Jade And Kezia Turn Up The Heat At The Hotbox

Jade Helliwell Kezia Gill
Left to Right: Kezia Gill, Jade Helliwell, Luke Thomas

Award-winning UK Country favourites Jade Helliwell and Kezia Gill are now well into their Girl Country UK Tour, entertaining crowds and gaining new fans up and down the country.

Last week, just before they hit the road, Tennessee Fields Festival organised a pre-tour launch party at the fabulous Hotbox venue in Essex, where Six Shooter Country’s ALISON DEWAR caught up with both Jade and Kezia for a quick chat.

AD: Jade, it’s great to talk to you. Tell me about what it’s like to be back on the road and sharing a stage with Kezia. What can audiences expect?
JH: It’s very exciting. I started planning for the tour in early 2020, so to finally get here is amazing. Kezia is one of my best friends, so to be able to team up with one of your friends and go out for the next few weeks together, I’m really excited. 

It’ll be our own sets of our own music, we are both quite different artists, so people get to see our own stuff, but we always love an opportunity to sing together as well.

AD: How long have you been friends?
JH: We met at the BCMA (British Country Music Association) Awards 2018 and we’d been booked to do Buckle & Boots Australia tour the following January, so our friendship has blossomed from there – we just clicked.

AD: Do you write together as well?
JH: Yeah, in 2019, myself and Luke (Thomas) went to Kezia and Lloyd’s for a couple of days and during lockdown we were doing it on zoom. We’re itching to get back together in person and write some more as well.

AD: What sort of venues do you enjoy playing the most. Small little venues like this or bigger festivals and events like C2C?
JH: It’s a hard question, it’s not that I enjoy one more than the other, but you enjoy them in different ways. Gigs like this, which are really intimate, and you feel you are speaking directly to each person in the room are amazing; but then also the buzz of playing on a big stage, in a big room with all the lights going and everything, feeling peoples’ energy, that’s also really enjoyable. They’re just two completely different types of gig and I love them both. 

AD: Where would be on your wish list to play?
JH: I think every single country artist wants to play the Opry (laughs). I would like to play the Royal Albert Hall and I think Gorilla in Manchester is a great venue, so I’d love to play there. Each year I set a couple of little goals and hopefully try to reach them, then set some new goals too. 

Jade Helliwell At The Hotbox

AD: So what are your goals for 2022?
JH: I really want to record an EP, a body of work that tells a story rather than the singles I’ve released over the last few years. It’s just been announced that I’m going to be playing The Long Road, it’ll be my first time there so am really looking forward to that. Everyone says how amazing it is, the stages, how they set the festival up. Hopefully I’ll play some more festivals during the summer, I’d love to do another tour – even though we haven’t finished this one yet – lots of things like that. And I’d love to get back to Nashville and do some more co-writing over there.

AD: When were you last there?
JH: 2018! In 2019 I just couldn’t get there, the times didn’t match. Then we booked to go last May, but obviously Covid hit and I’ve just been waiting to try and rebook. I got this close to getting booked for February but Luke has been booked on a different tour so the dates clashed. I’m hoping May!

AD: When were you last there?
JH: 2018! In 2019 I just couldn’t get there, the times didn’t match. Then we booked to go last May, but obviously Covid hit and I’ve just been waiting to try and rebook. I got this close to getting booked for February but Luke has been booked on a different tour so the dates clashed. I’m hoping May!

AD: Are you writing for the EP already?
JH: Yeah, I’m doing lots of co-writing, lots of writing on my own and writing with new people to try out different styles of writing. I’d really like after Christmas to start planning that. 

AD: You grew up listening to Dolly Parton and people like that, who is your modern day inspiration?
JH: Ooh lots – at the moment Carly Pearce, I love her voice, I love her songwriting and her album is my favourite album of the year so far, so she is definitely my inspiration. Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Ingrid Andress – I love her writing. 

AD: Amongst many of your awards in recent years, you took home UK Female Vocalist of the Year at this year’s BCMAs – you and Kezia were in several of the same categories, is there friendly rivalry between the two of you?
JH: It’s weird, we really are great fans of each other as well as being friends, so even being nominated in the same category is not a competitive thing, we’re more egging each other on. I’m just as happy if she wins as if I had won it myself and vice versa. We’re not really competitive, it’s more like championing each other.

AD: When you’re going back on the road like you are now and you’re faced with real people again, do you get nervous?
JH: We had a rehearsal today in London with the band, so I do feel ready now, but there’s that nervous build-up to it mixed with excitement as well, after being so long waiting for this actual tour to take place.

We’ve got 2 weeks playing up and down the country, then the last night is in Nottingham on December 5.

AD: How much are you looking to playing your home audience in Yorkshire?
JH: I have lots of friends coming who haven’t seen me in years or never seen me with a band before, so I’m really excited to have them come out, but I think that’s probably the most I’ll be most nervous for, having people I know sitting there.

AD: When you were growing up in Yorkshire, was it almost like a secret that you wanted to be a country singer, it’s not a genre people immediately think of.
JH: Oh absolutely. I was a little bit late to the country party, I didn’t start singing country until I was about 19. I had my best friend who is a big country music fan as well, so I was always saying, as soon as we turn 21 we’re going to Nashville and she was fully behind it. As to the rest of my friends – because I play country pop, unless I say it’s country, a lot of people don’t realise. Luckily I was fully supported by friends and family.

AD: And what happened to your friend?
JH: Still best friends, still loves Nashville. She just comes and she sits like a proud mum at the front. 

AD: What a lovely story – thank you Jade and good luck with the tour. Look forward to catching up with you at The Long Road, if not before.

So…over to Kezia, who’s just finished her soundcheck. 

AD: Kezia, tell me a bit more about the tour.
KG: Tonight will just be an acoustic show but for the rest of the dates we’ll have full band. We’ve been rehearsing today and it’s brilliant fun. There’s a couple of new players I’ve not met before and it never ceases to amaze me that we just get together in a room and they know my songs. It’s kind of given me that excitement for the rest of the tour to come. 

AD: So when you say new players…new members of the band?
KG: Basically, I have a band, affectionately known as my ‘good old boys’ but for the sake of the tour me and Jade thought it would be a great idea to use the same players and keep things concise. We’re doing it all ourselves and they are great players that Jade and her partner Luke know. Luke Barrett who’s playing drums, I’ve gigged with him before, they are all really talented guys they’ve learnt my stuff inside out and it’s really exciting to play with them.

AD: You’re each doing some of your own songs and then playing together?
KG: Yeah, predominantly our own stuff but Jade and I have been known to get up – whether it’s a karaoke or just at a jam session. We love the women of country that inspire us, so we’ll definitely be putting a few fan favourites in and we have a tour exclusive as well. It’s a song we wrote together during lockdown on one of our zoom writes, which we’ve never actually played live. I’ve always wanted to write with Jade. Aside from being a friend, she’s an incredible writer. We had a great session and came out with, in my opinion, a great little song called How Long Have You Known.

We’ve also recorded Diane on CD, it’s become almost our anthem, it’s what the fans have come to know that we do together, for years people have been asking us to put it on CD, so we thought we’d do that for the tour. 

AD: Take me back to when you met Jade at the BCMAs
KG: I’d known of Jade beforehand, but the first time we spoke was the BCMAs 2018 and I was just in awe of her. Current best female vocalist, she was everything I aspired to be – and still is. She is such an incredible artist. This tour was originally set for Jade and an American artist, but because of the pandemic the Americans couldn’t get over and when she asked me it was just a dream come true. 

It’s quite nice that we are such friends, it’s a co-headline, female tour and I don’t think it’s been done before, it’s quite powerful and we’ve got an all female support line-up as well. Seven incredible female artists supporting us at the other venues – all amazing girls who we are also friends with and know from the scene. We’re thinking so and so lives near Manchester, or Hull or wherever…. it’s great for us to have them on board and for them to play a home show during the tour – we’re doing it for the girls.

AD: Talking of female artists, TLR line-up has recently been announced and Jade is on there, is TLR on your radar as well?
KG: Oh absolutely 100%. The thing about festivals is it’s great to play them, but it’s great just to go. First and foremost I’m a country fan, so it’s a standing joke that I love C2C, I’ve never been asked to play – it’s my dream – and I’ve gone every year. It’s no different whether it’s Buckle & Boots, The Long Road, Blackpool; whether I’m on the bill or not I’ll be there. It’s great to see friends, to network and always good to have a drink or two as well!

I also had the honour of playing Tennessee Fields this year, next year I will be going and I will be socialising and all the stress of playing will be taken away, although playing is the icing on the cake.

Kezia Gill
Kezia receiving one of her BCMA awards at the Hotbox

AD: You won three BCMA Awards this year, including UK Entertainer of the Year, you must have been so chuffed.
KG: I was, it was bittersweet though because I wasn’t there. Don’t feel too sorry for me though, because I was very fortunate to be working on a cruise in the Caribbean. So it all feels a bit surreal, I haven’t physically got the awards yet (see photo). But I had the most amazing team of people there on my behalf, I Facetimed in for every award, I even Facetimed in to watch Jade’s set, which was brilliant. I was bopping around my cruise cabin. 

I think it would have been a different experience being there but nevertheless I am very proud of what I achieved and I’ll celebrate properly when the tour is over.

AD: Between the cruise and your gigs, you’re playing to a very diverse audience. On the one hand, people are buying tickets to see you, but on a cruise it’s anyone who’s there for the entertainment.
KG: Absolutely, I make no secret of the fact that I do cover work. You can’t just do original music, there’s not enough of it around or enough money to earn a living. So, rather than have an office job by day, I just do a lot of cover work. 

On the cruises I do cabaret shows, I was very fortunate this year, I did a Remembrance Sunday Vera Lynn show and it was a lovely grand piano, I sang and there were all the singalongs. And the nice thing is I always do a couple of my own songs, so whether it’s a cruise or a club I always say ‘my name is Kezia Gill, I write my own music and I’d love you to check it out’. And an awful lot of my followers have met me at pubs, or a wedding, or a corporate function or at a hotel and they’ve come into my music that way.

At the end of the day, I’m very proud to say I’m a musician for a living and I’m also a musician by passion. So the cruise was a job but it was great none the less.

AD: And that’s always your passion – there was never a Plan B?
KG: Never (laughter) whether it’s playing to packed-out rooms to people who have paid for tickets to see me singing my own stuff, or if it’s in the corner of a pub being paid £50 to be there, I’m just happy to be a musician. I’m very proud of what I do, I work hard at it, but I reap all the rewards, I’m very content at what I do.

AD: Next year, you’ve got your new tour with Broken Witt Rebel, what else will 2022 bring?
KG: It’s already shaping up to be pretty busy, which is great. I was on tour with The Shires back in October and unfortunately due to an outbreak of Covid they had to postpone a few gigs until January. I’ll finish off the tour with The Shires, also tour with the Broken Witt Rebel guys and then fast forward to April, I’m going out with the amazing Morganway who won the best group at the BCMAs. I’m a huge fan of theirs, always have been.

And then before you know it, we’re going to be in festival season again. So I’m already thinking where is 2022 going, but I’m excited for what is to come.

AD: Your last EP The Mess I Made won UK Album of the Year and your single I’m Here took UK Song of the Year at the BCMAs, are you looking at new music already or is it about bedding in the latest EP.
KG: The Mess I Made came out in July so I’m definitely still bedding her in, letting her have her breathing space. The tour is predominantly the new material, but I’m always writing. Only the other day, I started writing a song I was quite excited about, so I’d like to think there’s some new music on the horizon. 

AD: My favourite is Country Song – it just sums up Broadway completely (laughter)
KG: It was just going to Nashville and walking down Broadway which inspired that song completely, it’s so tacky but it’s everything you want on a trip to Nashville, but it’s authentic, nothing is pretending. I’ll play it tonight. 

AD: Are you heading back there soon?
KG: Yes, in February. It was originally booked for September so we moved our flights and I’m very excited to go. I don’t really work when I go to Nashville, you’re always networking but I’m a fan, I just love to see the music, to meet people. I love the food and the drink.

AD: What’s your favourite bar?
KG: I love Tootsies but there’s also a great little bar called Puckett’s, about 45 minutes outside of Nashville at Leiper’s Fork. It’s a really old-fashioned American grill and diner, they have open mic nights and songwriter nights and they are just wonderful. We went last time and got chatting to the drummer and it and turns out he is Dolly Parton’s current drummer; then there was Willie Nelson’s fiddle player. Because it’s just out of town, it’s hands down one of our favourite places to go and they do the most amazing pulled pork ever. 

AD: That sounds a good note to leave it on, thank you and have a fab gig. 

Left to Right: Kezia Gill, Jade Helliwell, Georgie Thorogood (Tennessee Fields), Luke Thomas

If you’re quick, there’s still time to catch the Girl Country tour at these venues: 

December 1st – Night & Day Café, Manchester

December 3rd – The New Adelphi Club, Hull

December 4th – Kirkhamgate Village Hall, Wakefield

December 5th – The Bodega, Nottingham

See www.jadehelliwell.com and www.keziagill.com for details of these and other upcoming gigs

All Photos: Craig Dewar

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