"Painting got me through what was a very bad time": An interview with Carol Kidd
An interview with Carol Kidd
To mark Art off the Rock’s 10th anniversary, this year’s event will feature a special performance by Scottish Jazz Legend Carol Kidd MBE.
The critically acclaimed singer, who took up painting to help her through a difficult period in her life, has donated two lots to the auction: a self portrait entitled When I Dream and an autographed copy of her new album Carol Kidd Gold.
Artlink Central spoke to Carol to ask her what inspires her music and painting.
What motivated you to donate to Artlink Central?
I do feel a lot of empathy with Artlink and the work they do. I lost my partner John Mackay in 2003. I was floored, I was down, I was so depressed. It was very bad. He went very suddenly. I think I was dying in front of my kids eyes. I’d always liked to sketch and my daughter turned up one day with an easel, canvases, paints and brushes. Everything I would need and she said “I want you to start painting”. I’d never put paint on anything before, it was always just sketches. So for me, the pure therapy of painting got me through what was a very bad time. So I really do feel that any kind of arts therapy, whether its musical therapy or painting therapy, is such a good thing to be involved in.
What did you paint at first?
When I started it was just big brush strokes, just to get the feel of the paint. I got a big canvas and I made it lots of different colours, because at that time in my life there was no colour at all. Then one day, I sketched a big woman taking a bath. At first she was just all black and white. Then I thought that looks really good and I put in red hair. That was the very first painting I did which had a particular form to it.
So it was very experimental in the beginning?
The thing is I didn’t really know about painting. I still don’t know enough about it, but I found that once I’d started I was learning every time I picked up a brush. I was really just teaching myself how do it. As long as it looked good enough for me, that the perspective was ok, she didn’t have a big head and a small body that kind of thing. It was purely experimental at that time and I just carried on from there.
How often did you paint?
I went into a frenzy. I was painting every single day. One painting would take me maybe a couple of weeks to get it the way I wanted it. Or maybe be even a couple of months. Just depending on what I was doing. If there was something I didn’t like about it I would change it or I would scrap it altogether and start again. With not being a proper artist I didn’t know when to stop, so I would over paint it and then have to start it all over again. So it took me a long time to get it right. I have never been taught and I would never ever say I am an artist. To me, I’m a singer who paints.
Where do you paint?
I paint in an old barn at my home in Majorca, where I’ve lived for about ten years now. There’s mess everywhere, old paint brushes lying around...I am not at all organised, but I’m trying my best. I do find that once I start painting I am in a frenzy so I leave a brush down and then do something else. Once I week I have to have a real clean up! I don’t really have a routine and I don’t paint unless I really feel like it.
Have you exhibited your paintings before?
I did an exhibition in a little local gallery in Glasgow and nearly all the paintings sold during the preview evening. That is when I realised, ‘well they must be quite good then’. To see the sold stickers going on made me feel fabulous. It made me really want to start to learn more about painting, to take it more seriously.
Did you draw a lot when you were younger?
Yes, I was always drawing and my art teacher at school used to tell me how good I was but I never believed it. I always thought I was ok, but never terrific.
Do you think you have a particular style?
Not at all, but I love to do faces. They are nearly all fictional. I start something and I think I like that face and I think what shall I do with it? Should it be a profile, should if be front on. I love to do eyes. I always say to myself, if I don’t get the eyes right it won’t work. So I have to do the eyes first of all.
So what you paint comes from your imagination?
Absolutely. If I am doing something like a seascape, living in Majorca there is plenty of that around, then I would take a picture of it. But when it comes to faces, they are all in my head. I don’t think I could sit and do someone’s portrait. I am not at that level at all; I’ve never tried it right enough!
You have painted some famous people like Billy Connolly, was that from memory?
Because I am a singer, my memory has to be very good to recall the words. I have always been very observant of people’s faces, their character and I think that has helped a lot when it comes to painting.
Do you have a photographic memory?
I think so and especially with the likes of Billy, because I know him. His features are implanted in there. I started with the eyes. He has these expressions with the eyes. You know one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down. He looks to the side. He has a way of using expressions. So I was able to capture that. Once I started to draw him, I thought that’s him and I said ‘hello Billy!” I’ve been meaning to send it to him to see what he thinks.
Tell us about the self portrait that you have donated to the auction?
That happened out of the blue. I just thought one day I’ll try and do one of myself and see how it goes. I started it, I did the face and hair. I thought I’m not going to do the eyes. I’m going to have the eyes closed. Then I thought I know, I’ll call it ‘When I Dream’ because that’s my signature song. When it was finished, I looked at it and I thought that does look like me right enough. I didn’t look in mirror while I was doing it, I just started it and visualised what I would look like on stage with my eyes shut – like I sometimes do when I am singing. I don’t know if I could have done my own eyes, but I haven’t tried it yet. It is personal piece. I think it’s quite good and hopefully people will want to bid for it.
How does painting make you feel?
It is amazing how it pulls you in, if I start in the morning, I can go right through lunchtime, right through to dinner time. I can’t move if I’m on to something that I like, I can’t leave it until I get it planted. It pulls you in, you forget everything else. So if you’ve got problems, if you’ve got worries. It is all encompassing. That is the great thing about it. It is the same with music. When I go and do my concerts I am committed 150%, I am focussed so on it once I am on stage. To me the stage is the safest place in the world to be because that’s where I am at home, where I am happiest, I’ve got an audience in front of me. I enjoy it, I’ve got my musicians around me who are so supportive and I am so focussed everything else goes away. It’s fantastic.
So you don’t get nervous?
There used to be nerves, I wanted to be sick. But now that I am older and I’ve done it for so long, I just can’t wait to get on and just enjoy it. It is great feeling. I am so delighted to still have my voice.
How did you get into singing?
I was always singing, my mother said I didn’t speak until I was about three. She said I just hummed. I’ve made up for it since then!
I don’t really know where I got my voice from. My Mum and Dad sang, but they weren’t particularly musical. My mother was crazy for American musical films and when I got older she always used to take me to see these films with the likes of Judy Garland and Doris Day. I got to the stage, where I’d be running down the street and I could hear the orchestra playing in my head.
When my Dad and Mum sang together, my mother automatically went into harmony. So I got the harmony from her and the melody from my Dad. My ear was tuned into that, so I could get both sides of it. I’ve never had any formal musical training.
When did you first perform?
I used to bunk off school and go to auditions, in those days there were auditions everywhere and I was forever going in for talent shows. The first time I sang in front of an audience was in the Odeon cinema in Shettleston, in the town where I am from. We used to go to watch the movies in the morning, but before the movie came on they would put a microphone on stage and anyone who wanted to sing could come up and sing. And of course all my pals would shout, “Carol Delaney, Carol Delaney, Carol Delaney come on sing, sing, sing”. I would only have been about 7 or 8 years old. That was the first time I ever heard my voice in a microphone, before that I would sit outside in the stairwell of the tenement where I lived. That was my echo chamber and I could hear myself there. But to hear myself on a microphone for the first time was so special and I was hooked straight away.
How did you get into jazz?
I left school when I was 15, my Dad had just died. He died young, he was only 49. And I thought, I’ve got to try and earn some money. I heard there were auditions for a singer in a local venue which had a jazz evening every Saturday night. I knew two songs, Stormy Weather and The Birth of the Blues. So I went along and I performed those two songs and I got the job. I also met my future husband to be that night, who was the trombone player. I started with singing traditional jazz which I wasn’t that comfortable with. Later I moved to a modern jazz combo. I wanted to do songs like Ella Fitzgerald would do, or Frank Sinatra.
Which singers influenced you?
I listened to male singers more than female singers as I didn’t want to be that influenced by the women’s voices. I wanted to try and do it my own way. I just felt if I listened to the men singing it I’d be more likely to put my own stamp on it. I listened to Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé…that got me into singing the American song book. Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer…these are kind of songs I really wanted to do. Love songs. I love ballads or slightly swingy songs. For me, that was the only way I wanted to go; songs that I could put my heart into.
When did you make your first record?
I had been working with my own trio for years, when I met Tony Bennett whilst I was doing Ronnie Scott’s in London. He came in to see me twice, once on the Friday and again on the Saturday. Afterwards he invited me over to come and sit with him and as we were talking he was sketching me. He’s a great artist. He said to me “Why haven’t you ever recorded anything?” and I said “I’ve never really thought about it” and he said “You really should, you have a voice.” Two years later I realised he was right and I should record. So I put the money together and we went to a recording studio just outside Edinburgh in 1984. As a trio we knew our repertoire inside out and we recorded a full album in a day. I wanted it pressed and my drummer said the people to ask were Linn Records. So I took the master over to them and asked if they would press it for me. They told me to leave it with them. They listened to it and they said wow. So they asked me back in and they offered me a deal, including a contract for another two albums. I was so excited and I have been with them ever since.
You are also donating a signed copy of your latest album with Linn Records to the auction?
Yes, it’s a brand new double album on vinyl. The new album is a compilation of all the songs I have done over the years. It is amazing how vinyl is taking off again. Everyone is looking out their old turntables. The wonderful thing I like about vinyl is the covers, some of the old covers were works of art.
As well as Tony Bennett, you also have a special connection to Frank Sinatra and were hand picked to open his show at Ibrox in 1990.
Before that night I had never meet him, but I adored the guy. His people had come to see me at the Glasgow Jazz Festival and Frank had then asked my manager to send him my work to listen to. The first I knew about it was when my manager called and asked me if I would like to open the show. I thought ‘Aye, right’, but it wasn’t a joke and I did. It was the best experience of my life. I got to speak to Frank very briefly as I was coming off and he was in the middle of just going on. I popped my head round the door and he said ‘that was great kid.” He had someone putting on his tie and someone brushing him down to get him ready to go on.
At that time he had a Japanese fan magazine and I don’t know what prompted him to say it, but that’s when the quote came out “Carol Kidd is the best kept secret in British jazz.” It was an incredible thing for him to say.
Your biggest market is in Asia, how did that come about?
My popularity in Asia began in 1994, when I was the first Western artist in 25 years to be invited by the Chinese government to perform. That was down to my manager Angela who was a part of the Chinese Friendship Society. They sent a delegation over to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival to watch me perform and they invited me over to China. It has been a love affair ever since. ‘When I Dream’ was used as the theme song for a hit Korean movie, which outdid Titanic in the box office. I have been going back to perform in the East ever since and I believe my latest album is already selling like hot cakes in Hong Kong. It is always an incredible experience whenever I go there. When I perform they all have their banners with my name on it!
How do painting and performing compare?
Performing is harder, because you are committed to a lot of people. You have to be on top form to perform in front of an audience. Although I love it and am committed to it, so it is not a problem. I go up there and I do my absolute best so I never think afterwards I could have done this or that.
Painting is much more private. When I am painting, I am much more critical of what I am doing and that’s a good thing.
They are totally different animals, one of them is very public and one of them is very private. But I get the same feeling from them both, pure satisfaction.
Interview by Lesley Wilkinson of Stirling PR
To find out more about Carol's performance and the auction