A RIP-roaring clarinet, silky sounding trumpet, super smooth bass and guitar, and sassy female vocals – even, occasionally en français. It could be the description of a smoke-filled 1920s/’30s club, but in this case it’s one Little Miss Higgins, who’ll be playing three gigs at this year’s Rhythm ‘n’ Roots Festival.
The singer, a native of western Canada who was raised in the US state of Kansas, took a few minutes to talk about her style last week while on tour in the UK before heading to Kilkenny.
On what attracted her to this style of “old-time country blues sprinkled with a little jazz and maybe a hint of folk”, she said: “I love the sound of it, I love the style of it, I love the creativity of it. It was so unique at the time and the melody lines and the chord structures were unique, and I still find that there’s a lot of room within that style to be explored and to use it as a sort of template or canvas for painting a new picture with that style of music.”
Her interest was sparked, in part, by her love for old movies.
“I always loved watching old movies, and I think part of it was the music that was in these old movies, and also the theatricality of it and performance of it,” she said.
It was around the time when her family moved back to western Canada, that this style of music was becoming popular again. “A lot of the old recordings had been put onto CD and online, so you could find this old music a lot easier,” she recalled. “So I would hear it on the radio and think ‘who is that? I’ve got to hear more of that!’ and I’d have to seek it out.”
The theatricality of her sound also fits in with her background, having studied theatre at a college in Alberta, Canada, although it’s music that is to the fore at the moment.
“I was five when I started playing piano and so it was always a part of my life. Even when I was in theatre, I played music; so music was an aspect to theatre and vice versa,” she said. “I still love theatre and acting and even creating music for theatre. I am open to it all,” she adds.
Indeed, there’s a lively, three-dimensional sound to her songs, the performance aspect audible particularly in the likes of Beautiful Sun and Wash Those Blues Away from her latest album, Across the Plains.
Like many a blues song, there can be more joy and sunshine than just storm clouds ahead.
“That’s something I have found in the music myself from listening to it,” Little Miss Higgins agreed. “Even though the lyrics may be sad at times, the music will be very up beat and I think it’s that way of fighting against the blues and saying ‘I’m going to beat these blues’. It’s about being able to make it happy and lively and get through those hard times.”
Little Miss Higgins is playing three gigs at the Smithwick’s Rhythm ‘n’ Roots Festival: on April 30 at 1pm in Cleere’s, on May 1 at 5pm in the Pumphouse and on May 2 at 4pm in Cleere’s; tickets to each gig are e12 and can be booked from Rollercoaster Records, 056 7763669 or firstname.lastname@example.org.