The Singing Kettle were a Scottish folk music and entertainment group who performed traditional children’s songs, along with live theatre performances. Originally from the village of Kingskettle in Fife, they were formed by established folk singers Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise, eventually being joined by musician Gary Coupland. In 2012, founding members Fisher and Trezise retired from performing with the group, and three years later in 2015 the group performed their last live shows.
The group were awarded a BAFTA for best children’s TV programme and Fisher, Trezise and Coupland were made MBEs for their services to the entertainment industry.
Husband and wife Cilla Fisher and Artie Trezise started touring as a folk singing duo in the mid-1970s.
The group name “The Singing Kettle” came about in 1982. Their first venture under this title was a children’s album, featuring everything from traditional Scottish rhymes to songs learned on their folk tour of the USA. For certain tracks, real children were used, including their daughter Jane, creating the first set of “Kettle Kids”.
The idea came of turning “The Singing Kettle” album into a show, as they were unimpressed by other, few, children’s theatre shows at the time. The show toured to primary schools, with the idea of clues for songs found inside kettles, and for this they recruited their friend, musician Gary Coupland. The touring show eventually developed into a more plot-led piece of musical theatre and they began performing in large scale theatres across the country. Over the years the Singing Kettle have presented their own specially written shows including The Boogie Woogie Zoo, The Time Machine, Pirates, Wild West Show, Medieval Madness, World Tour, Funny Farm, and Homemade Band. Additionally some of their shows have raised awareness of important topics, notably road safety (Busy Road Show), good dental hygiene (Tooth Happy Songs) and pollution (one of the Adventures in Kettleland episodes).
They were joined for a time by Cilla and Artie’s daughter, Jane, who left to be in the electro band Motormark, replaced by Kevin McLeod – the former company stage manager. In 2003 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released The Singing Kettle: Singalong Songs from Scotland, the group’s first recording to be widely distributed outside the United Kingdom.
Alongside being performers, The Singing Kettle sang the theme song to a Scottish TV series for children, cartoon programme Meeow!, which ran from 2000–2002. Meeow! was latterly shown on wknd@stv in 2009.
Aside from their several albums of traditional children’s music, The Singing Kettle has also released several DVDs and made five television series with BBC Scotland and two television series with Scottish Television. They also tour regularly throughout the United Kingdom, performing their highly successful stage show. They have performed command performances before both Prince Charles and Jordan’s royal family. The three founding members of The Singing Kettle (Fisher, Trezise, and MacLeod) have each been honoured with the MBE. There was a Singing Kettle Shop in Kingskettle which sold all sorts of different merchandise, as well as being home to the company offices.
The group announced in October 2012 that they were auditioning for a new permanent member. Later that month they announced that Fisher and Trezise were retiring from performing and would continue to work on writing and behind the scenes. Coupland and McLeod were joined by Anya Scott-Rodgers.
In September 2014, the group announced that the ‘Big Christmas Party’ show would be their final tour, and that they would be breaking up in February 2015 after 32 years. The group performed their last show in Aberdeen on 15 February 2015. McLeod, Coupland and Anya are continuing to work together in a group called Funbox.
Willie, Henry and Maw
Willie and Maw (played by Trezise and Fisher) started during the late 1980s in “cutaway” scenes from the group on their stage and TV shows. Willie and Maw were highlights of The Singing Kettle’s tours until the 2002 line-up change, when Willie’s “long lost brother” Henry (played by MacLeod) arrived and Maw was dropped from the shows. Willie and Henry haven’t been seen since the “Christmas Pyjama Party Tour” in the 2009/10 Christmas season show.
Bonzo the Dog (played by Macleod) is the “pet” of the group who first appeared in “The Homemade Band Show” as an angry next door neighbour. After the success of The Homemade Band Show and the interest in the character of Bonzo, he returned for “The Jungle Party” and went on to appear in all following shows.
Bonzo has become a favourite with The Singing Kettle’s fans. He was made into a toy and it was a bestseller in the group’s merchandise. A collection of Bonzo’s appearances on the tours, along with special recordings was released on DVD in 2005.
The character of Bonzo continues to appear in Coupland, McLeod and Anya’s new show, Funbox.
Jock and Jeremy
Jock and Jeremy (also played by Trezise and MacLeod) replaced Willie and Henry for the “Boogie Woogie Zoo” tour (and onwards) as two chefs. Following Trezise’s retirement as a performer, Macleod continued to play Jock until the final tour in 2015.
The Television series was commissioned by BBC Scotland after visiting the group performing in Dunfermline in 1988. When Liz Scott the director of the series showed Anna Home BBC Head of Children’s programmes she did not believe it would travel south of the border. She thought it was “too couthie and very Scottish”.
BBC produced five series of The Singing Kettle between 1989 and 1993, which featured the original band members, Fisher, Trezise and Coupland.
In 1995, the group starred in The Singing Kettle News for Scottish Television which was followed by ‘The Singing Kettle Show’ in 2000. These two series also featured Jane, in addition to the original three members. In 2016, the series produced for Scottish Television began airing on STV Glasgow and STV Edinburgh as part of their ‘Wean’s World’ children’s programming strand.
“Spout, handle, lid of metal, What’s inside the Singing Kettle?” was created by Fisher just before the BBC came to visit the group perform in Dunfermline in 1988, as they believed they needed something for the BBC. The rhyme has been used in every show for selected songs on the playlist, however there have been exceptions.
One exception was in the 1991 Christmas Cracker Show for the BBC, where song clues were in giant crackers (with a kettle shaped card attached bearing a riddle with clues to what is inside) and this sentence was chanted by Fisher and Trezise over the Singing Kettle rhyme’s backing music (where the children join in is denoted in bold): “Well, there’s only one way for us to find out, so as loud as you can… everyone shout… crack the cracker!” However the original rhyme was used in part three of backstage commentary where Trezise, Fisher and Coupland were retrieving their Christmas presents from Father Christmas, which were placed inside a kettle.
Another exception was in the mid-1990s ‘Singing Kettle News’ shows for Scottish Television where the rhyme was used at the end shortly before the closing credits in each episode, to retrieve the newspapers that had been put together that episode.