Storytelling in song brings the works of a 70s icon back under the spotlight
Almost a year to the day since the death of American icon Dory Previn, jazz singer Kate Dimbleby will be celebrating the songs of the 1970s lyricist and poet in the Devon seaside port that is full of her own happy personal memories.
The daughter of broadcaster David Dimbleby and writer Josceline, Kate is currently putting heart and soul into her interpretations of Dory's largely autobiographical, outspoken, funny, sad and, occasionally outrageous, lyrical compositions, accompanied on stage by pianist Naadia Sheriff.
Together they explore Dory's songbooks and autobiographies, 40 years after the release of her most successful album Mythical Kings and Iguanas.
The duo's own LP Beware of Young Girls: The Dory Previn Story was one of the most highly-acclaimed jazz albums of 2012. They have now developed it into a stage show, written in collaboration with Amy Rosenthal (On The Rocks) and directed by Cal McCrystal (One Man, Two Guvnors). The show enjoys its only Westcountry outing at The Flavel in Dartmouth on Saturday, February 16.
Kate is particularly delighted to be performing the show in close proximity to the place where she made her Devon debut as a teenager.
"It is so nice to play Dartmouth in a professional capacity," says Kate, who spent many idyllic childhood holidays with her parents, two brothers, and extended family at Dittisham, where she still stays regularly.
She moved from London to Bristol last year with her husband and their two daughters, aged seven and four, to be nearer to the south Devon she loves, while still allowing easy access to the capital.
"I really feel a strong connection with this part of the world," she says. "When I was just starting out I did a Valentine's gig at Coombe and everyone came to see me. I was only 16; I sang with a guy called Ed and we did lots of jazz standards."
Kate's musical choices were totally at odds with her contemporaries.
"I felt slightly as if I had been born in the wrong era. While everyone at school was listening to Madonna, I was obsessed with Ella Fitzgerald and Fats Waller," says Kate, who clearly recalls being nurtured on these artists as a child.
"My mum's dad was a jazz obsessive who had all these old 78 records.
"I have just found out recently that he also played in a lot of jazz bands – he played the comb... and the piano, backwards.
"Jazz was the music we listened to on Sundays. As well as Ella and Fats, there was the slightly more anarchic sound of Spike Jones. My uncle was always feeding me new jazz records too. It all must have filtered in subconsciously."
Kate says she always loved to sing and that her family remember her as a bit of a show-off as a child. Music and singing were in her blood, although she was born with a low voice, which lent itself more readily to jazz, rather than training as a classical singer like her mother. At university in Birmingham, Kate finally met people of her own age who enjoyed the same kind of music and she started performing regular gigs, cutting her teeth on the notoriously challenging working men's club circuit.
"It really was the best way because there's nothing to beat live performance," says Kate.
"My dad plays the piano, but he is not a musician; what he does have is the talent for presenting in a live setting and I think that is what I have taken from him."
Kate loves studying the stories behind the songs and the people who write and sing them, which is what led her to this, her second tribute to a late, great artist. Her first show in this vein focused on Peggy Lee.
"I hadn't even heard much of her work, but I was in a working men's club in Germany and a group of people who had seen her perform in the 1950s came up to tell me how much I sounded like her," says Kate. "So, of course, I was drawn to find out more. Peggy turned herself into something larger than life. Her story was very much about someone coming from nothing and becoming a star.
"Dory's story is about facing herself and her demons through her music. It is a very tragic story in many ways – unhappy childhood, a difficult marriage and a breakdown – and her songs are intensely personal. But she tells it in a way that is so human that everyone feels moved by it... it connects with everyone's pain and joy.
"Being in a room and entertaining people with her songs and stories is really what drives me.
"The brilliant thing about music is that it cuts through in a way that words can't. When you open your mouth and sing, you show something very different about yourself," adds Kate.