog, follow every performer and see as much theatre as you can, live and not live, because I appreciate I never had the money to see three shows a week, I don’t know how people do it. So I’d spend hours on YouTube watching performances and it’s just about keeping yourself impassioned by what it is you want to do.

So you’ve got quite an important event coming up, having a baby, but do you have any other plans for the future, any dream roles, or things you’d like to achieve?

I’d like to do a role that’s never been touched in this country, I’d really like to take something that hasn’t been seen here, maybe put my own stamp on it and create, because that’s where I got into the business. Also I’m really falling in love with singing and I did my first professional straight play [Tryst by Karoline Leach at the Tabard Theatre] at the end of last year and I fell in love with that as well so learning you can have singing in your life and acting in your life and they don’t have to be in the same thing. I just want to do it all but I do see myself in another musical, I’d like to do something else in the West End as you always go back to what you love, don’t you.

 

 The album will be available on February 16th. Supermodel is now available. See here for more information.

 

[1]  Dominic Cavendish (2016). Natasha J Barnes is every bit as good as Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl – review. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/theatre/what-to-see/natasha-j-barnes-is-every-bit-as-good-as-sheridan-smith-in-funny/ [Accessed 10 Jan. 2018].

[2] http://www.natashabarnesmusic.com/

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