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Home / Latest News / Music maestro Nigel Kennedy: ‘My mum’s guilty of two things – calling me Nigel and making me play violin’

Music maestro Nigel Kennedy: ‘My mum’s guilty of two things – calling me Nigel and making me play violin’

It’s hard to believe it’s almost 25  years since spiky-haired violinist  Nigel Kennedy brought classical music to the masses.

When he released his recording of  The Four Seasons with the English  Chamber Orchestra in 1989 it sold more than two million copies, reaching out to a whole new audience of  music fans.

Today the man who shook up the  works of Vivaldi and Elgar and  brought music by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Doors to the concert hall, is still as passionate about  performing – and enjoying a bit of a  party lifestyle when he’s on the road.

Kennedy and his band are currently touring a programme celebrating the music of Bach and Fats Waller – two people who may appear  to be poles apart – and he couldn’t be  happier than to be spending time  with his musicians.

“We’re much more rock ’n’ roll than the proper rock ’n’ roll geezers,”  he laughs. “We know how to party.”

The concert begins with a Bach  violin solo, after which Kennedy is  joined on stage by an acoustic guitarist, double bassist and percussionist to perform his own arrangements of the music of legendary jazz  pianist Waller.

“Playing Bach and Fats Waller in  one show is a dream for me,” he says.  “I like making some kind of juxtaposition between two people who  might appear completely different  but actually have a lot in common.

“Both were killer keyboard players  and were brilliant at harmony and  melody structure so why not put  them together?

“A whole night of Fats Waller  music might be too much and the  same could be said of Bach – you  don’t want to be playing all serious  philosophical stuff as that would leave people  feeling depressed, including me.”

While he may be touring fairly  large venues – including Cardiff’s St  David’s Hall – Kennedy says the tour  has a very intimate feel.

“I have a small band and it’s probably the quietest concert I’ve done in  the last 20 years,” says the  56-year-old.

“I’ve been very much into my  electric violin during the last few  years and playing more rocky stuff  but I’m now back to playing acoustically. It’s a very personal tour. The concert hall feels like a living room – it’s very informal. I like  to achieve an atmosphere where  everyone feels relaxed and can get  into the music.”

While he may have a reputation for  being a bit of a maverick, Kennedy is  very easy to chat to and often turns  the tables on me during our interview,  asking me if I play an instrument.

When I tell him one of my regrets  is not learning to play, he shares his  early experiences of music-making.

“My mother stowed me under the  piano when she was teaching it so I  heard it from a very young age,” says  the musician, who is from Brighton.

“I started crawling onto the piano  stool at the age of four and trying to  have a go at playing. Classical music  was going on around me so it was  natural to try and start playing it.”

As for the violin, he says it was  “put on me”.

“My mum’s guilty of two things –  calling me Nigel and making me play  the violin,” he laughs.

But music also runs in his father’s  family. His paternal grandfather was  Lauri Kennedy, a British-born musician and principal cellist with the  BBC Symphony Orchestra while his  grandmother was Dorothy Kennedy,  a pianist who accompanied John McCormack and taught Enrico Caruso’s  children. His father John Kennedy,  who left his mother before he knew  she was pregnant with their  son, was a cellist.

“My mother  didn’t want  me playing the  cello.”

Kennedy,  who also  dabbles with  the guitar, keyboards and saxophone, says he  enjoys performing more  and more as he  gets older.

“You appreciate things that you might have  taken for granted and become complacent about. Being able to get  up and just play an instrument in the  morning is fantastic. It keeps your  feet on the ground.”

As well as his music, Kennedy is  renowned for being an avid fan of  Aston Villa and can often be found  performing wearing a scarf in the  football team’s colours. But he admits  that his love for the game is waning. He says there’s no loyalty any more from the players who are keen to play for the teams offering the major deals.

“I’m not so enamoured with football any more. There’s no real community – it’s no longer about the  football. If I have to choose between  a four hour trip to see a game and  then a four hour trip back or a walk  with the dogs, the canines win out.”

Nigel Kennedy is at St David’s  Hall, Cardiff on Thursday. For  tickets, call 029 2087 8444 or

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