Songwriter and vocalist Kirsty Almeida has, through music and social enterprise, done wonderful things for the city of Manchester. At the beginning of the decade, she was a recording artist with Decca records, but having opted out of her deal to focus on raising children, she established the Wonder Inn – a beautiful, inner city spot where patrons could take a holistic approach to wellbeing, watching live jazz, practicing yoga, drinking coffee, socialising and so much more. Having crafted numerous solo albums before that project and with new material forthcoming, Kirsty has a wealth of music to explore, but for her 19th December Band on the Wall show, she focuses on the timely tones of Winter Songs. We begin our chat discussing the record and how it came together…
You’ll be revisiting Winter Songs on your return to Band on the Wall – an album featuring some beautiful original songs and arrangements of tracks by Joni Mitchell amongst others. When you first had the idea for the album, what did you want to achieve and how did you go about arranging and sequencing the record? Do any particular songs stick in your mind today as favourites from the collection?
KA: ‘Thank you, I absolutely love the wintery magic of Christmas in its darkness, twinkles and melancholy. There is a beautiful idyllic dreamy feel to Christmas with all its abundant glamour and sparkle and yet there a warm melancholy to it too where we reminisce, curl up and miss our loved ones and wish for those we haven’t yet met. I wanted to create a Winter’s album that would hold space for all of those feelings. Cold Lonely Blue is a darker song on the album which for me represents the waste lands within the lack of sunlight and how that affects me in my humanity. It’s a lonely, atmospheric piece that sonically represents the pain I had inside at the time of writing it. I wrote it in the snow in Levenshulme under a cold moon.’
You first played at Band on the Wall in 2010, the same year that Spider and Mr Scruff’s remix of the track were released. What were your first impressions of Mr Scruff’s flip of your song when you first heard it?
KA: ‘I LOVED IT! I heard the first couple of bars and knew it was a brilliant track. Scruff took our riff and wobbled it up Scruff style and it’s awesome. I still love that remix. I heard it once at a festival from across the festival site in its faint tones and ran across the festival shouting yessssssssssssss and then reached the dance floor just as the beat dropped with a thousand people ripping it up. That was an amazing moment for me as a writer. Wow.’
Has motherhood influenced your musical outlook and approach to being an artist and songwriter? Have your children shown an interest in music themselves?
KA: ‘My Son said recently: “Mummy you’re just a singer.. I’m a rockstar.” Enough said. I’m currently just coming back into music as a decision in my career and researching the different ways that I can make this work. Mama Makes Music is quite a journey and one that is unfolding. We will see where it goes. I love music and will always make music. I’m just learning to juggle. I took my son recently to Slovenia on tour with my band and he was happier on tour than at home. He loved it so much and it was a dream come true for me – a real taste of how family and dreams can flow together to make a career. I am aiming my bow at that.’
You’re the owner of some beautiful and characterful parlour guitars. Do you have a ‘go to’ instrument that tends to facilitate most of your ideas, and do any of your guitars have interesting stories or origins?
KA: ‘Yes, I absolutely love antique 18th and 19th century parlour guitars built for the ladies of the parlours to play. They have an indescribable magic to them. One that seems to be woven into the tapestry of their sound. My guitar is called The Jetel and was from 1905, created by an English Luthier. I bought it on eBay and had it set up by a specialist. Years later an amazing slide guitarist called Tom Doughty came round for a jam, having not met before, he spotted the guitar and told me that he had sold it on eBay as he had it hanging on his wall and felt it wanted to write songs – it was the only guitar he had sold! To me. The Jetel has now made two albums and is about to write its next.’
What are your fondest memories from your time running the Wonder Inn?
KA: ‘So many. SO MANY! Phew… I think seeing hundreds of people singing along to conscious, awakened music, snuggled up with their families under blankets under a lantern canopy of the main ballroom surrounded by twinkling lights, gentle sounds and natural essential oils and incenses wiping through the air with fresh flowers and beautiful content smiles on glowing faces. That how I remember the lovely times of which there were so many. What an education that all way.’
You’ve visited some remarkable places during your career, as well as having previously lived abroad. What place left the greatest impression on you on your travels?
KA: ‘So far… Slovenia. I just love it so much. I sang for the G8 in Moscow to 38,000 people – that was quite a sight. I just love everywhere I go. I really do have the travel bug.’
Can you tell us anything about your forthcoming album, or is it under wraps for the time being?
KA: ‘It’s my best yet. For sure. My best writing so far is on this album and I feel a real sense of achievement with this one. My heart is in every case.’
Finally, if you had to recommend one single artist to somebody who was new to folk music and the craft of the singer-songwriter, who would you recommend to them and why?
KA: ‘That’s just too hard. I’d say begin with listening to world folk. Lhasa from Mexico would be a good place to start, then Toumani Diabate from Mali next and then straight to Bob Marley before moving on to every other country and seeing what each one has to offer.’