Fiona Kennedy talks about her early career, love for Burns and adding a contemporary twist to the Nae Ordinary Burns Supper coming to Inverness on Friday
MAYBE it should be no surprise that for singer, presenter and performer Fiona Kennedy, nothing offers more of a buzz than performing in front of a live audience.
After all, she has been doing it since she was about nine years old, she reckons.
There was a time when Fiona’s family, the Kennedys, under the leadership of her singing father Calum, were some of the best-known faces on Scottish television. In matching Arran jumpers, the talented family seemed impossibly glamorous and were seen as a kind of Scottish Von Trapp family.
Later Fiona went on to have her own career, as a singer and BBC abd ITV – and children’s presenter – Record Breakers being one of the programmes she learned her craft from between 1983-86.Throughout a varied career, Fiona has done everything from sing for The Queen and other Royals to performing at Celtic Connections and on Transatlantic Sessions.
Stage productions Fiona has taken part in include London West End show Alfie, in Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living in Paris, Ane Satire Of The Thrie Estaites at the Edinburgh Festival and – after a visit to Ellis Island, the busy immigrant inspection station in New York harbour – was inspired to create her own production The Kist which was a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
In 2014, she was awarded an OBE in the New Years Honours List for her work in music as well as for many charities
Now Fiona is about to bring her successful show Nae Ordinary Burns Supper back to Inverness on Friday, a show which celebrates the Bard in a unique way.
This year the show at the Drumossie Hotel on Friday will bring together the music of Burns and Bette Midler in an evening Fiona co-produces with her friend, actor John Bett, which raises money for two local charities at the same time. The chosen charities for Inverness this year are Marie Curie and the SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals).
The show also runs in Aberdeen, where it originated. But Fiona – who lives in Aberdeenshire with her family – is always happy to return to Inverness, one of the towns her parents and her siblings would regularly visit as performers when Fiona was young.
“My father did summer shows at the old Empire Theatre in Inverness and we came and stayed in the town while he did them.
“I would watch from the wings and wanted to get up there, but that was when we were very little. With mum’s family hailing from Skye and dad’s from Lewis, Inverness was the next big step. Many people went to Glasgow but Inverness was very important as the Highland Capital. And there was a love of music that was traditional there. But my dad also pushed the boundaries by doing lots of crossover stuff too, although both my parents were Mod gold medallists.
“Dad had gone to Russia beating 700 competitors to win a singing gold medal– President Kruschev presented it to him. That was an amazing platform for Dad!
“But he came back regularly to the Empire and of course Eden Court, later, so there was always a big connection for us with Inverness."
From Fiona, you get a sense that her life as a young girl in a family that was well-known in Scotland as singers and performers, was just ordinary for her, though it might have seemed glamorous to her audience at home.
"You just do not remotely think of the glamour. Maybe from the outside, but that’s the way life tends to be.
"There is the reality of going to school and five kids under seven.
"Dad was on the road all the time and Mum was holding it all together.
"It didn’t seem glamorous," said Fiona. "But I certainly loved it.
"What is normal in your family is just, what is normal for you!
"We were endlessly rehearsing, or dad and mum were doing shows. I guess that was 'celebrity', I don’t really like the word celebrity, but maybe on TV my parents had really captured a time.
Modestly, Fiona added: "I guess with TV in the 60s there were only two channels!
"I suppose that dad, in many ways, brought us into everyone’s front room, as a kind Scottish Von Trapp family, if you like.
"But we just thought it was normal and fun, as most kids would.
"I’m the one who is not normal, in as much as my other sisters were not for that career path.
"I think they enjoyed it to a point, but not enough to do it as a career, whereas I got the bug – if you could call it that – for performing and communicating.
"Whether it is Scottish culture, folk or Americana, I like the breadth of that music. And I did lots of kids’ TV, Record Breakers, all that stuff.
"My idea of rebelling was to go off and do stuff other than singing, so that is why I did lots of children’s presentation and moved to London. worked for the BBC, did a lot of children’s programming. I worked on both programmes out of Scotland and network programmes in London.
"It was a great footing and grounding because at that time dad put on what were, basically, variety shows. So he would perform sketches, there was comedy as well as music with ceilidhs, as well as other things. I embraced it all.
"I loved it all and still do.
"I’ve never really lost my enthusiasm and what is lovely about our youngest daughter Sophie going into the world of acting is that she has had that balance of a father who is a businessman, but a mother who is a creative and a singer."
In contrast to Fiona who grew up in the world of performing, Sophie has had the chance to see a family life being involved in both performing and the fishing industry which is where her father's business is centred.
Fiona's other children are her son Francis who works with his father – also Francis – in the fishing industry. And Fiona's eldest, Hannah, is a mum of three young children and runs, with her husband Eric Heerema, award-winning Nyetimber English sparkling wine.
"Sophie has had a more balanced perception and was under no illusions about how difficult this business is," Fiona said.
As Sophie Kennedy-Clark, Sophie has followed her mother 's career into performance. In movie Philomena Sophie played the young Philomena, Judi Dench taking the role later in the film. Sophie won a Scottish BAFTA for her performance.
Now working all over the world, the young actress has also appeared as early film actress Mary Pickford in LA in an arthouse filmabout the star.
Sophie has also made her own short film, Gutter Punk, with a theme tune written for her by KT Tunstall.
Fiona had just enjoyed the chance to join her daughter for a rare appearance together at a university carol service in London when she spoke to whatson-north about her career in the spotlight. a few weeks ago.
And it turns out that Burns' Suppers and other appearances have been a staple through her performing life.
"I've been invited to lots of Burns nights, from Chicago to Malawi, Dar Es Salaam to Johannesburg to New York.
"I’ve done unbelievable Burns' Suppers around the world, as well as ones in our village hall – and around our own table at home. As well as the Caledonian Club in London with Andrew Marr, there has been an unbelievable spectrum.
"Of course, I really love Burns' music and poetry.
"And for me so much of it as relevant today as it was in the past – and in fact in an almost prophetic way – just the fact that we all sing Auld Lang Syne everywhere in the world at New Year, though maybe most of the world doesn’t realise that it is one of Burns’ songs.
"But with Nae Ordinary Burns Supper, I wanted to do something that I felt had a bit of a contemporary twist on it.
"For example, you ask yourself, 'If Burns were alive today, would he be writing love letters – or would he be texting them?
"I’m sure he would be active on social media – but what would he be saying – and how would you link a love song?
"Those songs speak to us in an international language – in a language that a tune or a lyric will touch you. How do we link that with Burns?
"It was 10 years ago I started these nights in Aberdeen and I just called it Nae Ordinary Burns Supper.
"We decided to do it without speeches per se.
We thought 'Let’s do it through music and make the music weave through Burns' originals with something contemporary'.
"Last year we did Burns, the Beatles and Bacharach. This year we will do some Bette Midler in with Burns.
"John Bett and myself do a little script where we bring in some of Burns’ work and then we have a sample of Bette Midler. You can have My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose – but with The Rose!
"So we bring it together that way."
Fiona emphasises how much she enjoys the chance to perform.
"There is nothing better than speaking to, singing to or connecting to a live audience," Fiona said. "That for me is the biggest buzz because you are there, in the moment and you just get so much from an audience."
For full details of this year's Inverness Burns' event on Friday, January 24 at the Drumossie Hotel, head to the website: