"Kirsten can change mood, feel and voice texture at the drop of a hat, making for real contrast" (Musician, Sept. 2003)
Through school Kirsten studied classical piano (from age 8) and violin (from 10), progressing through grades until, focussing on the violin, she gave up orchestra, where she was always fighting the urge to improvise, and moved towards jazz and blues. She attached a pick-up to the violin her Grandfather had rediscovered from behind the TV, and played violin in a band from her mid-teens - sometimes pop, sometimes rock and roll, sometimes blues.
Although she used to sing herself to sleep in her childhood, and whistling or singing in harmony was an integral part of washing up as well as growing up, vocal performance emerged gradually from playing violin in bands. At university in Leeds (alongside language study - a different sort of aural training) she started to add backing vocals to the fiddle playing. She wrote and performed vocal harmonies for a singer-songwriter/guitarist and after some busking they put a band together.
A year in Germany which included participating in a choir, developed Kirsten's voice by more formal means and her sight reading ability. When later in Birmingham (1995) Kirsten provided backing vocals for a guitar-pop band The Dry Risers in the semi-final of a national battle of the bands competition, on a recording and for some time afterwards. But she was exploring the potential of her voice and wanting to move towards a genre that would have a place for improvisation. Influences such as Tracy Chapman, Desree and Alanis Morissette had gradually broadened to include Ella Fitzgerald (especially her impressive scat) and in particular Nina Simone (for her expressive facility, the passion of her conscience, and the breadth of her repertoire). She started singing jazz.
In the absence of jazz singing classes she studied jazz piano at the Midland Arts Centre for a year, which introduced her to the workings of jazz and to a fellow aspiring jazz vocalist with whom she worked steadily through the standards. Vocal training then came from respected Birmingham singer Sara Colman, and Kirsten continued her jazz musicianship training in 2003-4 with a course at Goldsmith's College (University of London).
When she met London guitarist Chris Peirce at the Cheltenham International Jazz Festival in 2000 they formed a duo (joined occasionally by trumpet and percussion) which progressed from local restaurants and pubs to jazz clubs and music venues all over the south of England (and further) over that decade. In the same era Kirsten also sang with a couple of different pianists, with a band and a big band.
Kirsten's choice of repertoire for the albums was informed by the experiences of the people she was working with, who were seeking political asylum. Until June 2003 she directed a Gloucestershire-based help centre for refugees, hence the dominance of some key themes: the search for hope and longing for freedom and home. These themes are evident in the duo's 2002 album 'any day now' which reflects an impatience with social injustice. The album's main thread is the search for hope when circumstances seem most hopeless. This leads some to travel in search of hope, despite the cost of this: "even a bad life is a life that you know" (from 'Late Night Train' by Brooks Williams).
Geography and babies have put all this on hold for the time being. Current performances are limited to the home environment. Sadly, the wide repertoire (ranging from lullabies to 'tidy up' songs) is mostly shouted down. But when she returns to public performance the vibe and the repertoire will be different again... Watch this space.