Mark Kingswood has got a thing for swing, a love of great music, great voices and big band jazz. He is set to become the next great voice in British music, some say Britain’s answer to Michael Bublé, but he hopes for more than that. He would like to redefine the term “crooner” and bring it bang up to date!
If you have tickets for Jools Holland’s visit to Perth Concert Hall (Fri 17 May) then you are in for a treat as Kingswood will be supporting, one of his first major dates in the UK.
Over the past year he has divided his time between his UK homeland and Canada where he got his first big break as a performer. His debut album Strong has won him many friends over there with its classy, fresh and exciting take on the crooner genre, bypassing The Great American Songbook in favour of original material and just two covers of songs by REM and George Michael.
“I try to keep it interesting and I like to push myself. That’s important for me as an artist. There are so many brilliant artists out there that do The American Songbook and do it so well,” the singer said, agreeing that doing The American Songbook can become a little bit clichéd after a while.
“That’s the thing that we felt. It’s typically expected with a crooner and I almost want to redefine what a crooner can be in some ways. I think that original music, for us, seems to be the right fit.”
“I’m very fortunate to have some great songwriters around, some great arrangements and it all clicked and fell together. That’s where I’ve Got A Thing For Swing came from, for the album.”
My first reaction to hearing the Strong album was “Wow! What a voice.” He sings with such warmth and reassuring ease, making the whole performance sound so effortless.
“I try to give that impression,” he laughs. “I like to push myself when I can but it’s lovely when you get compliments like that come back. A couple of people have said ‘Oh, your voice is like chocolate!’ That’s what I want to bring out even more in myself as I get older. I’m always paying attention to try and keep that warmth. I want my music to feel like it gives you a hug.”
This short series of UK dates with Jools Holland will be the first opportunity for British audiences to get to know Kingswood and his music and there can be no finer endorsement of his talent than going on the road with Jools.
“I’m very happy to be supporting Jools, we’ve got some great venues lined up. Hopefully the audiences will like what I do. I will be performing quite a few songs from the Strong album and we’ll see how they go down. I feel very appreciative and lucky to be given this opportunity.”
Mark’s inspiration for his music came from the family record collections, back home in Kent, while he was growing up in the nineties.
“My parents never listened to modern chart music. I’d be listening to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Michael Bolton or these type of acts. I was always around big voices, that was the norm for me. Then I went over to my grandparents once or twice a week, I always stayed with them and theirs was a very different type of collection. They had acts from the 50s and 60s, so they would introduce me to people like Andy Williams, Matt Munro, Frank Sinatra and The Rat Pack acts. I think it’s in the mixture between those two worlds that I really sit.”
Still, there is a common theme, here, of great voices and lush arrangements of orchestration.
“That’s it! As much as I’m inspired by the singers and the styling and the phrasing, it’s equally as much to do with the arrangements that inspire me. There’s only one way that you can get that sound and that’s by having a real orchestra. It’s quite exceptional how much it’s changed my love for music and where I want to go.”
So with a voice like that and twenty years in the music industry, why isn’t Mark Kingswood already a household name?
“To be honest, singing was where it all started for me. We were on a family holiday and there was a talent show for kids when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My parents put me in for it without me knowing. I went up, sung, won the competition and got the bug to sing. From then on I knew what I wanted to do.”
“The industry was quite hard and, because I started off so young, by the time I was 14 or 15 I’d actually been signed to a couple of different labels but it never worked out. They always wanted me to do a different type of music to what I wanted to do. I got to the point where I needed to take a break and sort of lost the bug a little bit. I was learning music production when I was 14, 15, and doing that into my early twenties.”
“I love the classic producers that have a really timeless sound – Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson, David Foster – they all like to use live musicians and live orchestras. That’s what really impressed me as a child and I was very fortunate to be put into a circle of writers and producers learning how these tracks are made. I think you hear a lot of those influences in the arrangements that I bring to the table. That’s the thing I clung on to and what really excited me. I got the opportunity to work with a few artists that had live musicians. It stuck with me throughout my teenage years when I was learning music production. It paid off really well when the time came to make Strong.”
“I was working with great producers but I just missed singing! I started getting out and singing again but this time I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to be myself and sing the music that made me happy. Within a couple of years I’d built up a good reputation around the country doing swing and jazz and that led me on to being discovered in Canada.”
Strong shows a wide range and versatility in both Kingswood’s material and his vocal talent. The title track is an up-tempo celebration of just how Strong his vocals are, Dancing On A Monday is a vibrant salsa track while I’ve Got A Thing For Swing is a semi-autobiographical nod to The Rat Pack and that classic swing generation. Loved By You is a soft ballad with a rich string arrangement and Beautiful Child is a delicate lullaby with a simple guitar accompaniment that will resonate with new parents worldwide.
The only covers on the album are a wonderful arrangement of REM’s Losing My Religion and George Michael’s One More Try. “George Michael was somebody very special and I felt I had to pay homage to George. To me, George was really the master of all genres. He could sing pop, big band, swing, symphonic orchestra stuff, soul. Anything that he put his hand to, he was really good at. I got a lot of inspiration from George Michael albums from the 90s.”
Montreal is a hotbed of musical opportunity in Canada and, following the release of the Strong album over there last year, Kingswood has been touring across Canada and the United States. He is delighted to be able, at last, to showcase his own material.
“To be honest, that’s the best feeling in the world! I noticed that, back in Canada, towards the last part of the tour people were knowing the songs and it was the feeling of looking out into the crowd and having them chant the chorus back at you… There’s really no other feeling like it! It cements that you’re on the right path and it’s something that I’ve never experienced before. You do lots of shows in your life but it’s the first time I ever felt ‘Wow! This is something else!’”
“When I perform live I kind of drop the rule about The American Songbook because people come along and they do expect to hear some of those songs live. For someone who may be seeing me for the first time, I think it’s nice to have that throwback to the past, some familiarity.”