“I’ve no regrets” says popstar Kiki Dee ahead of Bury St Edmunds show tonight
- Credit: Archant
Kiki Dee is a survivor in every sense. The singer-songwriter spoke about her long career ahead of her and musical partner Carmelo Luggeri’s show in Bury St Edmunds tonight.
Kiki doesn’t believe in crying over what could’ve been. After 55 years in the business, she’s happy, despite the ups and downs of leading an unusual life.
“I can’t see the point of going ‘oh God, if only I’d done this or I’d done that’. As Édith Piaf would say, no regrets; they’re what I call reminisces. You could say my personal life suffered because I’ve always been very invested in my work,” says the singer-songwriter, nursing a nasty cold when we spoke.
“You can always say I would’ve given that a bit more attention or I would have tried to find a musical niche earlier on. Everything has a good and bad side and I’ve come to a good place.”
Whisked off to London when she was just a teenager having been signed to Fontana Records, she sang backing vocals for the likes of Dusty Springfield and years later enjoyed solo hits of her own. Becoming the first female singer in the UK to sign with Motown’s Tamla Records, she went on to earn herself a best actress in a musical Olivier Award nod for her role in Willy Russell’s West End musical Blood Brothers.
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Bizarrely, one of the defining moments of her long career came when she was diagnosed with cancer of the womb in her 40s after a routine smear test.
“I was lucky because I never really felt that ill, it was the shock more than anything. I’ve always talked about it because I felt if you normalised it and made it like any other illness it helps others. It changed me in a lot of ways. It galvanises you into thinking ‘what do I really want to do with my life?’
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“Doing Blood Brothers was a dream and a real challenge; but I realised I had a lot of unfinished business as a singer and a writer. It was Elton John that got me into writing in the early 1970s; I hadn’t written a song before 1976 so it made me think what would I like to do next - that should be the title of my autobiography,” she laughs.
Something like that brings out your true nature.
“It’s interesting when something like that hits you and nature takes over. I hadn’t realised that’s who I was. I think I must be a bit of a survivor, I’m quite pragmatic, I got on with it. I’m a brave girl.”
Spending her formative years in London during the birth of a cultural revolution and forging a career that’s lasted more than half a century, I believe her.
“When I look at pictures then I think ‘oh God, I was so young, so innocent’.”
Looking at pictures of her now, her trademark flame graduated-bob still in evidence, it’s hard to believe she’s 71.
“Listen, I’m like every woman. I have my good and bad days. I’m not looking too good this morning with my red nose. I’m a good sleeper and I think that holds me in good stead. I eat well, don’t drink too much, it’s just all a balance. I’ve been a bit lucky in that my parents were quite healthy. It’s funny, when I’m with a photographer now I don’t say ‘make me look good’ I say ‘make me look well’,” she laughs.
She thinks it’s bonkers she’s still in the business; crediting it her determinedness as a teenager.
“I had that blind faith you have when you’re young. I was never over-confident, I was always sensitive as a teenager; but there was always some deep-rooted seed that ‘I’m going to make this happen’. I’m a great believer in if you believe you can actually do something, it’s within your power. I know it’s crazy so say it but I knew I’d make it eventually. I just kept going and eventually I got to be on Top of The Pops ‘yay’,” laughs Kiki, who still receives orchids and champagne from Sir Elton, three weeks her junior, on her birthday.
She never really wanted to be famous and doesn’t have great expectations of huge success now. She just wanted to prove to herself she was good enough to be in the music business and entertain people.
“If you can get 200-300 people to come and see your show and they enjoy it... if I can take home some money and pay some bills, because I see myself as a working woman... people think because you’ve been on Top Of The Pops you live in some mansion somewhere which always amuses me,” says Kiki, who long opted for the quiet life of rural Hertfordshire.
“What’s nice is I’ve got creative freedom and you don’t really have that if you go into a commercial world.”
She still loves music, albeit in a different way. When she was young it was all about making it. When you did, you think the hard work stops but that’s when it really starts.
“I got signed at 16, whisked off to London, had my name changed; all that stuff and didn’t really get a chance to grow my musical roots up in Bradford. I’ve almost come full circle, doing what I want to do and I’m still discovering and experimenting,” says Kiki, doesn’t get enough credit for her songwriting. Etta James’ version of her Sugar On The Floor was chosen by Keith Richards as one of his eight on Desert Island Discs.
“The great thing about getting older is you know who you are, you know your limitations; so I enjoy it in a more real, more authentic way. When you’ve written a song and you play it to people in an intimate atmosphere and they respond there’s no better feeling.
“It’s the music I love. I’ve only had one proper job - three months at Boots the Chemist - all my life, so it’s all I’ve ever known really. It’s just a habit really. I’m reasonably good at it, I know how to do it,” she laughs. “I’ve had many chapters in my life, different sorts of journeys - musical theatre, singer, songwriter. As long as I feel like I can enjoy it I’ll just keep going and see what happens. I don’t think about it too much,” she laughs.
You can join Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, tonight, for an acoustic journey of songs including covers of songs by the likes of Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra, original songs plus Kiki’s own hits including Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, I Got The Music In Me and Amoureuse.
“I’m enjoying the moments of magic if you like. It’s about communication, self expression; as long as that’s happening live, as long as I feel it’s working for the audience that’s what I get off on really.”
They’re enjoying every moment of their packed tour schedule.
“Working with Carmelo, it was all about developing the music; it wasn’t about how many records we could sell or it we could get a hit. It was how can we make this work so we can do what we want and make a living doing it; and we’ve managed to do it somehow.”
They’ve been touring their acoustic live show across the UK and Europe for almost two decades. Their latest critically acclaimed album, A Place Where I Can Go, features 11 tracks including the duet Horses with Scottish singer Eddi Reader.
Tasked with providing most of the backing on stage, he comes equipped with three acoustic guitars in various tunings and a temperamental Irish bouzouki hitched through a pedal board covered in gizmos. His feet are as busy as his hands. He even manages a bit of harmonica in-between.
“They’ll get Kiki songs - ‘Remember her’ I always say to the audience - and then we do original Kiki and Carmelo songs and music, covers, so it’s a very accessible. We call it a musical journey. What makes me different from most artists of my time is people don’t really know what I’m going to be doing and they’re always surprised; I quite like that in a funny, quirky way.
“You’ll get someone say ‘oh my wife dragged me along and I didn’t have any idea of what it’s going to be like but I really enjoyed it’. So it’s always interesting.”
Kiki doesn’t see herself as a particularly confident person and always gets a little nervous before going on stage, not that she thinks that’s a bad thing.
“It’s like anything, once you get started and made that initial hello to the audience and they have said hello back,” she laughs, “it starts to become an original evening. That’s the nice thing about intimate shows, no two shows are the never the same so it depends on the interaction of the audience and Carmelo’s such a beautiful guitarist and blows everyone away when he plays. It’s always those things you can feel confident about.”