If you got to see Mark Kingswood last year, supporting Jools Holland on tour in Buxton, Scarborough or Middlesbrough, then you will know just what a great voice he has. When Mark spoke to me, ahead of those tour dates, he said he wanted to redefine what it means to be a crooner. His first album Strong went a very long way to doing just that, disregarding the obvious Great American Songbook classics in favour of a sparkling collection of new material, with just two cover versions.
2019 turned into a busy year for Mark, after the title track from the Strong album made the Radio 2 playlist, and 2020 looks set to be even busier. He has a short headline tour in February, including a date in Manchester and has just completed work on his eagerly anticipated second album which is due for release later in the year.
“Last year there was lots going off,” said Mark. “After we finished the Jools Holland tour we were lucky enough to get taken under the wing by Radio 2. They were very supportive of Strong, and it did quite well across the network. It made the playlist for about a month which was a really big thing for us. It was lovely to start getting a bit of a nationwide play.
“Then Radio 2 kindly invited me to do the live piano room session with Ken Bruce, (singing) Strong, Dancing On A Monday and a cover. We’d only just announced the three-date tour coming up and we had a lot of ticket sales from that, London sold out immediately! It was a great thing for us.”
Growing up in Kent in the nineties, Mark’s parents introduced him to the big voices of the time, such as Whitney Houston and Michael Bolton, while at his grandparents he would hear the likes of Andy Williams and The Rat Pack. Having won a junior talent competition as a youngster, he had been signed to two different record labels by his early teens but became disillusioned by the style of music the labels wanted him to record.
Mark was introduced to the world of production and learning how to arrange and create records with live musicians.
“And then,” he sighs, “I just missed singing, I missed sitting on this side of the glass making everybody say I’m good! 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 really built up a good reputation around the country doing swing and jazz and that led me on to being discovered in Canada.”
While Mark has been winning legions of fans in Canada and the US, he remained largely unknown here in his homeland before last year’s tour and radio exposure. Supporting Jools Holland was the ideal showcase for Mark’s brand of swing, a relaxed style yet delivering a kick with some punchy vocals.
“Jools is very much from the same world as me, we love live musicianship and what a real band can bring to an audience. It seemed to work well and I’m grateful for the invitation to be a part of it. The thing with being the support slot is you get a great opportunity to be seen and, in turn, that leads to your own tour. It was a great experience.”
Mark has also been busy travelling back to Canada where he has become a star over the past few years. “We had a show at Place Des Arts, one of Montreal’s leading arts centres, at the end of November. It was great to be back there and see my followers in Montreal. We had some really great guest singers as well, Fernando Varela, Emilie-Claire Barlow and Florence K who’s a very well known Quebec-based artist. It was a really fun night. We had the big band there. It was the last live show I did last year and it was a great one to finish on.”
Heading into this new year, Mark now needs to capitalise on the momentum he built in 2019. “That’s it,” he laughs. “New year, new start, let’s get back on it!
“We’ve started off with London, Birmingham and Manchester because they’re the major hubs and, if they sell well, that will lead to a tour, a bit later on in the year, when we can go around the provinces. You’ve got to start somewhere and I’m pleased we’ve got these three dates for the UK people that have been watching some of our stuff in Canada and they can now come and see us.
“This year I’ll be working hard, being out there as much as I possibly can and I’m looking forward to the new album being the backbone of a new campaign. That’s finished now, last week, and we’ve just been recording a couple of videos and promo stuff. The album is on its way very shortly. We’re just waiting, at the moment, for a confirmation of date.
“It’s still got the classic Kingswood cross-over sound with a few new influences brought in from different genres, two covers and the rest are all originals. It’s not all big band, it’s not all pop, it’s a mixture. The main thing I wanted to do on this album was really to experiment a little and dig in to some other areas that interest me as an artist. It’s an interesting mix, I hope people will enjoy the variety.”
And to support the new album, Mark is hoping that a second tour this year would allow him to reach a wider audience.
“The main thing we’re trying to do is build the audience. There’s some new flavours on the album that may appeal to a different audience. It’s all about getting out there and getting more fans on board. That, in turn, leads to me being able to perform more. The more people know about me, the more shows I could put in the diary for the end of the year.
“We’d love to do another tour later on. Hopefully, then, we will be out with the ten-piece band but, right now, it’s my first few dates and we are a little bit limited on stage size. It’s something that we need to build up to when we get a certain level of audience numbers. I can’t wait to go out with the full big band, there is a lot more to come!”
Mark Kingswood’s headline UK tour visits the Leicester Square Theatre, London, on Monday 24 February (SOLD OUT), Stoller Hall, Manchester on Thursday 27 February and Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 28 February.