Jane Cornwell is an author, journalist, critic and raconteur writing mainly about music, arts and culture, and also about travel. Born in Australia, she grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne riding horses, reading books, nerding out on music. Penning stories, essays and poems – there was a Mooroolbark Primary School Writer of the Week Award, and a rare 100 per cent for English Expression in her final HSC exams – and wanting to see the world. After a year of studying law she segued into anthropology, writing a postgraduate dissertation on women in the New Guinea Highlands then enrolling in an MA; she was working as a waitress at the legendary Last Laugh Comedy Restaurant when London beckoned. She went.
Four years as a press officer at the Institute of Contemporary Arts immersed her in the worlds of leftfield visual art, performance, literature and debate. Along the way she began writing for various publications – there was a Bjork interview for Rolling Stone in Australia, and a Nick Cave interview for the Guardian, which spelled her name wrong – and became a full time freelance journalist in 1995. She wrote a lot about comedy and theatre, covering the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the likes of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, and carving out a niche as a rock critic for UK newspapers including The Independent. But the sheen wore off quickly, as it might for one who’d seen ACDC playing down the local ice rink when she was 12. Second generation rockers sounded much like their forebears and just didn’t have much to say.
In 1997 Jane was asked to come on board a research project commissioned by Real World, the record company and studios owned by the musician Peter Gabriel, the co-founder of the Womad festivals. Here were artists from Africa, Europe, India, Latin America, everywhere; artists whose singing and playing was rooted in ancient cultures and traditions, and who often borrowed from club culture and new technologies to remain current. She was hooked, and remains so.
Jane’s writing about music from elsewhere continues to appear in British newspapers and magazines including the Observer, the Daily Telegraph, the Times, Sunday Times and Songlines, as it does in many major publications in Australia. Her relationship with Real World and WOMAD is ongoing; she’s written press releases and sleeve notes for scores of Real World artists, and is an interviewer and (in the UK) host, for Womad and Womadelaide.
She has written press releases and sleeve notes for albums by a wide range of artists including Camille, Carla Bruni and Sean Kuti and many more. Her feature interviews include such African music A-listers as Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal and Hugh Masekela; Cuban giants Omara Portuondo, Chucho Valdes and Los Van Van. More. There are cover stories with western music giants, from Chrissie Hynde to Jimmy Page, Dolly Parton to Pearl Jam, Justin Timberlake to Sting, Joan Sutherland to Cher.
A combination of hard work, great writing and an ability to put her subjects at ease had made Jane the go-to journalist for editors on both sides of the globe. Over the years her list of non-music interviewees has expanded to include some of the biggest names in Hollywood – actors such as Idris Elba, Keira Knightly, Brad Pitt, Naomi Watts and Meryl Streep. Directors Mike Leigh, David Lynch and Martin Scorsese. For several years she was the UK literary correspondent for The Australian, interviewing such esteemed authors as Louis de Bernieres, Doris Lessing and Salman Rushdie.
Jane can turn her hand to any subject, and write in whatever tone suits the readership. She has written about architects and athletes, choreographers and fashion designers, eco-scientists, ballet dancers and furniture makers; she has penned news features including a cover story revisiting the Jamie Bulger case in Liverpool. She has covered such big events as the Booker Prize ceremony, the Edinburgh Festival, Cannes Film Festival and music festivals including WOMAD, Nattjazz and Forde Folk Festival in Norway and Festival Mundial de Salsa in Cali, Colombia.
A collector of experiences, she’s variously reported on the inaugural Monaco Polo Cup, test-driven a Ferrari 480 Spider around the hills above Milan, herded cattle on a white horse in the French Camargue, hung out at the Cuban National Ballet in Havana and tranced with Morocco’s Gnawa musicians at their annual festival in Essaouira.
Her other hats include on-stage interviewing and compering, guesting on BBC Radio programmes and working in an advisory capacity to musicians, venues and record companies. Her memoir The Whirl was published by HarperCollins Australia in 2015. A novel is in the pipeline.
Live music, surfing, yoga, boxing and kickboxing, Cuban salsa dancing, travel (I have travelled all over Africa, Latin America, Asia, Russia and Europe) horse riding (in another life I was an amateur show jumper, race horse trainer and riding school instructor!).