As former Royal Harpist, Claire Jones played in front of Prince Charles on a huge number of occasions. Fresh back from the US, she’s now touring the UK with her percussionist husband, Chris. Here, in an exclusive interview with “Pulse” author Steve Rudd, Claire talks about her past Royal engagements, and how having ME has impacted on her life…
Q. Hi Claire, how are things?
A. It’s been a great year so far, with many exciting projects to look forward to! It’s great to see that you’re back on tour!
Q. What do you enjoy the most about being on tour?
A. Yes, I’ve been touring in the US for three weeks, in places such as Florida, Richmond (in the state of Virginia), Frederick (in Maryland), Washington DC and New York. I’m releasing my first US album on Friday 18 of March called “Royal Harp Strings,” so we have everything crossed that it will all go well! I absolutely love being on tour; we’ve met so many interesting people from all walks of life. My husband is with me on tour; he’s a percussionist and composer, and we’ve had standing ovations in every venue by the interval!.
Q. How old were you when you first laid your fingers on a harp, and did you enjoy playing it straight away?
A. I first laid eyes on the harp when I was 10. A lady showed me a scale, and I was absolutely hooked! I hassled my parents for weeks because I wanted lessons on the harp! I loved playing from the very beginning.
Q. Is it strictly necessary to be classically-taught, or is it possible to self-teach oneself the harp?
A. It’s necessary if you wish to become a professional. If not, there are ways you can learn online.
Q. So what sequence of events led to you becoming Royal Harpist?
A. I was shortlisted to audition for the role at Clarence House, in front of a panel. I then had a private audition with Prince Charles, where he stood about three feet away from the harp! It was a very memorable experience – one I will never forget! Two weeks later, it was announced that I was to be the next Royal Harpist!
Q. Which Royal events did you enjoy playing at the most?
A. I performed at over 180 engagements for Prince Charles and the Royal family, including one for Her Majesty The Queen. I would also have to play short recitals and present programmes to his guests, playing at all the Royal Residences. One of the most memorable experiences was playing for 75,000 people at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff whilst representing the Welsh Rugby Team. Another was organising sixty harps for The Prince of Wales’ sixtieth birthday. It was a fantastic sight!
Q. How do you mentally prepare for playing in front of Royalty? You must be a bag of nerves, right?
A. For all of my performances, I normally run the scenario through in my head first of all, especially if it’s a high-pressured performance like playing one-to-one for The Queen! I sometimes imagine it for weeks beforehand so I don’t feel nervous on the day.
Q. So how have American audiences taken to your music?
A. It’s been such a positive and exciting experience. People are so enthusiastic about the music that I play, along with the percussion and harp duet that I have with Chris. We both performed live on one of New York’s biggest Classical music stations, WQXR. We also had the opportunity to perform live on TV, as well as on radio stations in Washington DC and Virginia. Seventy radio stations have added “Royal Harp Strings” to their playlists, so we’re extremely excited!
Q. As well as performing whilst in the states, you hosted a number of workshops over there. What did they involve?
A. Both Chris and I present workshops as percussionist and harpist, and as composer and harpist.
It’s an interesting combination to most workshop audiences and participants, as it’s unusual, but we really try to get the best out of musicians and harpists all over the world when we conduct our workshops.
We focus on specific areas that they would like to improve on, and we build and expand their ideas and playing in general. We also feel that it’s important to share knowledge and experience with other harpists so it helps them on their own journey of growth as performers.
Q. So tell us about your new album…
A. “Journey” is the soundtrack to my recovery from ME. I was diagnosed in 2013, having several symptoms that had built up over several years.
For example, I had intense pain in my body, along with migraines and extreme fatigue. The music on the album represents each part of the recovery, as I am now fully fit and well again.
Some pieces relate to that moment in 2013 when I had to stop and listen to my body. Tracks such as “Ladies in Lavender” and “Bluestone” (composed by Chris) helped me to relax and unwind, whereas other tracks such as “Toss the Feathers” represent me now — full of energy and vitality.
Q. How has having ME impacted on your life?
A. It’s made me appreciate every single moment of my life, and my career. I’ve been fortunate to have a second chance and to return to my performance career.
Q. What do people who are coming to your Bridlington Spa show have to look forward to?
A. We’ll be returning to The Spa with a brand new show called “Hands of Fire.” It’s a duet show between myself and Chris, and it involves multimedia such as a video screen, backing tracks and lighting.
It’s full of energy and pieces that people will recognise from the world of film and classical music.
On stage, there will be a wealth of percussion instruments from around the world, along with my golden harp!
It’s going to be a real feast for the audience, and it’s suitable for all ages.
Q. Finally, how can people find out more about your music?
A. People can keep up-to-date with my movements on Twitter @clairejones85 and my website at www.clairejones.co.uk
l Claire will be performing her “Hands of Fire” show at Bridlington Spa on Sunday 24 April. Visit www.thespabridlington.com for more details
l Steve’s first book, an Asia-based travelogue entitled “Pulse” is now available on Kindle. Visit www.steverudd.co.uk for more information, or “Follow” him on Twitter @ruddontheroad