Seonaid Aitken's in the mood for love

By Stuart McHugh
Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 1:32 pm
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 5:16 pm

Usually we introduce our interviewee with ‘singer’, musician, DJ. In the case of Seonaid Aitken, we require all of these – and many more.

So it’s little surprise that it’s impossible to pin her down – firstly off grid in Shetland, then the previous night’s sellout show in Linlithgow too hectic for a chat, we catch her preparing for her next ‘gig’ – a week at Edinburgh’s Playhouse in 'Hairspray'.

“I love playing musicals,” she says with genuine excitement in her voice. “Oh, but not Thursday, as I’m at the Queen’s Hall with Rose Room”.

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That might be her best-known guise, singer and violinist with the gypsy-jazz four piece. And her favourite?

“That’s my spiritual home,” she agrees, of the frenetic style of fiddle-based music. She describes going to a festival celebrating Django Reinhardt – the guitarist who along with Stephane Grappelli made that genre famous. “I remember hearing ‘la pompe’ – the rhythm of the gypsy jazz style – and thought ‘this is it, where I’m meant to be’.

“So Rose Room give me that freedom to really go for it in that style.”

Her early career set the scene for her busy lifestyle today – a “dancing violin show“ which toured the world, and a stint at Disney in Japan where she became backstage best friends with Mickey and Chip and Dale, although she never saw her fellow performers with their heads off – “strict Disney policy!”

All rather far removed from her upbringing; her dad an accordion player – “really traditional”, her mum active in Glenrothes Amateur Musical Association. “I think that’s what led me to love jazz, because all those songs came from musicals and became jazz standards.”

She’s also a familiar face on the indie scene – previously working with Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble, she appeared with the acclaimed Blue Rose Code at Celtic Connections as well as reuniting with Mull Historical Society – “it was lovely to play Colin (Macintyre)’s music again, like meeting an old friend,” she says of last week’s gig.

And as well as playing blazing fiddle in Rose Room, Aitken also discovered a talent for singing, so much so that she has named Scottish Jazz Awards' Best Vocalist twice. So a more vocal-based release was a logical step.

“I thought was the right time to do a solo album that’s mostly vocals, though there are a good amount of violin solos. I can’t leave my violin behind – that’s my axe!”

Conveniently, The Scottish Session Orchestra – a “supergroup” comprising the top players in Scotland – wanted to showcase their ‘Clockwork Sessions’.

“I did one piece, ‘Misty’, and was blown away by the glorious warm string sound, that’s just heaven for me, so I was delighted at how it turned out.”

And soon, one song became an album.

“It’s very much inspired by orchestrations of Nelson Riddle and Billy May, the 50s and 60s – I love that classic jazz sound, it’s classy as well,” she enthuses.

When Aitken isn’t wearing one of her many hats, she dons presenters headphones for the weekly Radio Scotland Jazz House show, but regular listeners will realise that, labouring the headgear reference, jazz isn’t all about bowler hats or indeed berets, with a younger generation tuning in.

“My taste has grown to love that old style as I’m not that old myself, there’s hopefully a bit of a trend these days from musicians to want string sections to boost their live music - it does add that extra depth, and that extra class.”

As well as the arrangements there’s a new self-penned tune, ‘Papillon’. Not the Steve McQueen prison movie, she laughs – “I remember sitting my dad watching that when I was wee; no, it has that French flavour, about when you first fall in love and get that feeling in your stomach like butterflies - hence the title.”

The album launches at Glasgow’s Concert Hall on Valentine’s Day. “Plenty of time for dinner before!” she jokes.

But for now, she’s picking her violin up and heading to Edinburgh - a whole week of shows in one city actually offering some form of respite before her album launch show?

She laughs again. “I do get around!”

‘What Is This Thing Called Love?’ is out on February 14th 2019. More at seonaidaitken.com