Matthew vanKan in Doha

Charismatic British crooner on life, music and Bonnie Tyler

Matthew vanKan in Doha

How did you get started performing?
I learnt the words to Bonnie Tyler’s ‘It’s a Heartache’ listening to the radio and sang it on Brighton Beach in front of the Punch & Judy stand - I was three! I don’t cover any Bonnie Tyler songs these days.

You do a lot of swing music now: what’s challenging about it?
One of the greatest challenges with the songs of the swing era is to sing them with ease but they’re not easy songs to sing. You listen to Frank Sinatra and it sounds so effortless but it isn’t. It’s very physical. I’m very into my fitness which I think helps enormously and the voice is like a muscle, if you work it then it gets stronger. I hope my sound pays homage to the great iconic singers of the past but also has my personal stamp on it. The music is nostalgic and packed with emotion. It can be poignant but also humorous, high energy and fun!

About that fitness thing: you’re jumping out of a plane soon, aren’t you?
I’m jumping out of an aeroplane in September with a parachute on to raise money for Chestnut Tree Children’s Hospice in Sussex, UK. I went to visit them this year and was so moved by what they do there I decided to get more involved. I was thinking about strapping a video camera to my head and singing ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ on the way down!

Who are your biggest influences?
Frank Sinatra for his genius phrasing definitely but I love the voice of Nat King Cole more; there’s a richness there that I adore - especially in the lower register of his vocal. I grew up listening to John Denver, learnt to play the guitar and knew all of his hits. I still love a bit of country music now.

What’s on you iPod?
Emeli Sande’s debut album - I’m still not tired of it. Beautiful album by a guy called Michael Kiwanuka called Home Again which is so timeless. And most of Sinatra and Nat King Cole’s catalogue. When I’m learning a new song I try to listen to every version of it that I can find. The resident pianist and musical director at The Ivy Club in London gave me some great advice a couple of years ago - he said ‘Listen to the way women like Ella Fitzgerald or Etta James sing the tunes because woman use their voices differently’. I also love the sentiment you find in a female’s delivery of a tune compared to the male version.

What’s your guilty pleasure track?
Cheryl Cole’s ‘Call My Name’ - I can’t believe I’m admitting to this one so publicly!

Does the show change depending on where in the world you are?
My performances change constantly. If I’m just performing with my smaller band then I can pick and choose what to sing next depending on the audience and their mood. The more musicians then the more structured things have to be. I like to bring something new to each place and have fun with it.
He takes the stage in the gardens at the Grand Hyatt Doha on April 21, supported by Doha Jazz. Tickets are QR100. Call 7021 8096.

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