Elisa Bray Article
Pixie and The Gypsies
DEBUT ALBUM, ‘HONEY TRAP’, OUT AUGUST 10th 2018
"Taylor is one of the UK's exciting young jazz singers. She is a great story teller and sings from the heart while she mesmerises you with her sultry tone" Trudy Kerr
Sometimes you hear a voice that just stops you in your steps. Such a voice belongs to Taylor Notcutt, who formed Pixie and The Gypsies three years ago while studying jazz vocals at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Experienced in varied genres of music and, above all, jazz, the band members were drawn together by a shared passion for the Gypsy Jazz sound. Their first step towards turning their dreams into reality is the release of their musically accomplished debut original album ‘Honey Trap’ on 10th August 2018. With Taylor’s breathtakingly sultry, honeyed vocals bolstered by guitar, accordion, violin, double bass, and sweet backing vocals, ‘Honey Trap’ is a real treat.
Along the way it hasn’t been straight-forward for Taylor. Taylor’s extraordinary story began at Kings College Hospital when she was born on 11th August 1995. At the age of two, after several visits to Moorfields Eye Hospital and Great Ormond Street, she was finally diagnosed with a rod and cone distrophy called Lebers congenital amorosis - a genetic condition that left her with 10% vision. Taylor is night-blind, colour blind and sees in 2D.
Taylor’s parents were told she would probably never read or write to a functioning standard and would need a specialist school. “They said I wouldn’t be able to read, write or ride a bike, and my mum was adamant and said ‘she will’”, Taylor recalls. “She used to try all these alternative ways; I used to write in sand or read huge, large-print things so that I could do it. Her drive rubbed off on me.”
After looking into it, the family moved from Southwark to the Kent borough of Bexley which offered much-needed support for visual impairment. With determination on both her parents and Taylor's part they got her into a mainstream nursery, primary and secondary school.
She struggled with reading, of course, and everything had to be enlarged and bold, which was fine in primary school but not secondary. Taylor’s writing was so poor her mum took her to touch typing classes at the age of seven and she was a qualified typist by the age of nine! To help with the touch-typing Taylor started piano lessons. Her grandparents bought her a piano which she owns to this day and she's never looked back, learning for pleasure and by ear.
“I absolutely loved my first lesson”, she recalls. “I remember my teacher saying ‘are you sure this is your first lesson?’ She’d be teaching me and my hands would naturally go to play the next bit. In my head I could hear where the tune was going; it came very naturally. As a kid I tried everything including dance, but as soon as I did music, that was the thing that stuck.”
Since reading sheet music was tricky because it had to be massively enlarged, she learnt to play by ear instead, resulting in her developing an incredible ear for music. And so her lack of sight heightened her musicianship, from composing to performing. “Because my eyes aren’t great, my ears are really good. I pick things up really quickly, so a lot of my teachers have said your ears hear stuff other people don’t. It’s like I’ve trained them.”
Her love of films and their scores also refined her ear. “When I used to watch films, some bits I’d find really difficult to see so I’d depend a lot on the music as to what was going to happen. I was always homing in on the music. My ear would pick up on music, but also how people spoke and the emotion in their voice.”
At secondary school she starting singing and formed a girl band with her friends at the age of 14, playing pop covers, and started doing regular open mic nights, bringing her keyboard along. It was then that she discovered the mesmerising effect her singing had on others; people would approach her to praise her performances. One session, Taylor found herself asked to do a paid solo gig and, from then on, she became a regular on the live circuit, playing gigs most weekends throughout sixth form with her own PA system.
Her dad’s love of rock (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who), and her mum’s love of 80s, disco, soul and funk, set the foundations for Taylor’s eclectic music tastes. “I did like stuff on radio but I always deviate to listening to older stuff.”
It was in her teenage years that she developed a love of the singers who would influence her own vocals and songs: Amy Winehouse, Caro Emerald and Melody Gardot. “Growing up my favourite was Amy Winehouse", she enthuses. "She was different from anyone else and I found her witty and appreciated her lyrically. Vocally I really like Caro Emerald. Caro has a swing and gypsy vibe and I like her tone of voice and clean sound. That’s what I base a lot of my sound on.”
Listening to Winehouse’s arrangements, rich with horn lines, and experimenting with songs, inspired her to put a band together. “I was playing around with how I did songs. That’s when Pixie and the Gypsies started because I said it would be cool to marry the jazz sound with pop. In my head the things that I wanted were getting bigger so I said ‘I need a band’.”
She cites jazz singer Rene Marie as inspiring from a theatrical perspective. “She is really good at telling stories and can do the emotional thing really well but she can also do that cheeky, sappy side; I appreciate the way she can play a room.”
Picking out all her favourite elements from her influences, Taylor has created her own expressive sound and performance. Her love of storytelling is apparent throughout ‘Honey Trap’, on songs such as the Bossonova-inflected “Head Over Heart”, or the tongue-in-cheek modern tale of romance “Mr Right”, about friends going on dates through Tinder. She continues her sense of humour in “Social Lies”, a witty musing about social media. “I tried not to write standard love songs, and to have humour in them”, she says.
But Taylor can also do heartfelt emotion. “Before Anyone Else” is a lilting love song, and she packs emotion into the moving “Mary Go Round”, inspired by her beloved grandmother being rushed into hospital. Taylor dedicated the album to her.
“She’s the person who really supported me; she bought my first piano, paid for my singing lessons. I wrote that about being there for her and how she’s been there for me. That’s the most emotional and personal song to me”, she states. “When I perform I really think about the lyrics and the story. I love it when the song touches someone. It’s all about the storytelling and the emotion.”
In spite of what her doctors and teachers predicted, Taylor managed great GCSE and A level results. “They said I’d get all Cs, but I got an A*, five As and only one C. And they said I wouldn’t do A level but I got BBC. If I’m going to do something, I’ll do it.”
She won a Jack Petchy award for outstanding achievement in Sixth form and after receiving vocal coaching from Nia Lynn, Taylor developed a passion for Jazz and went on to secure an unconditional offer to study Jazz Voice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, even though she was ungraded as a singer with little coaching.
“The singing teacher on the panel was crying”, Taylor recalls. That teacher, who she would go on to train under at Trinity, said to her after the audition: “We can teach you about jazz but we can’t teach you about feelings. And you’re the only person who managed to lose me in the audition and that’s why you got your unconditional offer.”
While at Trinity Laban, Taylor received vocal coaching from Jazz greats such as Anita Wardell, Trudy Kerr and Brigette Beraha and Pete Churchill. Taylor graduated in June 2017 with BMUS honours degree in Jazz Performance.
Alongside her studies, Taylor has performed in a variety of venues across the country including The Spice of Life, The Vortex, Oliver's Jazz and Piano Bar, the Rye Jazz and Blues Festival at the Dankworth awards and Ronnie Scotts. However, it was at Trinity where she met up with violinist and vocals student Connie Chatwin and double bassist Twm Dylan. Together they formed ‘Pixie and The Gypsies’, performing their unique gypsy-jazz style covers of well known pop classics from various eras at gigs and corporate events, to earn some extra cash to support their studies.
After entering a competition by Yamaha for the chance to perform at Ronnie Scotts, the band was spotted by A&R for Mercury Prize nominated writer/producer Andy Ross (Golden – The Kit Downes Trio), who subsequently invited them to develop their songwriting and apply the Pixie and the Gypsies style to record an original album, joined for the sessions by Ben Williams on guitar and Stuart Smith on drums.
After five weeks at Ross’s Astar Studios near Manchester, the band emerged with ‘Honey Trap’ – an outstanding 10-track debut album to be released on 10th August 2018 and supported by a full press and media campaign and live venue and festival dates.