Niki King was appearing in a tent outside Fettes College, where they held a weekend of jazz. I don’t normally like jazz singers, but I make an exception of King: she is great. She should be a household name – like the hobbit Cullum or any of the “jazz singers” who have been selling albums by the bucket-load over the past year or three. But then, if she were, we wouldn’t be able to see her in small gigs like this. The first time we saw her – a few years ago – she was bottom of the bill in a show which also included Tina May and Stacey Kent – singers who really are jazz singers – and she was by far the best singer all evening.
She played two sets at Fettes. The first was more jazzy, in duet with the pianist Paul Harrison: mostly jazz standards and ballads, this was a soulful set. She has a good jazz voice, and she brings the tunes to life, breathing feeling into phrases that are usually worn and familiar.
She had a good foil in Harrison, who brought a great deal of sensitivity to the songs: his playing matched her voice well, and he shone without upstaging her.
The second set added bass, drums and backing vocals to the mix, for a more pop-soul collection of songs, largely King’s own compositions. Harrison added an electric keyboard to the piano, allowing for the more funky nature of the songs. The bass and drums provided a solid backing, and backing singer Madelaine provided some vocal depth.
King had a great rapport with the audience: she knows how to work the crowd. There was a real party – even festival – atmosphere, quite rare for stormy Sunday evening in Edinburgh.