Missing from the music scene for some time, jazz singer Fiona Bennett has re-discovered her muse
Fiona Bennett was a regular on the Newbury music scene for some time, but has been missed in recent years. If she wasn’t singing with her band at Highclere Castle, she was gigging with her FABulous Jazz Trio at Newbury Manor Hotel or performing in cabaret with local pianist, Oliver Williams. Fiona trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, in the 1980s and during her 20s and 30s was a prolific songwriter. “Motherhood soon put a stop to that,” she laughs.“From the minute I had my first baby at the grand old age of 36, the inspiration seemed to dry up.”
Fiona continued to perform ‘live’ but didn’t compose a single piece of music from the minute she became a mum. In 2006, her younger son Zachary, was diagnosed with high functioning autism. “Zachary needed a great deal of extra help and support during his early school years,” she explains. “So even the live performances fell by the wayside and then, something really awful happened. “My hearing, which had started to deteriorate in the early 1990s, started to get worse, something every musician dreads”. She went for hearing tests, an MRI scan and blood tests but once the experts had eliminated any obvious illnesses, Fiona’s hearing loss was put down to genetics (both her mother and sister are hard of hearing) and just sheer bad luck. “I picked up my snazzy state-of-the-art hearing aids from the West Berkshire Hospital, and it was a shock to realise I would probably never perform in front of a band again”.
Fiona hasn’t worked as a solo artist for some years now but she continues to sing with Newbury Spring Festival Chorus and Winchester Music Club Choir. “It’s difficult,” she says. “I hear my own voice very loudly because of the hearing aids but it can be a struggle to hear everyone around me. I really don’t want to give up just yet, I love choral singing. A two-hour rehearsal, singing music by Mozart is fantastic therapy when life is a little bit stressful.” In the summer of 2011, Fiona was pretty much resigned to being a full time mum and indulging her passion for choral singing when something quite unexpected happened. “Dominic, my elder son, was preparing for his Winchester College entrance exams and was spending most of the school term evenings at his dad’s house in order to study (Dominic’s father is local businessman Bob Rae). “Zachary would stay with me in Hermitage and once he had done his homework and gone to bed, I found watching endless television programmes quite boring, so I started playing the piano again”.
Within a couple of months, Fiona had composed not just one, but six short pieces for piano. Her 50th birthday was looming so, as a birthday treat to herself, she booked British Grove Studios in London and spent a day recording the six pieces which comprise A Country Suite, plus three other tracks, Tempus Fugit, Tristesse and an original Welsh folk song, Tymhorau (Seasons). Now on a roll, Fiona has already composed the follow up to A Country Suite and hopes to release it next year. Fiona continues to support Zachary, who is now 12 and doing well at secondary school in Andover, but in between helping him with his homework and walking their three ex-racing greyhounds Amber, Rosie and Cleopatra, she can often be found at her grand piano, writing new tunes ready for her next album.