Tag Archives: Seonaid Aitken

Carol Kidd: Doing It Her Way

Carol Kidd © Sean Purser

Carol Kidd at the 2016 Glasgow Jazz Festival (c) Sean Purser

If there was a stand-out artiste in last year’s star-studded gala concert to mark the 40thanniversary of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival it was undoubtedly Carol Kidd, the irrepressible and internationally renowned Glaswegian singer whose powerful renditions of a couple of ballads brought the house down at the end of the first half and triggered a Mexican wave of sniffles across the auditorium.

The two songs which sent moist-eyed listeners scurrying for reinforcements on the Kleenex front were both new to her repertoire, and were among seven tracks she had just recorded for her new CD, Both Sides Now, which is released this spring. Live, at the concert, they revealed that Kidd has still got it. The voice is as commanding, clear and pure as ever, and her way of bringing a song to life is as spellbinding as it’s always been. 

 Which is not something you can say of many jazz singers who are pushing 75. Indeed, there are not many jazz singers who their seventies and still have the “chops” that Kidd – who has always been a cut above the competition –  has. Although she may have had more than her fair share of woes they haven’t taken their toll on her voice. They’ve only shaped her attitude – and her current attitude is to keep on singing until she knows it’s time to stop. 

 This, she explains from her home in Majorca, was very much in her mind when she began to think about the new album. “Most of the tracks on it are songs I’ve been listening to over the last couple of years, real gems, and I thought I’d better get round to recording them – I’m not getting any younger. Whereas sometimes you have a theme in mind for an album, or are asked to do it, this one came from the songs – they were the starting point, and they were what got me into that studio.”

 One of the Edinburgh stand-out songs was a Billy Joel ballad And So It Goes, which Joel wrote in the early 1980s, and recorded in 1990 and which was recorded a few years ago by Alan Cumming. How did she come across it?

 “Well, my daughter Carol is always listening to music on Spotify and we’ll sit together and we go through it looking for ideas. Last February we listened to lots of different stuff and came across this Billy Joel song I’d never heard before – I think it’s one of his best songs.” 

 It certainly comes over as a perfect fit for the singer who has often delved into the works of contemporary singer-songwriters for material and blended them into her unique repertoire alongside the Great American Songbook stalwarts. So, a typical Kidd concert at any point in the last 30 years might have been mostly standards by the likes of Porter, Gershwin and Rodgers & Hart but with songs by Randy Newman, Eva Cassidy, Sting or Don Henley also represented, depending on what she had been listening to. 

But doesn’t the Billy Joel number have a male point of view – this ballad about someone who’s been hurt and risks letting a new love slip through his fingers because he’s scared? “Oh no,” insists Kidd. “To me it’s just life. It applies to everybody, everybody has gone through that – kept too much to themselves and then they get in a situation where it’s ‘Do you want to be with me coz I want to be with you?’ I sang it from my point of view. I was blown away by the response I got when I sang it at the jazz festival.”

 Both And So It Goes and the other “new” song introduced in Edinburgh – Something Wonderful, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s score for The King and I (“What a song! We came across that when we were listening to movie themes on Spotify ..”) – were performed and recorded as duets with pianist Paul Harrison and could easily have come from any number of Kidd’s previous albums. But you wouldn’t describe this new CD as a jazz record – it is a distinctive mix of pop power ballad, folk, country & western and jazz and features such well-kent names as regular collaborator and former Wet Wet Wet member Graeme Duffin, on guitars, bass and drums and jazz and folk fiddle player Seonaid Aitken. 

 Kidd says: “Some of the tracks are quite Celtic-y – and I wanted it to be like that. For others, I wanted to have strings. When it came to the title song, Both Sides Now, I wanted a really full-on arrangement. I wanted it to sound wacky and really strange – because life is strange. I wanted the whole background to be strange.”

 Had Joni Mitchell’s classic Both Sides Now been a favourite since she first heard it? “Well, when she did it, with just guitar, I liked the song – but she was a young girl then. I wanted it to be me as a mature woman, having lived my life. It’s like Sinatra’s My Way – I’ve been through all of this, all the ups and downs, the highs and lows. And I still don’t have a bloody clue! It had to be the title track because the album is a sort of life story which reflects where I am and how I feel.”

 Has Kidd’s way of selecting songs changed as she has aged? Does she now feel that it’s a similar sort of challenge to the one faced by older actresses who decry the shortage of meaty roles for their age group? “Yes! I am very conscious of the fact that I am now older and that a lot of songs don’t suit me any more. I choose songs according to my age. I don’t want to be mutton dressed as lamb! I want to deal with my life as it is now – I can’t sing silly boy-meets-girl songs in my seventies. I need lyrics which are more mature and have more substance.”

 Sometimes this need to reflect where she is in her life means that Kidd has to tinker with existing lyrics in order to make them work for her now. This was the case with the song with which she is most strongly associated –When I Dream. Twenty years ago, her recording of Sandy Mason’s haunting ballad was picked to be on the soundtrack of a Korean blockbuster action movie, the success of which catapulted her to the top of the charts over there, and elevated her to superstar status in Asia. But by last year, she had begun to wonder if she might have outgrown one phrase in it.

The line goes ‘I can go to bed alone and never know his name’ and I thought: ‘Aw come on. I’m too old for that!’ So I changed it to ‘and never speak his name’. So this is the mature version of When I Dream!”

 One name that’s missing from the list of singer-songwriters featured on the album is Carol Kidd’s. She has previously recorded a handful of her own songs, most recently the title track of Tell Me Once Again, her acclaimed 2011 duo album with guitarist Nigel Clark – the last studio recording she did. But these days, her regular creative outlet tends to be painting, the art form which brought her back from “the depths” in the years following her partner John’s sudden death back in the early 2000s, and which helped her again when she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer five years ago. “That’s twice it’s done it for me,” she laughs.

 In 2014, she was invited to stage her first exhibition, in Glasgow, and since then, painting has increasingly consumed her time. “I’m doing more painting than ever,” she explains. “And I’ve sold more paintings than ever just recently. It’s proving more lucrative than singing at the moment, especially since I can’t get many gigs in the winter as the flights from Majorca are a nightmare.” 

 But for the moment, Kidd is enjoying promoting Both Sides Now and looking forward to trying to get some concerts scheduled with the featured line-up. “I love this record,” she says, “I really love it. My daughter said ‘Your heart is smiling in it’ – and she’s right because I was enjoying making it so much; enjoying choosing the songs myself rather than being told to do them, and enjoying singing songs by songwriters I adore.”

 * Both Sides Now is out now, downloadable from www.carolkidd.bandcamp.com and on CD from www.carolkidd.co.uk

(c) Alison Kerr, 2019

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2018: 40th Anniversary Jazz Gala

40th Anniversary Jazz Gala, Assembly Hall ****Carol Kidd & Paul Harrison 2

The Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival swung into action on Friday, with a special concert as its showpiece event. It’s 40 years since an embryonic version of the festival first took place and, on Friday, it revisited its old gala format with a sort of jazz variety show bringing together Scottish jazz stars who have notched up appearances in every full decade of its life.

Pianist Brian Kellock’s relationship with the jazz festival dates back to even before his official debut there, in the 1980s. On Friday, reunited with drummer John Rae, his trio was in high spirits – though it was the languid Ballad For Very Tired and Very Sad Lotus Eaters that stood out.

Tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith, who also cut his jazz teeth in the festival’s first decade, joined Kellock for a trio of tunes – notably a gorgeous Without a Song and a Sweet Georgia Brown that sent sparks flying – which highlighted their rapport and showed how attuned to each other’s musical thought processes they are.

It was disappointing that Martin Taylor, one of the leading jazz guitarists in the world, got a little lost in the mix kicking off a second half which was to be dominated, time-wise, by a gypsy jazz group which only came on the scene a few years ago. Taylor’s meander through Henry Mancini’s bittersweet ballad Two For the Road was a mini-masterclass in the art of solo guitar.

It would have been even more of a treat to hear him play with singer Carol Kidd (pictured above, with pianist Paul Harrison) but she had done her bit, bringing the house down at the end of the first half with two stunning ballads – by Billy Joel and Richard Rodgers – which served as appetite-whetters for her concert next Saturday.

Nobody got more of the spotlight, however, than singer/violinist Seonaid Aitken, who was in her element hosting the show on the jazz festival’s behalf, duetting with its stars and leading her band, Rose Room, through the longest set of the night.

  • An edited version of this review appeared on HeraldScotland on Monday, July 16th

 

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella

Seonaid Aitken – A Night With Ella, Festival Theatre ***

After Alison Burns’s homage to Ella Fitzgerald at the Glasgow Jazz Festival, it was Seonaid Aitken, recently named Best Vocalist at the Scottish Jazz Awards but originally known on the jazz scene as a dazzlingly talented violinist, who had the honour of marking the legendary singer’s centenary for the Edinburgh Jazz Festival. 
 
While Burns’s concert was a duo affair, in an intimate venue, Aitken’s, which featured the impressive Groove Merchant Big Band and The Scottish Festival Orchestra Strings, was the Saturday night slot at the Festival Theatre, an occasion which one might – given the jazz festival’s long history of all-star extravaganzas – have expected to boast a number of better-known names, each perhaps focusing on a different aspect of Fitzgerald’s back catalogue.
 
So, no pressure on Aitken then .. However, she pulled it out of the bag in terms of entertaining the audience with her warm personality and covering all areas of Fitzgerald’s career singlehandedly; even managing to justify a violin feature because there’s a violin solo on It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) from Fitzgerald’s Ellington Songbook album. 
 
That song, however, summed up the issue that any jazz aficionado might have had with this tribute. Its singer didn’t swing. Aitken has a beautiful voice, and she swings like mad when playing her violin – but when she’s singing lyrics, she is terribly sedate and sings the songs very straight. The stand-out of the evening was her recreation of Fitzgerald’s iconic scat solo on How High the Moon – where she did a superb job of letting rip and going with the swinging flow of the fantastic big band behind her.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2017: Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique

Rose Room Orchestra Fantastique, George Square Spiegeltent ****

In recent years, gypsy jazz bands with a Hot Club-inspired line-up have become as much a feature of jazz festivals as trad and Dixieland jazz groups and the most exciting ones are those in which the violinist and the lead guitarist are on equal musical footing (the Tim Kliphuis Trio, with Nigel Clark on guitar, springs to mind), or the band is doing something a bit different with the classic gypsy sound (Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, for example). 
 
Rose Room, the Glasgow-based quartet which boasts violinist extraordinaire Seonaid Aitken as its star, ticks neither of the above boxes on its own – but, on Friday, it brought in special guests to turn what could have been an enjoyable but unremarkable gig into something more becoming of a jazz festival opening night. Saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski injected a welcome dose of edginess to proceedings which, thanks to the jaunty, cheery tunes and Aitken’s 1930s BBC radio dance band singing style, often sound cosily retro, while the addition of The Capella Quartet to a series of tunes from Rose Room’s regular repertoire put a different spin on the music, and added depth and class.
 
Indeed, The Capella Quartet provided one of the highlights of the evening – a beautiful, unusual arrangement of Moonlight in Vermont which managed to just about block out the thumping, pumping beat emanating from the tent-next-door’s soundcheck. Blues in My Heart – possibly the jolliest blues I’ve ever heard – also stood out because it featured Aitken’s lovely vocals with a funky accompaniment from guitarist Tom Watson, playing chunky chords, and Wiszniewski at his downright raunchiest.
* First published in The Scotsman, Monday July 17th

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2013: Swing 2013

Swing 2013, Royal Overseas League, Edinburgh, Friday July 26th ***

Along with the Queen’s Hall, the Royal Overseas League, at 100 Princes Street, must be one of the only venues that has been a fixture of the Edinburgh Jazz Festival since it began in the 1970s. Ascending the stairs and navigating the maze of narrow corridors to find the always-crowded room – which, in recent years has been the festival home to some of the longest-serving local bands – always triggers flashbacks to the 1980s when the likes of Art Hodes, Milt Hinton and Dick Hyman were the draws.

The place has had a bit of a makeover recently (though one has the impression that the decorators might have had to work around the jazz festival audience since both it – and the volunteer who mans the ticket desk – seem to be part of the fixtures and fittings, never changing) – and so, by coincidence, has the band which was on the stand on Friday afternoon. Earlier this year, Swing 2013 lost its star soloist, the uber-talented Dick Lee – a virtuoso of the clarinet and various saxes. Its line-up may now be subject to change but on Friday it scored something of a winning goal by having as its guest the effervescent swing violinist Seonaid Aitken, whose ability to keep smiling gamely despite being verbally patted on the head at regular intervals by bandleader John Russell had to be admired.

With her bouncy, uplifting style of playing, Aitken evoked the spirit of Stephane Grappelli and enabled the band to dig deep into the Hot Club repertoire which he and gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt made famous. She won the packed house over from the off, but it was her dazzlingly accomplished solo on Bossa Dorado and her un-flashy, swoonsomely romantic contribution to Troublant Bolero which stood out.

* First published in The Herald on Monday, July 29th

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Review: Rose Room

Rose Room, Arlington Baths, Glasgow, Friday June 8 ***

They may have opened to members in 1870 but the Arlington Baths’ West End Festival gig last night was the first concert in its 142-year history. Anyone who inferred from the festival programme that they might be sitting round the pool watching the band perform was in for a surprise/shock as the hour-long performance actually took place in the cosy bar where the band looked set to contend with noisy weans, diners and oldies out for a Friday night pint.

From the off, however, this Quintet of the Hot Club of France inspired quartet grabbed the attention of the punters and held on to it for most of the gig. Their stock in trade is jaunty, unpretentious, feelgood, gypsy jazz and their not-so secret weapon; the element which elevates it above what it would otherwise be, is Seonaid Aitken who sings in a ladylike style that contrasts with the passion of her more reckless-sounding violin playing which is dynamic and occasionally dazzling.

Indeed, whenever the attention of the audience began to wane – unsurprisingly, given that the punters hadn’t paid for tickets and were (children aside) somewhat the merrier for the cheap bar – it was Aitken who drew it back. In a programme, and genre, dominated by fast or mid-tempo tunes, it was the ballads which stood out. Blues in My Heart was a stylishly arranged and executed example of Rose Room at its best, with lead guitarist Tom Watson serving up a particularly groovy solo and Aitken’s vocals a delight.

Ditto for the concert’s stand-out Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me on which the gentle swing of Watson’s and Tam Gallagher’s guitars plus Jimmy Moon’s bass proved the perfect setting for her dreamy voice.

Catch them in a full concert at Oran Mor on June 22.

First published in The Scotsman,  Saturday June 9

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