With a Song in My Heart - Gill Manly - Daily Mail

Here's a heartening little tale for Easter, because this is a time of renewal. Back in the Eighties/early Nineties I liked hanging out in jazz clubs, moody and groovy in equal measure, drinking and smoking until the early hours. (I'm a reformed character now, you'll be glad to know).

In those heady days I became friendly with a singer called Gill Manly: a larger-than-life wild woman with a voice that could melt your heart or set you rocking. I last saw her around 1995. You know how it is - you move, life gets busy, you leave the smoky nights behind. Once or twice I asked after her and was told she'd 'disappeared', given up singing, beset by multiple problems. . .

Fast forward: a couple of months ago I'm reading a newspaper and spot a rave review of a Gill Manly gig in London. Amazed, I find her website (, send her an email, buy her new record online (called With A Song In My Heart and it's brilliant), find out when we can go and hear her.

So I find myself revisiting an old haunt - 606 Club in Lots Road, Chelsea - to meet up with Gill after 14 years. She's certainly changed; all the problems (think an abusive relationship, drugs, bankruptcy) have left their mark - but hearing that great voice again (very like Ella Fitzgerald), the years drop away and the lyrics trace patterns on my heart: 'We were young and foolish then/ Make it happen again' and 'Have I changed so much/ From how I used to be?'

And I rejoice that jazz singers improve with age - as should we all. There are many interchangeable popsicles (such as Lily Allen) who flare and fade. But the real human pain and courage you hear in Gill's voice doesn't depend on youth, glamour or celebrity. Far from it. It sings of survival, despite all the odds.

It proudly proclaims that you can conquer your issues and get your life together again. Gill Manly's story holds out hopes of a triumphant comeback for us all. If we keep trying.

Daily Mail
14 April 2009