If classy jazz singer Stacey Kent had been born in a different age, when her musical genre was in fashion in Britain, she would undoubtedly have been a superstar.
As it is the 45-year-old American-born multilinguist is well known around the world, has eight best selling albums to her name, shiny awards aplenty, including a Grammy nomination for the album Breakfast on the Morning Tram, and is lauded by her peers.
It’s such a shame that there was a sprinkling of empty seats at The Stables on Wednesday. I feel sorry for the people who missed a rare treat as Kent introduced the audience to her new album, The Changing Lights.
Kent is a regular at the Jim Marshall Auditorium and her love of the atmospheric venue was reflected back warmly by the audience who welcomed her to the stage as a cult gathering might greet their high priestess.
No wonder she loves the stage at Wavendon because its closeness enables her to create a strong emotional engagement with not only the words of her songs but her audience, too. Her singing style, one of clarity, a charming lilt and well-judged vibrato matches the subject matter of her songs, which tend to be about love and loss, relationship make ups and break ups and melancholic memories. You have to have lived a bit and have some empathy for the human condition to appreciate her style.
From the start of her two 50-minute sets, with This Happy Madness, a handshake of happy-meeting-sad about falling in love, the closeness Kent has with her band, including husband and songwriter Jim Tomlinson, was evident. Kent’s vocals weaved like silk around the sounds of the band.
In I Fall In Love Too Easily, Kent left the other musicians to play on as she stood at the side of the stage, as if the pain of hurt was too much to bear.
Kent’s style works well with the words of the songs crafted by husband Jim, working with Remains of the Day novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. In The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain she uses her vocal dexterity to plant ideas in the heart. Memories of “sunny cathedral steps” and “let’s be young again if only for the weekend” gain a melancholic yet joyful quality.
But there’s more to Kent than relationship counselling. The upbeat love ditty One Note Samba and Waters of March “And the river bank talks of the waters of March/ it’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart” give Kent the chance to express a natural fast paced exuberance.
But it is admittedly in the heart-rending subject matter that Kent seems most at home. The things-could-be-better classic Smile left me with a lump in my throat. “Light up your face with gladness / Hide every trace of sadness”, delivered with such a powerful sense of vulnerabilty and loss that I’m glad the lights were dimmed, or the people I was sitting next to would have seen my top lip wobble!
When the concert came to an appreciative close it was almost as if a protective bubble had burst, a dream had ended and I had returned to a harsher world.
And I think that’s probably why Kent and her ilk aren’t packing out mega stadia and in fashion. The talent is undoubtedly there in bucket loads but I think she’s from a time where other people’s feelings mattered, society wasn’t throwaway and we all had a bit of time to pause and reflect.
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