Award-winning country music artist Kezia Gill told David Hennessy about how she always knew that she was going to be a musician, how her performer father inspired her and the special moment they shared when she won a British Country Music Award.
Derby singer-songwriter Kezia Gill comes from a musical Irish family and describes her late father, a performer for over 50 years, as her mentor while her grandfather was also a tenor.
Gill has been making waves on the British country music scene since she released her debut album in 2017.
She won Best Female at the British Country Music Awards in 2019 and has just released her EP, The Mess I Made.
One of the singles, All Of Me, became her first number one on the singer/songwriter iTunes chart.
Frequently supported by radio’s Bob Harris, Paul O’Grady, and Cerys Matthews, Kezia will be one of the headliners at both Craic by the Creek and Buckle & Boots festivals later this month.
Kezia told The Irish World: “It really is good to have things in the diary. It’s just so wonderful to be playing live together again.
“We started rehearsing a few weeks ago for the upcoming festival season and just to be in a room with the band again, playing the new songs: It’s just got me all kinds of excited.”
Kezia has been delighted to see The Mess I Made being so positively received.
“I think overwhelmed is the word. It only came out yesterday but my phone didn’t stop yesterday with people telling me how much they enjoy the new music.
“That’s why you do it at the end of the day. Chart positions come and go but people loving the music- That’s why you do it.
“For me, this EP kind of felt like it was me really coming into my own.
“Obviously I’m a country singer through and through. I love country music but there are so many different sides to my music. I love rock and americana, blues and roots music as well as Irish traditional which is the first style of music I really fell in love with.
“I wanted this EP to just be me basically exploring the boundaries of genre.
“A lot of the songs on it are songs that I wrote purposely because I thought, ‘You know what? These are going to sound amazing live’.
“Very much like a story jumps off the page, I want these songs to jump off the stage. I want people to feel the music.
“For example Live it Up is about living as if this is the only night you’ve got, throwing caution to the wind and saying, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to live my best life. I’m not going to worry about tomorrow’. Which is a sentiment I hold very dear.
“And coming out of lockdown, we realize just how fragile life is and how much we now all appreciate live music and the arts. I just think everyone is desperate for live music so this EP is just really an explosion of my creativity and I just can’t wait to play it live.
Although she is excited to be returning to the stage, Kezia will not refer to the pandemic as time that needs to be made up for. She says it was a ‘gift’ as it gave her time to grieve for her father Eddie who passed away just last year.
“I don’t necessarily see the pandemic as lost time, I actually see it as a gift.
“When we went into the first lockdown, I had just lost my father from cancer.
“Having that chance to stop, to reflect, to grieve, to be able to stay at home- I just think had I had to have that busy summer season, whilst trying to grieve would have been a very difficult, very difficult thing for me to do.
“I don’t look at that as lost time. I was able to write and produce the EP in lockdown.
“So coming out of the pandemic now, I actually feel like I’ve grown as an artist and I look at that time as a gift.
“Now I feel like I’m a bullet from a gun. I am ready.
“I’ve spent the last 15 months getting ready and with events like Craic by the Creek and Buckle & Boots, I’m just so ready.”
Growing up in a very musical house, Kezia credits her late father with inspiring her to do what she does.
“I don’t think there was ever any question that I was going to be anything else.
“My dad was a performer. His dad before him was a performer. I grew up with Irish music.
“From being able to talk and walk, that’s all I wanted to do and I had a wonderful guide and a wonderful mentor in my father.
“He wasn’t just one of my influences, he was my only influence.
“He used to take me to open mics and Irish trad sessions, he’d throw me in at the deep end.
“I would be 9, 10, 11 years old and he would take me to these Irish trad sessions and say, ‘Right, they are in the key of C. Off you go’.
“That’s how you learn, you just have to follow the music.
“It was so lovely to have that guidance for as long as I did have it and he still guides me to this day. It’s sad that he can’t be here in body but he is with me every step of the way.
“I have photos of me at the age of five or six, and I’m up on stage with my dad. He would be at his shows and he would call me up. And the microphone is bigger than my head, I’ve got two tiny hands on it and I’d be singing crazy by Patsy Cline or The Fields of Athenry.
“I was playing the guitar before my arms were even big enough to reach around it.
“I don’t ever remember not being musical.
“There was always music in the house. There was always song and there was never any doubt that that was what I was gonna do.”
Kezia laughs as she retells her father’s famous story of playing with Big Tom and the Mainliners. Well actually he just played with the Mainliners..
“Every time there was a family drinking session or the whiskey came out, we got the old Ireland stories.
“He always used to tell a wonderful story of when he was in Ireland.
“My dad could have only been 18 or 19 and they went to one of the big show dances that they used to have in these old church halls: Big Tom and the Mainliners were on.
“It was during a break and my dad said, ‘Do you mind if I get up and sing a few songs?’
“It was just him and his guitar. He got up and he started playing and one by one the band started to join him onstage and by the end of my dad’s set he had the whole band and Big Tom was not happy apparently.
“He was like, ‘Who is this young guy? And why is he playing with my band?’
“Dad said he got the whole place jiving and my dad was convinced that he was the reason the Irish love jiving so much.
“He said he brought jiving to the Emerald Isle,” Kezia says laughing.
The Midlands-based singer-songwriter paid tribute to her father in the song Local Man’s Star. Written while he was still with us, it can still be very emotional for her to sing.
“Even when I first wrote that song, it took quite a long time for me to be able to just sing it and not be emotionally attached to it.
“I couldn’t sing it live in front of my dad for quite a while. I kind of gave him the CD and I said, ‘Look, this is what I’ve written for you. I can’t be in the same room when you listen to it’.
“I have sung that song through this pandemic on my live stream shows. Sometimes I get emotional, sometimes I’m able to get through it but I think what’s lovely is having people follow my music so closely.
“People now do know the words and I think what will be quite emotional and perhaps quite difficult to get past is when I hear people singing it back to me.
“I think that will always bring a tear to my eye because it’s the most special song I’ve ever written so for other people to know the words and sing that back to me will be quite an experience.”
Her father was there for one of Kezia’s most special moments: When she won Best Female at the British Country Music Awards in 2019.
“Winning Best British female at the BCMAs, that wasn’t a ‘pinch me’ moment, that was a ‘punch me’ moment.
“That was like, ‘How is this happening?’
“I’d actually been up for five awards that night and Dad was just so convinced I was going to win every one.
“Four awards came and went and I didn’t win any of them and he was raging. He was fuming, proper Irish fuming.
“By the time the final award came, he was literally ready to go home.
“He was like, ‘I’ve had enough. This is rubbish. They’re all corrupt’.
“It got to the final award and when they called my name, he just burst into tears.
“And he was like, ‘You know what? You’ll always be the greatest in my eyes but it’s so lovely that they’ve given you this award’.
“So that was a funny and emotional night.
“But I think one of the hardest things since losing him is knowing that these moments are going to continue to come and he won’t be there to see them.
“But then I think what I’ve come to realize is that he’ll always be a part of me so as long as I see it, he’ll see it.
“In one respect dad is closer to me than ever.”
It was also in 2019 that Kezia toured Australia with artists like Gary Quinn and Jade Helliwell: “It was unbelievable. It was the trip of a lifetime.
“We played everything from social clubs to massive festivals. It was so much fun and we saw some incredible sights as well.
“The beauty of Australia is one minute you’re in the outback and it’s bone dry. The next minute you’re on the Gold Coast or Bondi Beach and it’s beautiful. Then you’re in the mountains: The kind of place where they would shoot I’m a Celebrity and you’ve got waterfalls.
“It’s like, ‘How is this all one place?’
When Kezia plays Craic by the Creek, she will be on the same bill as Nathan Carter who she really admires and met when they were both performing in Spain years ago.
“He was so lovely. It was the late Nicky James that introduced us, wonderful musician.
“We were actually both working over in Torremolinos at the same time, we were both doing two different festivals.
“I’ve never had the pleasure of singing with him. I’d very much like to so if you’re reading, Nathan, we need to do a duet.
“When I won the BCMA Award, he messaged me and congratulated me.
“He’s a really genuine guy. I’m really looking forward to his set on the Friday night.”
The Mess I Made is out now.
Craic by the Creek runs 23- 25 July. For more information, click here.
Buckle & Boots runs 30 July- 1 August. For more information, click here.
For more information, click here.