The King of swing

Dave Woodhall talks to big band singer Mark Kingswood.

You had a new album Strong scheduled for release in 2020 then like everyone else, your plans were altered slightly.

“It was. We had a great run for a couple of years. Strong, my first album, came out in 2020 came out and did very well, the new one, Brave Enough, was due, I got lots of Radio Two airplay, that sort of thing. Then we got album of the week just as everything went down. Top three of the Amazon charts, then lockdown came in the week before Brave Enough was due to be released, so we didn’t get the PR and that was a huge disruption. All the press got lost so the sales were from my existing fans and I lost a bit of momentum, like a lot of us who were in the same situation. It’s been a horrendous couple of years for the industry but we’re still here and we’re starting to get the ball rolling again.”

At least you were able to do a few gigs at the end of 2021.

“Yes, we had a couple of shows due in December and luckily they went ahead. It was the week Omicron came round so we were just by the skin of our teeth able to do them and it was great to get back on stage. It felt a bit rusty but being in front of a live audience was so good again.”

One of the shows was at Birmingham Town Hall. For a singer with your sort of big band style, that must have felt like treading in the footsteps of some legends.

“The audience there has always been fantastic and it was a great break from the stresses of Covid. The Town Hall has got a great vibe, large enough to be a proper concert venue but the audience is close enough to get a good atmosphere, especially when they’re almost on top of you. I’ve played some great venues and with the Gladys Knight tour coming up we’ll be doing some much bigger ones.”

Symphony Hall, for example.

“We did a broadcast special from there with a band but there was no audience due to the restructions, so this time with a proper audience will be so much better. With this tour, obviously Gladys has got quite a large set up so I’m not able to take a full band with me. It has to be a pianist and some backing tracks to get an idea of the music, doing what I do with the arrangemets; for technical reasons we have to be on and off the stage quickly. But being able to go round, just the two of us means I can strip some songs back and give the audience the opportunity to hear my voice, connect some of the stories and really hear the songs.”

You’ve toured with some big names before – the likes of Jools Holland and Russell Watson. Do you get the chance to see much of the headliners?

“Yes and no. When I’m on tour sometimes I won’t watch the show every night. Before we go out on tour I’ll try to learn as much of their material as I can, find out about their history and their audience so I can tailor my set to the crowd then I’ll watch for the first night to get an idea of what the show’s about. I do get the chance to meet them and hang out with them a bit. I’ve heard that Gladys’s tour guys, the band and the crew are all fantastic people so I’m looking forward to spending some time with thm. I’m not sure I’ll get much time with Gladys but I’m lucky to just be on the same stage, so I’ll take what I can get.”

I read that you’ve worked in the music business since you left school. Does that mean you’ve never had a proper job?

“Not really. I was lucky enough to get a record deal when I was fourteen with quite a big label. Since then I’ve been with been with different labels and different managers. My musical direction has changed to what it is now but I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do and I’m grateful.”

And as a result of your label changes you’re now big in Canada.

“My label were based in Montreal and they really got behind me so I moved over there for a while. I was doing some shows and working on material – my second album Strong was recorded in Montreal. It’s a bit different becasue of the French language barrier, particularly outside Montreal where it’s very French so I’d sometimes struggle. The way to deal with that was learning French and putting some French content into the show.”

The language might be different, but your music is still timeless.

“It is. It’s the sort of music that connects generations. For me it brings back memories of my grandparents, my parents love that kind of music and I’m hoping that in years to come my kids and theirs are into it. There has to be new life and new artists who do this music to keep it going. We were very lucky twenty, twenty-five years ago when Michael Buble picked up the gauntlet and he made it relevant to my generation. I thought, ‘Wow, I can finally go to a big band concert’.”

And it’s more proof that everything in music goes in waves.

“It does. It’s not about taking over the world, but giving back to the genre and doing original material. There are many swing artists doing what they do every week but for me it’s about doing music that’s mine, my own creation rather than doing the Great American Songbook. Too many people do that very well already. I just feel proud of the music I’ve done and it sounds as if it has been recorded in a way that goes back in time. It’s so great to get twenty musicians in a room, hit ‘record’ and let’s go. That doesn’t really happen these days so I think the musicians are exited about that as well, to have that hot and sweaty way the end of the day vibe. It’s just a magic way of recording.”

Mark Kingswood will be playing Symphony Hall as the guest of Gladys Knight on Sunday 19th June. Tickets.