Interview with Hilary Burt - Words section of Sussex Jazz Magazine

It’s taken me a long time to work through my ‘stuff’ and find my direction but I guess that’s what life is for! It just takes some of us a bit longer!”

Hilary Burt

I was born and grew up in Southampton. Musically life was really busy until 12 years old. I had private piano lessons from the age of 7; school had provided me with free recorder and flute lessons; and they had a wonderful choir and orchestra which I absolutely loved. We rehearsed every week and did regular performances. I enjoyed a really rich musical life and left at 12 years old an outwardly confident child ready for the next stage. 

That all changed when I got to Secondary School. In a way it was like a perfect storm: girls in the year above were bullying me at school; my two older brothers left home and we moved from a large 4 bedroom house to a small bungalow; my mum wasn’t well - she struggled with her mental health - and in such a small house with me almost now like an only child, I was up close with her bipolar disorder. 

In a large house with lots of space and older brothers playing electric guitars etc and having their friends round, I could get lost in my room and up in my treehouse; but in a small bungalow life became very intense. At school I withdrew from things that made me stand out - I gave up the flute and recorder and left both the orchestra and choir. Basically I became as invisible as possible trying desperately not to attract attention. I worked hard, had lots of friends in my year group and luckily continued with my private piano lessons. But performing in public became a big no-no. I did join a theatre group during this time and was even asked to do a weekly spot on local radio reading out people’s birthdays! But although I loved the rehearsals and taking part, the performances were excruciating for me and I suffered major anxiety around this time. I became obsessed with food and wrote down everything I ate for many of my teenage years, counting calories and trying to stay in some sort of control of my life. 

Basically since that time, my life has been a very slow, winding path towards getting back to that 12 year old me! I’ve had long periods of not playing and even when I was composing at home I feared public disapproval and ridicule - obviously stemming from those bumpy teenage years. 

I think finally I’m at peace with all of that but it’s taken a long time to find my voice and share my music. I became much closer to my mum when my dad passed away but I seemed to be constantly worried about her. I’d leave her after a visit and be terrified she’d have a fall or something would happen. When she went into a nursing home, there were other worries about her care and her happiness. She passed away in 2011 and I must admit, my anxiety slowly started to lessen and I was able to bring the focus back to myself who still needed lots of nurturing. 

I’ve worked hard over the last 6 years or so, completing courses at Berklee online, learning about music software, composing lots of new music, getting my band Blue Calluna together. There are of course down times, usually when I’ve done too much or not slept or eaten properly, but I’m learning each day to take responsibility for my own health and well-being. I still struggle with whether people will like what I’m doing, what direction I’m going in etc. But overall I’m very happy with my life. Mark (husband Mark Bassey) and I are involved in lots of musical things in Brighton and I have a private dyslexia practice teaching children from my garden office. Our home is a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy city. 

I’m hoping that there may be a second album of Blue Calluna music in the pipeline. I’ve written some new music this year and we’ll be playing a couple of new tunes at our next gig on July 19th. I’m so grateful to have a band of such talented musicians happy to play my music, and people keen to come along and listen to our performances. It’s taken me a long time to work through my ‘stuff’ and find my direction but I guess that’s what life is for! It just takes some of us a bit longer!