David Randall chatted to Kiki Dee in March 2015 for a two-part special on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. Part 2 covers the 1970s including her work with Elton John and her partnership with Carmelo Luggeri, bringing the story up to date. Part 1 covered her early career in the 1960s and is repeated occasionally on the station. Kiki Dee is a Featured Artist at Get Ready to ROCK! Radio.
I became reacquainted with Kiki Dee’s music, as often happens, with the reissue of four seventies albums including her rockiest offering ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ which spawned a hit single in 1974.
Delving further into her back catalogue, a compilation of earlier work was acquired reflecting her sixties “pop” career first as a backing singer to the likes of Dusty Springfield – and then as a solo artist with Motown – a real trailblazer for non-black artists at that time.
But Kiki is perhaps best known as the high cheek-boned female foil to Sir Elton which gave her a No.1 hit single in 1976. Like Judie Tzuke, she made albums for Elton’s Rocket label, but in truth in spite of sometimes stellar backing (one album featured most of Toto) they were a bit patchy.
It wasn’t until 1994 and her teaming with the guitarist/songwriter/producer Carmelo Luggeri (London-born of Italian parents) that Kiki re-discovered her muse. Since then she’s produced some consistently good acoustic-based albums although live dates have become few and far between.
Thankfully, since early summer, she has been playing several festivals and select venues and this continued tonight at the excellent Met in Bury where most recently we’d seen James Grant.
This was a chilled-out gig, and an opportunity to luxuriate in the warm timbre of Kiki’s voice. She seemed ageless, even energetically sliding off a high stage in high heels to engage the audience and dancing with a lucky fan front of house. Throughout we were regaled with engaging stories of former times with Sir Elton, and the stories behind the songs.
It may come as no surprise that amongst Kiki’s early influences are Jackson Browne and more specifically Joni Mitchell. I could certainly detect a touch of Joni in her own vocal style, a rich and sometimes jazzy hue. Carmelo has also encouraged Kiki to play keyboards on several songs and this certainly adds atmosphere and texture.
In truth, Kiki deserves a much wider audience and there was a sense tonight of a lack of familiarity with her material amongst the Bury crowd. Of course peppered amongst the more eclectic of her output we heard stripped back versions of her “hits” – including a fine version of ‘Amoureuse’ – and some ingenious cover versions. Several songs are included on the duo’s new live album.
She bookended her set with two standouts, the exquisite songs ‘Sweeter Rain’ and ‘Forward Motion’ but another real highlight was her version of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’. A wonderful arrangement by her long-term musical partner Carmelo Luggeri it may even exceed the original.
And, yes, we haven’t mentioned Carmelo who impressed throughout with his acoustic accompaniment, bringing eastern flavours to several tunes and providing an enthusiast’s explanation of his loops as he fashioned layered guitar and ambient sound. Carmelo was also a great counterpoint to Kiki’s narrative, chipping in when appropriate to enhance our understanding of her long and distinguished career.
There was a sense too tonight that we had only barely touched on the detail, the sixties and Motown years conspicuously absent in both timeline and tunes. I heard from Carmelo after the gig that their earlier mentor, the late Steve Brown (the producer who had worked with Elton and Kiki in the early seventies), had actually encouraged Kiki to divest herself of earlier “baggage” which led to their two-years-in-the-making and semi-groundbreaking east/west synthesis ‘Where Rivers Meet’ in 1998.
But it was during ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me’ that it seemed Kiki had taken flight leaving this listener wanting to hear more of that wonderful, soulful, voice but perhaps in a rockier setting. Like minds should search out Kiki’s appearance on the Alan Parsons Project spin-off ‘Freudiana’ in 1990.
In the meantime, it’s time to recognise the lovely Kiki as a national treasure and seek her out at the earliest opportunity.
Review and photos by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Set 1: Sweeter Rain/Everybody Falls (Habit Of A Lifetime)/Don’t Go Breaking My Heart/Small Mercies/Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) (Kate Bush cover)/Let It Be Me (Everly Bros cover)/Never The Twain (Harry Manx cover)/Personal Jesus (Depeche Mode cover)
Set 2: Dance Me To The End Of Love (Leonard Cohen cover)/Amoureuse/Amen And Goodbye/She’s Smiling Now/A Very Good Year (Frank Sinatra cover) /Till We Meet Again/Forward Motion/I’ve Got The Music In Me
Encore: Roll Um Easy (Little Feat cover)/Loving And Free
Album review (reissues)
UK tour dates
02 Nov Hemel Hempstead – Old Town Hall
09 Nov Lowdham – Lowdham Village Hall
10 Nov Bradford – Black Dyke Mills Heritage Centre
11 Nov Bradford – Black Dyke Mills Heritage Centre
16 Nov Castle Douglas – Cat Strands Arts Centre
17 Nov Milngavie – Folk Club (Glasgow)
18 Nov Kinross – Backstage at the Green
23 Nov Kingkerswell – Parish Church (Newton Abbot)
24 Nov Corsham – Pound Arts Centre
30 Nov Godalming – St John’ Church
01 Dec London – The Pheasantry
06 Dec Hinchingbrooke – Arts Centre (Peterborough) ‘Evening with’ and ‘Workshop’
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
Power Plays w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)
COLLATERAL Mr Big Shot (Roulette Media Records)
BABY HUSBAND Stop Thinking About Tomorrow (indie)
OF ALLIES Off The Map (indie)
EXPLORING BIRDSONG The River (indie)
MARISA AND THE MOTHS – Slave (indie)
CATTLE AND CANE I Wish I Knew Jesus (Like I Do)
KING VOODOO Creep (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 28 October (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 UNRULY CHILD Big Blue World (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 REDLINE Gods & Monsters (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 WILDWOOD KIN (Silvertone/Sony)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)
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