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The Beginning

  Born in Southampton, she is the only daughter in a family of six boys.  Her father was a Walter Mitty character who very much lived by his own rules; an architect who secretly wanted to be a musician and got involved in strange business schemes. When she was 12 years old, for instance, all the children had bubble cars, because he’d got a job lot of them. They also had a helicopter, even though she and her brothers went to comprehensive schools and the receivers regularly came to the door to take the furniture away. They would also go on holidays in a Black Mariah (a police vehicle for transporting prisoners) that had nothing in it but two swivel chairs and a paraffin heater.  Due to her eccentric father’s fluctuating finances, Sarah Jane had a nomadic childhood, moving 20 times, but, nonetheless, she considers her childhood to have made her very ‘resilient’ and ‘able to bounce back’ which no doubt has shaped her strength and determinism.

In her late teens she studied Brechtian theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, moving onto the Central School of Speech and Drama where the comedy duo French and Saunders, actor Rupert Everett and film star Kristen Scott-Thomas were her contemporaries.

‘I hated drama school.  I found myself being slotted into a category that I didn’t fit into so I rebelled. I left before completing the course, with no degree, and no final year of sell. Somehow I had to get my Equity card and that's when I accidentally fell into singing. It was easier to do it by calling yourself a cabaret artist - if you could speak to the audience between songs, it was considered cabaret.’

Sarah Jane teamed up with a pianist-actor also in search of an Equity card who was leaving the drama school at the same time. He taught her Billie Holiday songs.

‘I hadn’t discovered that I had a singing voice until that date. I learned the songs first from him and not from Billie Holiday. It's quite bizarre and maybe that explains why I don’t sound like her. A lot of people end up sounding like the first person that sort of influenced them and somehow fell into singing. I found out that people would come back and seeing us perform at pop clubs, northern clubs, you name it, every dodgy venue in the country I probably played at some point or other.’

The next stage saw Sarah Jane working as a paste-up artist for a graphic design company and answering an ad in Melody Maker for a singer with an Italian group which had an American deal and needed either an English or American singer to front the band. At the time it was a Blues/Blues-Rock band called Panama but by the time she arrived in Italy it had become a Heavy-Rock band and changed its name to Wop Avenue. She lived in an apartment attached to the drummer’s incredible architect-designed house built into the rock overlooking Florence.

‘He was a hermit; he came out at night; he didn’t really surface in the daytime. It was miles from anywhere, and I didn’t speak any Italian. They would come for me when we had a concert, and I would be forgotten in-between. It was a strange arrangement, but I had an Italian boyfriend and that seemed to rescue me a little. It got worse when I tripped up the iron staircase going to my apartment one day and broke all the tendons around my kneecap just before we were about to start a tour. So, they whipped me off to this private hospital. They plastered me up rather than operate - I should have been operated on, and I did this tour with plaster from my ankle to above my knee and developed a very, very peculiar dance which has stayed with me ever since. When I dance today my band calls me a "constipated octopus."   After about six months I was very, very homesick, hadn’t learned any Italian and really wanted to get back home, partly to get my visa because the band were signing a deal with Atlantic Records in America.’

She returned home and did a runner:

‘I moved many, many times and never went back to Wop Avenue, so to speak. There are these tapes around somewhere. One was called Peaches in My Pockets…’