Malcolm Windsor is a man of a certain age (“well over 70,” he admits) who is not just making his Fringe debut – a scary enough prospect in itself – he’s making his performance debut. On 5 Aug at 6.40pm, at theSpace on North Bridge, Malcolm will step out on stage, accompanied by pianist Jeremy Devlin Thorp and guitarist Nick Gent, and sing in public for the first time. Bravo, Malcolm!
But there’s a good reason for this later life showbiz adventure, and a touching one too. It’s all to do with his wife, Sally.
“My wife Sally was, I think, very beautiful, very elegant and I fell in love with her on sight when we met. But not just that way. I adored her voice, and her giggle. I still talk to her and miss hearing her voice.”
The sad root of Malcolm’s story is that Sally died last year, after suffering from the debilitating illness bronchiectasis. His show, Love, Loss and Cake, is his tribute.
He and his band call themselves The Swells (after the Fred Astaire/Judy Garland duet featured in the show) and will be performing jazz standards, interspersed with the personal stories behind the choices.
“She loved jazz,” explains Malcolm. “So we will tell our story of love and loss through her favourite songs.”
But how does a man who’s never sung before come to be doing a Fringe show?
“After Sally died there was a huge gap and I wondered if I should learn to play, say, the piano. But then I realised that I have an instrument built-in, my voice. I spoke to my old friend and pianist Jeremy who had also lost his partner Christine. Suddenly I realised that I could both fulfil my long interest in jazz and pay a tribute to our wives by learning to sing. Jeremy was immediately on board.
“So last October I found a voice tutor, a young lady from the Ukraine, Elena Dana. She has helped me enormously in a subject, as a scientist, that I knew absolutely nothing about. The breathing, the resonance, the range, the pitch, the phrasing. It filled my life with song!”
All of which sounds great as a new hobby, especially as a way to help cope with grief. But a full-blown Fringe show?
“I suppose Jeremy and I thought that we needed an objective. At first the idea of doing a Fringe show was too much to contemplate. Jeremy could play the piano very well, but I could not sing at all. However, I seemed to develop well in the lessons. At least so Elena said!
“All this cheered me enormously and in the New Year we decided to go ahead with the Fringe. Nick enthusiastically joined us, bringing greater melodic depth and rhythm to our group. Now we three had a great project which has kept me very busy, very involved, learning new skills and has been and is real therapy, at least for me. I do hope it’s enjoyable and therapeutic for the audience!”
The trio took advice from a producer who has helped them shape a script to link the songs. At first, Malcolm was concerned that people might not want to hear his story. The producer assured him that wasn’t the case. Now he has another worry on his mind.
“I am hoping that I don’t get stage fright and forget all the lyrics.”
And if it all works out? What next?
“No plans, let’s see how it goes down with the public. But all three of us would be willing to take it elsewhere if it tells a story that audiences want to hear. I expect that we would, for example, be willing to perform it to raise funds for charities.”
As for the woman at the centre of the show, it sounds like, if you’ll pardon the horrible and often inappropriate cliché, it is what she would have wanted.
“She left instructions that she wanted us to have a party for her and sing songs instead of a funeral. So we did that a couple of months after she died. She always loved to hear Jeremy play when he came to our house and he and Nick both played at that celebration. In retrospect, that may have been the germ of the idea for our show. How very appropriate since Sally had herself created that scenario!
“Our life was a happy one and we loved each other deeply,” says Malcolm, making clear the feeling that has gone into the show. “We will perform songs that express that.”