Sarah Gillespie

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Sarah Gillespie
Sarah Gillespie
London, England
NationalityBritish and American
EducationGoldsmiths, University of London

Sarah Gillespie is a British American singer songwriter and writer based in London. She has four albums, known for combining poetic lyrics with folk, blues and elements of jazz. Her debut collection of poetry 'Queen Ithaca Blues' was published by Albion Beatnik Press. Gillespie's 4th album 'Wishbones' is arranged and co-produced by Mercury nominated pianist and composer Kit Downes. Her band features Kit Downes - organ and piano, James Maddren - drums, Ruth Goller - bass, Chris Montague - guitar and special guest Laura Jurd - trumpet. 'Wishbones' was launched at the Southbank Centre's Purcell Room on October 29th 2018.


Sarah Gillespie was born in London to an American mother and British father. She grew up in Norfolk, interspersed with numerous trips to Minnesota where she listened to Bessie Smith, Bob Dylan, Cole Porter and early blues and jazz. From the age of 4, Sarah composed songs on piano, and then at 13 began playing guitar. At 18, she moved to the USA, busking in the streets and playing gigs.

On returning to London, she gained a first class degree in Film and Literature and an MA in Politics and Philosophy from Goldsmiths, University of London. Gillespie's albums Stalking Juliet (2009), In the Current Climate (2011) Glory Days (2013) Wishbones (2018) and her anti war narrative suite The War on Trevor (2012) have all been praised by critics.

Gillespie plays festivals, clubs, arts centres and theatres in the UK and Europe. She has performed live on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour,[1] [2] Loose Ends, BBC London and Jazz FM, and received airplay on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3 and local stations in Europe and America. On 21 November 2011 Gillespie was interviewed by Andrew Marr on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week on the emerging role of politics in the arts. She was awarded by the British PRS for Music 'Women Make Music Scheme' in 2012 for her narrative music project The War on Trevor which she launched with two headline shows at Ronnie Scott's.[citation needed]

On her mother's side Gillespie is related to CIA London Station chief Cleveland Cram and Irish politician Richard Mulcahy.[citation needed]

Musical style[edit]

Gillespie composes her material on the guitar. She cites her main influences as Tom Waits, Cole Porter, Bob Dylan early blues and jazz, poets T. S. Eliot and James Tate and the 1950s Beat Poetry movement.[citation needed] Her style has been described as 'mixing folk, jazz and blues' with an emphasis on the lyrical content and delivery.[3] The Guardian's jazz critic John Fordham writes "Gillespie, who joins Bob Dylan's lyrical bite and languid delivery to the forthrightness of Joni Mitchell, with a little rap-like percussiveness thrown in, is an original."[4] Robert Shore of London's Metro points to "her Beat-like verbal collages ('Cinnamon ginseng bootleg bourbon Calvados Berlin') and beautifully controlled associative word strings, all delivered with her distinctive vocal mixture of dark romanticism and punkish attitude".[5]

Gillespie's compositions, Houdini of the Heart and Cinematic Nectar have been described as "blistering and beautiful" and "original, hard-edged".[6][7]


  • Stalking Juliet – 2009 (Egea)
  • How The Mighty Fall – single, 2009 (Egea)
  • In The Current Climate – 2011 (Pastiche Records)
  • The War on Trevor – 2012 (Pastiche Records)
  • Glory Days – 2013 (Pastiche Records)
  • Roundhouse Bounty – 2016 (Audio Network)
  • Wishbones – 2018 (Pastiche Records)


Gillespie has received four and five star reviews from The Arts Desk[8], The Guardian,[9] Mojo, The Independent,[10] The Financial Times[11], Metro,[5] Rock n' Reel and the UK local press.[12] English musician Robert Wyatt described In The Current Climate as "an utterly wonderful new record. Expected and got in spades Sarah's unique way with words plus terrific guitar playing, inspiring production and not just great songs, but totally original music. Brilliant, the bee's knees."[citation needed]

Her live performances have been described as 'outstanding, vivacious and forceful'.[13] The Nottingham Evening Post noted 'her verbal exchanges with her band were at times hilarious and on other occasions explosive'.[14]

Gillespie's most recent album Wishbones (2018) received five stars from The Arts Desk[8] and four stars from The Financial Times[11]. Glory Days (2013) received five stars in Rock n' Real Magazine, five stars in Buzz Magazine, four stars in the Independent [15] and the Financial Times. London's Metro commented ‘Sarah Gillespie regularly has critics reaching for big-name comparisons. Is she the new Joni Mitchell? PJ Harvey? Bob Dylan even? Mixing jazz-folk artistry and punk attitude, third album Glory Days (Pastiche) recalls all three in places but Gillespie’s spiky lyrical gift is utterly distinctive'.[16] In 2014 the album was released on vinyl by UK record label Those Old Records.

Writings and politics[edit]

Gillespie writes articles on politics for Al Jazeera, CounterPunch, Middle East Online [17] and The Palestine Chronicle.[18] She writes about issues surrounding liberalism, Islam and the west, critiquing liberals "who imagine that their belief in equality makes them superior". In the Arab News, Shabana Syed described Gillespie as "an artist at the forefront of the demand for change".[19]

Gillespie also critiques the misuse of feminism in the interventionalist agenda[clarification needed] and what she refers to as "atheist fundamentalism". She says: "The mantra of the French Revolution was: 'Freedom, equality, fraternity or death!' Pragmatically this has now unfolded into its tragic meaning: 'Be free, equal and secular – or we'll kill you.'"[19] Gillespie is an outspoken critic of Zionism and has orchestrated several fundraising concerts for Palestinian organisations including Medical Aid for Palestinians. In October 2010, she performed alongside The Unthanks, Cleveland Watkiss, Seb Rochford, Palestinian hip hop artist Shadia Mansour and Atzmon's Orient House Ensemble at the JAZZA Festival for the Free Palestine Movement.

Reviewing In the Current Climate, The Jazz Breakfast wrote: "The personal life and the sociopolitical one are blended with references to everything from the Dow Jones and the Hang Index to John the Baptist and Zeus. For How The West Was Won, Gillespie sings an imaginary first person song of Shaker Aamer, the remaining British prisoner in Camp X-Ray".[20]

In 2012 Gillespie released a 16-minute narrative music project, The War on Trevor.[21] The piece charts the travails of a Londoner (Trevor) suspected of various crimes ranging from public indecency and infidelity to terrorism, with Gillespie drawing on high-profile cases, including those of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg. Reviewing the launch at Ronnie Scott's on 4 April 2012, Jazzwise described the piece as a "partly comic, partly deadly serious take on The War on Terror.".[22] The Times music critique David Sinclair dubbed it 'a prog-jazz epic."


  1. ^ BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour 14 April 2009[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour, Jane and Ken Bruce at launch of BBC Sounds, Jill Soloway, Body positivity". BBC. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  3. ^ 'John Bungey, Beat Poet venturer Strays Beyond Bounds of Singer Songwriter Review, Mojo −23 January 2011
  4. ^ John Fordham "Sarah Gillespie/Gilad Atzmon: In the Current Climate – review", The Guardian, 20 January 2011
  5. ^ a b Robert Shore "Jazz your CD collection up", Metro, 6 January 2011
  6. ^ 'Mike Butler, In The Current Climate Review, Manchester Evening News −25 January 2011
  7. ^ 'Bruce Lindsay, Stalking Juliet review, All About Jazz – 29 February 2009
  8. ^ a b "CD: Sarah Gillespie - Wishbones | The Arts Desk". Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  9. ^ John Fordham, Stalking Juliet review, The Guardian – 10 April 2009
  10. ^ Howard Male, Stalking Juliet review, The Independent – 19 April 2009
  11. ^ a b "Sarah Gillespie: Wishbones — like Dylan on amphetamines". Financial Times. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  12. ^ Julian Cole, In The Current Climate review, The York Press – 11 February 2011 Archived 19 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ 'Jazz triumph for club that offers variety and innovation', This Is Somerset – 21 January 2011
  14. ^ 'Stunning Sarah gets straight to the point', Nottingham Evening Post – 15 January 2011
  15. ^ Flamenco-dancing pigeons, pumpkin pie, Charlie Sheen and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn all crop up on this British singer-songwriter's third album', The Independent – 15 June 2013
  16. ^ The Metro 14 July 2013
  17. ^ Sarah Gillespie, 'BBC and Transformation of Suffering into Propaganda', Middle East Online – 29 January 2009
  18. ^ Sarah Gillespie "David Miliband and UK Complicity in Torture", The Palestine Chronicle, 3 July 2010
  19. ^ a b Shabana Syed "Sarah Gillesie a Singer Songwriter with a Difference", Archived 15 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine The Arab News, 7 April 2010
  20. ^ Peter Baker In The Current Climate review, The Jazz Breakfast, 25 January 2010
  21. ^ Sarah Gillespie, 'Jazz breaking news: Sarah Gillespie to tour The War on Trevor', Jazzwise – 1 March 1212
  22. ^ "Sarah Gillespie Sings the Shami Chakrabarti Blues", Jazzwise, 4 April 2012

External links[edit]