Sandy Brown Jazz

[Some computers might ask you to allow the music to play on this page]



Sarah Moule
Stormy Emotions

The Songs of Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace

by Robin Kidson




Sarah Moule



T.S. Eliot’s great modernist poem, The Wasteland, is an unlikely source of inspiration for a jazz song but American lyricist Fran Landesman had a marked literary bent and was able to spin the poem’s famous opening line, “April is the cruellest month” into Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most, a song which has become something of a jazz standard. With music by Tommy Wolf, it has been performed by some of the greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Barbra Streisand. Here’s what Ella made of it:





Fran Landesman


Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most came early in Fran Landesman’s career but she ended up writing the words tohundreds of equally striking songs. The definitive interpreter of her work has turned out to be British singer, Sarah Moule. Over the past twenty or so years, Sarah has recorded four well-received albums featuring many of Landesman’s songs. And now comes a fifth album, Stormy Emotions, recently released on the 33Jazz label. It is made up entirely of songs written by Fran Landesman in collaboration with Sarah Moule’s husband, Simon Wallace.

Fran Landesman had an interesting life. Born in New York City in 1927, she became involved in that city’s beat scene in the late 1940s. She married publisher Jay Landesman in 1950 and began writing song lyrics shortly afterwards in collaboration with Tommy Wolf. The partnership produced other memorable songs besides Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most including Ballad Of The Sad Young Men which has been performed by artists as varied as Sarah Vaughan, Roberta Flack, Shirley Bassey and Ian Shaw.


Fran Landesman



The Landesmans moved to England in 1964 and quickly became an established feature of 'Swinging London'. Their house in Islington was the scene of some legendary parties. The couple had a famously open marriage but which was clearly strong enough to last the distance - 61 years to be exact. They had two children – Cosmo, who became a well-known journalist in his own right, and Miles Davis Landesman, a musician.

Sarah Moule and Simon Wallace



Fran continued to write not only song lyrics but poetry as well. She published several poetry collections and became a performer of her work developing a half singing, half speaking style. But she also had a wider fame as a wisecracking bohemian celebrity always ready to épater le bourgeois, a reputation cemented when she appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1996 and chose a packet of cannabis seeds as her luxury item.

In 1994, Fran began collaborating with musician and composer, Simon Wallace. For the next eighteen years, the two would meet each week and write songs. The partnership became triangular when Simon Wallace’s wife, singer Sarah Moule, began performing and recording the songs.

Fran Landesman died in 2011, aged 83. She was writing and performing to the end.






Here’s a clip of her delivering Ballad of the Sad Young Men live at the 606 Club in April 2009 with Simon Wallace on piano, Miles Davis Landesman on guitar and Sarah Moule on backing vocals:




On the new Stormy Emotions album, Sarah Moule sings Fran Landesman’s lyrics backed by Simon Wallace on piano and keyboards, together with different combinations of various musicians:  bassists Mick Hutton and Neville Malcolm, drummers Paul Robinson and Rod Youngs, guitarists Nigel Price and Charlie Cawood, and saxophonist Mark Lockheart.


An introductory video for the album.




Sarah Moule


One wonders why Sarah Moule is not better known because on the evidence of Stormy Emotions, she has a fine voice. She sings with an American accent to fit lyrics which, after all, were written by an American, albeit one domiciled in Britain for many years. Her voice is marvellously expressive but never over the top. She perfectly captures both the meaning and feeling of the songs. Above all, her voice is crystal clear so you can hear every word of Landesman’s clever lyrics.

Landesman does sardonic, smart New Yorker very well but there is also sincerity and emotion in her songs too. The first track, for instance, Nothing Is Mine Now, movingly documents the moment when a relationship becomes so close that two people become one:

“Pray with me, sin with me, moan with me, grin with me
Love me with all of my scars
Rise with me, fall with me, hide from it all with me
Nothing is mine now, it’s ours”.

Sarah Moule times that last “it’s ours” to perfection and invests the two words with a superbly controlled emotion. Nothing Is Mine Now was the last song Landesman and Wallace wrote and was only finished on the day Fran died. It shows that, even at the last, she was still writing at the highest level.




Nothing Is Mine Now is followed by Are We Just Having Fun, a typical piece of Landesman’s hip and knowing humour. “Are we playing for keeps or just having fun?” It also shows off her skillful way with a rhyme:

“Is it the meeting of two minds
That’s producing this elation?
Is this the love we sing about
Or just a little too much medication?”

Mark Lockheart contributes some light touch but effective soprano sax.


Here is a live version of Are We Just Having Fun with just Sarah and Simon playing:




Inevitably, the focus of Stormy Emotions is on Sarah’s vocals and Landesman’s lyrics but these would be nothing without Simon Wallace’s ability to find the right melodies for the words. Never That’s When is a song in which a woman wittily engages with a reluctant suitor: “When are you gonna show up meanest of men?” Wallace sets the words to a lovely bluesy tune rather like something Dinah Washington or Eartha Kitt might have sung in the 1950s. His arrangement is also spot on with the sound of an organ gently shadowing the piano. And finally, his playing is pretty good too - on Never That’s When, he takes a longish but accomplished solo on piano. Sarah Moule sings the words as the voice of exasperated experience and, once again, nails the final deep-felt punchline: “When will my heart forget you? / Never that’s when”. Here’s a live studio performance of the track:




The fourth track, Close To Tears has another absorbing melody with an attractive gently Latin beat. It has the feel of one of those romantic James Bond film themes. The main feature, though, is some beautiful soprano sax work from Mark Lockheart.

A Magician’s Confession shows Landesman’s originality and a way with a conceit. The magician wonders why he can do all the tricks in the book but can’t bring back the past:

“I can pull a rabbit from a hat, I can make a lion disappear
I know several ways to skin a cat
But I can’t bring back the snows of yesteryear”.

The melody is a slow ballad which Sarah Moule sings beautifully.

Truly Unruly is upbeat with more sassy Cole Porter-ish lyrics. A sample:

“We won’t wonder or worry
No more ifs, ands or buts
Lets get truly unruly
And go nuts
Let’s not think of the future
Lets live just for today
I’ve invented a new game
Wanna play?”

The melody and arrangement fit the lyrics with Nigel Price’s electric guitar rounding things off nicely.

Simon Wallace does a big production number on After The Fall, with keyboards and Nigel Price’s guitar managing to conjure up a huge orchestral sound. It’s a ballad, more Shirley Bassey than strict jazz, but somehow it emerges as my favourite track of the whole album. Sarah Moule is more than equal to the task of handling the piece without resorting to any Bassey theatrics but still managing to convey the sincerity of the lyric. There is another great rhyme: “Winter is coming the nights grow bitter / No one my darling could call you a quitter…”.

Its back to swinging Ella Fitzgerald / Sarah Vaughan jazz with On Hold / Living in Limbo which joins together two different songs with similar themes. Here’s a live studio performance of the piece:






Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace




Time Is The Beast sees another almost perfect joining of lyric, melody and performance. The theme of the lyric is how time turns youthful beauty and ideals into weary old age: “Time is the beast feasting on Beauty’s face / Biting the dancer’s ankles / Trumping the hero’s ace”. The tune is fittingly slow and mournful, accentuated by Mark Lockheart’s bass clarinet burbling away in the background. Sarah finds just the right blend of world weary acceptance and regret.

For the most part, The Long Arm of Love is a fairly conventional love song but nothing is ever that conventional with Fran Landesman and suddenly she throws in a striking image: “Can love distract you from your high tech toys / And show you there are better games for girls to play with boys?”


Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace





Fool’s Gold is a bright, upbeat number with an interesting tune and some good work from Simon Wallace on piano and Mick Hutton on bass.The album’s finale is the title track, Stormy Emotions. This was the first song which Fran Landesman and Simon Wallace ever wrote together. The performance is a simple duet with Simon on piano backing Sarah’s heartfelt vocals. The lyrics have all the characteristic Landesman touches – killer rhymes, deft and original use of language, a resigned acceptance that the world will never quite live up to expectations, but what the hell, and a touch of nicely sardonic humour:

“Though I’ve gained a little insight, lost my heart and sold my soul
I am still a rank beginner when it comes to self control
So don’t ever ring my doorbell I can’t see you anymore
‘Cause you get me so excited and we’ve played that game before”.

Stormy Emotions, then, is an album with a lot going for it: the wit and wisdom of Fran Landesman’s lyrics, the whistleability of Simon Wallace’s tunes, the skill of the musicians involved, the glory of Sarah Moule’s voice….. “I got lucky meeting Simon”, said Fran Landesman, “That he married Sarah Moule was a bonus. She’s the jazz singer par excellence.”  After listening to Stormy Emotions, the only response to that is: we all got lucky.


Click here for purchase details and samples of Stormy Emotions which is released on 3rd May. Click here for Sarah Moule’s website.


Sarah Moule Stormy Emotions album




Visit us on Facebook Facebook logo

Other pages you might find of interest :

Radha Thomas - A Case Of The Bangalore Blues
Maria Muldaur - Don't You Feel My Leg
Take Two
Jazz As Art

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2021

Click HERE to join our mailing list