There’s nothing quite like some smooth blues-rock and funk to wrap up a long work day. That’s why we’re thankful for Janelle Thomas, front woman of Lady J and the Royal Vagabonds, who performs every Sunday at Iris Dubai and every Tuesday at Hard Rock Cafe. Thomas tells Gulf News tabloid! how her group came to be, and why they want to keep telling people stories.
How did you decide on the name Lady J & The Royal Vagabonds?
I am Lady J, and like the other band members, have spent most of my career on the road, away from home. However, most of that time we were living in hotels, so although we were practically homeless, we experienced it in a fancy way. ‘Royal Vagabonds’ seems to describe that juxtaposition.
When and how did the band form?
This project is the brainchild of Felix [Frechette], my guitarist/musical director/better half, and I: we’ve been performing together since 2006, mainly doing covers, but we wanted a new concept that would also be a good fit for our original music. So, last year we began this project, which embraces both.
What’s your earliest music-related memory?
My earliest musical memories are of my mum singing to me. She had a song for everything. Music was part of our daily lives, so I had piano and dance lessons growing up and played in the band in high school. I only really started singing in university, and voice has been my primary instrument since then.
What performance from another artist, live or televised, left the biggest impact on you?
I was completely awestruck by Stevie Wonder’s concert at the Festival d’ete de Quebec in 2013. For two hours he performed non-stop, telling jokes, calling songs off the cuff, speaking with love and humility, singing, playing his own songs and other classics, and holding 90,000 of us completely captive from the first to the last note of the evening. It was being graced by the presence of a living legend.
What do your shows at Iris and Hard Rock Cafe consist of?
At Iris, we perform on Sundays, for their Not Another Disco night, playing disco, funk and classic soul. (And blues songs upon request.) It’s a slight deviation from what we usually do, but since blues is at the heart of so many other styles of popular American music, it’s only a slight leap and a fun one at that. We play every Tuesday at Hard Rock Cafe where the repertoire is classic blues, some classic rock, and pop songs reinterpreted in a bluesy style.
What’s your favourite cover song to do, and why?
Right now, it’s Super Dooper Love by Joss Stone, which we brought back into the repertoire for our gigs at Iris. It has so many things I like in a song: bouncy groove that you can’t help but shake something to, memorable chorus, feel-good lyrics, and it’s a perfect vehicle for soloing, so the guys can totally let loose.
What’s something you haven’t achieved that you would still like to?
We haven’t yet performed at any blues festivals, but hope to in the near future.
Finally, who would you say you make music for?
We make music for people who want to be told a story: with the groove, in the solos, with the lyrics, we hope to move other music lovers as we are moved, ourselves. We laugh, we cry, and hopefully we connect.
*Janelle Thomas, Felix Frechette, David Hewett, David Morrison and Jose Nunez perform every Sunday at Iris. Lady J & the Vagabonds also perform on Tuesdays at Hard Rock Cafe.