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Recreating Carole’s rich tapestry

Features | Published:

CAROLE KING wrote and co-wrote some of the best-loved songs of the 60s and 70s. Tom Ogg speaks to Kyla Brown, who will be celebrating her music, along with that of James Taylor's, in a show at the Opera House this week.

When Kyla Brown last performed at the Jersey Opera House, it was for a Neil Diamond tribute show – although not, she points out, appearing as the great man himself.

‘Ahh, no, I was singing backing vocals,’ she laughs. ‘I gave it a go at being Neil, but it didn’t really work.’

Thankfully, Kyla is far more adept at impersonating another musical legend – Carole King – and it is under the guise of the multi-million-selling American singer-songwriter that Essex-born Kyla will be returning to the Opera House stage this Friday.

Titled You’ve Got a Friend – The Music of James Taylor and Carole King, the two-hour production will see Kyla and singer-guitarist Steffan James performing dozens of Taylor and King’s most famous songs.

‘Steffan and I are both on stage throughout the show,’ says Kyla. ‘First, I will talk a bit about Carole King’s history and her music, and play a few of her songs, and then Steffan will do the same as James Taylor. We both provide backing vocals for each other, which is just how Carole and James did it back in the 1960s. In fact, that was how they first became friends. Carole played on Taylor’s [1970 album] Sweet Baby James and in return James played on Tapestry.’

Tapestry, of course, is the 1971 solo album that turned Carole King into one of the most successful female artists in the history of music. The New York-born musician had already enjoyed considerable success throughout the 1960s with a string of pop/rock classics, mostly co-written with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, which became hit singles for artists from The Everly Brothers and The Monkees to Aretha Franklin.

‘I’ve listened to Carole King’s music all of my life,’ says Kyla. ‘My mum was such a huge fan and she was always playing Tapestry throughout my childhood, and so she passed on her love of the music to me. We had a piano in the house and even when I was tiny I would wander over to it and try to play. Eventually, I got pretty good at it.’

Learning how to imitate King’s velvety vocal chords, however, would prove rather less easy to master.

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‘It took a lot of hard work to capture the many nuances in her voice. But I’ve always loved how she does things, and I thought “I really want to be able to perform this music to people”. I’d had Carole King’s voice running through my head for years, so it was just a case of finding it.’

Yet despite this, Kyla initially had her sights set on a very different type of profession: psychology.

‘I did a psychology degree at college, and then I studied sign language and spent several years teaching deaf children.’

It was at the age of 23 that Kyla decided to return to her first love and began playing and singing in local clubs and pubs. It was here that she was spotted by theatre producer Lord Tim Croxford in 2010, who promptly hired her to perform in Rock and Roll Paradise, a tribute show dedicated to rock-and-roll superstars like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison.

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‘I was the first female musician ever to appear on stage in the history of the show,’ says Kyla. ‘I’ve been a full-time professional ever since.’

It was an encounter with producer Dean Elliott in 2015 which then led to Kyla being cast as Carole King in You’ve Got A Friend.

‘I was absolutely thrilled when he called me up and asked me to play my idol,’ she says. ‘We’re a relatively small company – there are only five of us on stage – but the band has a fantastic relationship and I just love the camaraderie between us when we’re performing. We like to interact with the audience as well, whether it’s big or small.’

Asked to name her all-time favourite Carole King track, Kyla cites Home Again (‘it’s such a beautiful, profound song’), although she admits to changing her mind from one day to the next.

‘Sweet Seasons is also a very good song. It’s become one of my morning songs. And I love the title track from Tapestry. It’s very poetic, with a real Joni Mitchell vibe to it. I think it’s quite an underrated classic.’

As for King’s albums, Kyla recommends seeking out 2001’s Love Makes the World.

‘I’ve always really liked it,’ she says. ‘I would also recommend listening to her live material, such as the Tapestry legacy edition, which features her playing all of the Tapestry songs without a band, or there’s the Live at the Troubadour Club material, which showcases her friendship with James Taylor.’

Kyla will be returning to Jersey in August to once again provide backing vocals and piano for Hello Again – The Story of Neil Diamond. For now, however, it is Carole King’s timeless music that Islanders can look forward to hearing later in the week.

‘People are often surprised when they discover just how many classic songs Carole wrote. It was writing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow for The Shirelles that allowed her to become a professional singer-songwriter. Before then she had been working a regular day job, but the song became a huge hit and, thankfully for her, it gave her a career.

‘And thankfully for me too, of course,’ she laughs.

  • You’ve Got a Friend – The Music of James Taylor and Carole King is at the Jersey Opera House on Friday 9 February at 8 pm.

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