On the eve of the release of Nigel Kennedy’s Four Elements on Sony Classical in 2011, he spoke to the Daily Mail about his ups and downs.
On the classical music world
What really upset people in the classical world was that I had sold so many albums; to them that meant I must be shit. It was like a crime to do well. They don’t know what good music is. They are fascists, trying to control what people look like and how they play. I won’t be told. People want to control me.
On his mother
She used to come and criticise everything I did and it wound me up. She would not just insult me, but also my fellow musicians. She would come backstage and say “Oh, he’s not great and you’re not great” in front of my friends. She would tell me it was shit and I needed to work harder. She and my stepfather would get drunk in my dressing room and slag everyone off. I was more worried about what would happen after the show than the performance itself.
‘I gave her one of my gold records and she put it in the attic. She didn’t want anyone seeing it. I wish she could have relaxed, but she was always worrying that I wouldn’t have a career. Even when I was selling millions of records she thought I hadn’t made it. She never liked me bringing music to everybody.
On his father
He came over to see me only twice. When I was growing up he never gave my mother more than £5 a month. But he came to one of my gigs and started telling me how to play. ‘I thought: “What the fuck is he doing coming here after playing no part in bringing me up and telling me how to play”. I liked him and he was a talented cellist, but he was also an alcoholic.
On changing his accent
Kennedy has been criticised for taking his accent down a few social rungs for more ‘street-cred’ after old BBC footage, from when he was seven, showed him speaking with received pronunciation.
It became a bit of an obsession with [my mother] and it turned me off the whole concept. There were people I admired — jazz musicians who represented another world outside the poncey classical world — and I possibly latched on to their accents.
In an interview with The Daily Express, he explained,
It just sort of changed by osmosis.
On his look
I was living in New York but playing a concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London and didn’t have any clothes to wear. One of the few places open on a Sunday then was Camden Market so I got some semi-punk outfits because that was all they sold.
I’ve always enjoyed cannabis. For me and a lot of my friends it is a way of winding down after a gig. I don’t do anything harder now, but I did in my younger days. I used to really admire some of the musicians who did harder drugs.
And he told Germany’s Bild newspaper, after police raided his hotel during a post-concert party in 2010,
I smoked a little grass. I can’t do this job without it, I need it to relax.
Yet when talking to The Guardian before his Proms appearance in August 2013, he admitted that he still uses drugs stronger than cannabis:
Well, not on a regular level. But I think you should never say no to anything, because that’s just, like, completely limitative. You know, everybody’s going to die at some point, but I seem to be in as good a health as anybody else of my age.
Illustration: Zbigniew Kresowaty via Wikimedia Commons
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.