The Sunday Times

Rob Ryan, 15th July 2007

When he's not eating dog, the singer Ian Shaw forms a triangle of gay terror

Ian Shaw, 45, has just won the BBC jazz vocalist of the year award for the second time; highlights of the award ceremony can be heard on Radio 2 at 10pm tomorrow. Singer, bandleader, producer and composer, Shaw often tours with the trumpeter Guy Barker and with fellow vocalist Claire Martin, as well as playing solo. He has released nine albums, most recently Drawn to All Things: The Music of Joni Mitchell. He lives in central London.

'Growing up in North Wales, we went on proper British working-class holidays. Other people at school took packages to Spain. We went to Blackpool. We would book a family room, four of us in together, and then do the shows. My dad was a musician, you see, a brass-band man, and we all loved variety shows. We saw Cilla Black seven years running, I think. Strange, she was a big star, but still did summer season. You don't get that now. I remember the room in the hotel always smelt of hairspray and chips. For me, that's like Proust's madeleine: hairspray or chips (you don't get the two together much these days) will always remind me of summer in Blackpool.

We started to move south for holidays eventually, to places like Torquay and Bournemouth, but the one that sticks in my mind was when we first came to London. I fell in love with the West End, but on that trip my dad wanted to do all the boys' things and took me to the Imperial War Museum and then out to Heathrow, where, sadly, we ate sandwiches and watched the planes. The highlight for me, though, was when he bought me a boxed set of Bette Davis movies in Woolworths on the Edgware Road. Do you think that might have given him a clue to my sexuality?

I usually try to keep work and holidays separate. Occasionally, though, I stay on after a gig or a tour. I did that in Los Angeles and hated it. Too much sun for a North Wales lad. Then I stayed on in Hanoi and loved it. I did the whole thing, from eating dog to getting head massages on the street to drinking in the Apocalypse Now bar with ex-GIs. It was all so foreign and exciting, and the people were wonderful, very inquisitive about the West, but not wanting to be consumed by it.

I have recently sworn off organised holidays. The last one I went on was a yoga holiday on a Greek island. I had just come out of a relationship and thought it would be good for my spirit. Turned out to be me and 27 American women. The yoga was fantastic, but, I tell you, vegan buffets wear thin after a while. Luckily, I found a shop on the island that sold really big bags of hand-cooked crisps. Then there was this thing with the "talking stick". You sat around in the evening and you could only speak if the stick was passed to you. And you had to take it with great ceremony, to cherish the privilege. When it came to me, I always felt like saying: "Hey, guys, I've got these great crisps in my room, let's go." But I think they would have chased me off the island.

I have a new partner who lives in Zurich, and that city has been a revelation - very Wallpaper magazine, with great food, a good hotel and bar scene, and really marvellous countryside on the doorstep. Half an hour away on the train is Eglisau, an old town on the Rhine surrounded by hills and pine forests - it's very romantic. Walking there is so peaceful and relaxing that you find yourself in a whole different place. Better than yoga with a talking stick, in fact.

He also took me to the Blindekuh - the Blind Cow - in Zurich, where you are led to your table blindfolded, by blind waiters, and eat in pitch darkness. It is true what they say: the flavours do taste incredibly intense when you lose your sense of vision. But it's weird. It's a converted church and you have no idea how many other diners there are. Or where they are. I groped a woman next to me by mistake - a tricky moment. We ended up sharing a chocolate mousse - my partner and I, that is, not the woman next door - which takes a fair degree of spatial coordination if you aren't to end up looking like a couple of four-year-olds.

If I can't get to Zurich to switch off, I'm lucky to have a tiny house in Hythe, Kent. Julian Clary has a place there and so does Paul O'Grady. Together we form a triangle of gay terror. Well, according to the local paper we do. In fact, I just go down there to let my shoulders drop, watch DVDs and listen to music. I like Hythe because it isn't all gentrified, it's still got this atmosphere of smuggling and marsh mists and Doctor Syn. It couldn't be more different from London. I suppose in some ways it reminds me of home.'