Kathryn Williams iTunes Tracks Kathryn Williams Official Website

Kathryn Williams

+ {The Crayonettes} + {The Pond}

In such a short space of time in the early 00s things looked upwardly mobile for the versatile Brit-folk singer-singwriter KATHRYN WILLIAMS (born Liverpool, 15 February 1974). Her second album `Little Black Numbers’ had notched up a Mercury nomination on her CV, while a subsequent deal with EastWest/Atlantic Records and manager Alan McGee was promising to bring her bedsitter-styled dulcet tones to a wider audience. It’s one of life’s mysteries that the former Newcastle art college student didn’t quite fulfil expectations, but it wasn’t for the want of trying; maybe the BETH ORTON and NICK DRAKE melancholia approach was too much for post-millennium fickle folkies in wait for something even fresher.
Going back to 1999, it was her debut DOG LEAP STAIRS {*7} – reported recorded for a mere £80 – that caused critics to sit up and take note. Recalling days of Joni, NICO, even Dusty?, the presence of the session cellists gave the album an intimate, brooding appeal on such brittle performances of `Leazes Park’ and `Lydia’, while `Night Came’ and `No-One To Blame’ also stood out. Also initially issued on the independent Caw Records, the aforementioned LITTLE BLACK NUMBERS (2000) {*8} produced some of her most emotional pieces by way of `Jasmine Hoop’, `Stood’, `Fell Down Fast’ and `We Came Down From Trees’; the heavy orchestration arrangements were tempered overall by cellist Laura Reid, double bassist Jonny Bridgwood, classical guitar maestro David Scott and percussionist Alex Tustin.
With basically the same backing players, album three OLD LOW LIGHT (2002) {*7} once again sent critics into raptures, but yet again another album only managed to bubble outside the elusive UK Top 50. Confusingly, it opened with the track `Little Black Numbers’, a jazzy-folk cut that recalled halcyon post-hippie days of the 60s/70s – think BURT BACHARACH – but it’s the smoochy `Beatles’, `Daydream And Saunter’ and `On For You’ that steal the show.
A look at the sleeve to see furniture wrapped in “covers” might’ve been more than a subtle clue to the contents of the ill-advised RELATIONS (2004) {*6} – probably the answer to her commercial undoing as she was subsequently dropped unceremoniously by EastWest. The contrast is here; a wide choice between post-grunge (NIRVANA’s `All Apologies’ and Pavement’s `Spit On A Stranger’) to obscure/avant-garde (IVOR CUTLER’s `Beautiful Cosmos’ and Ralph Rainger’s `A Guy What Takes His Time’), although it’s her version of LEONARD COHEN’s `Hallelujah’ and JACKSON BROWNE’s `These Days’ – once the procurement of NICO – that suit her style best; other covers were from PYTHON LEE JACKSON (`In A Broken Dream’), NEIL YOUNG (`Birds’), BIG STAR (`Thirteen’), The BYRDS (`The Ballad Of Easy Rider’), The VELVET UNDERGROUND (`Candy Says’), TIM HARDIN (`How Can We Hang On To A Dream’), BEE GEES (`I Started A Joke’) and LEE HAZLEWOOD (`Easy And Me’).
Subsequent independent sets OVER FLY OVER (2005) {*5}, LEAVE TO REMAIN (2006) {*6} were overshadowed eventually by her collaborative work with former BIBLE singer-songwriter Neill MacColl (brother of Kirsty, son of EWAN MacCOLL) on the one-off TWO (2008) {*6}; it features their cover of TOM WAITS’ `Innocent When You Dream’. An ascending move to One Little Indian Records secured a better chance for album number seven THE QUICKENING (2010) {*7}, a return to her smoky folk roots and an album recorded in only a matter of days; check out `50 White Lines’, `Winter Is Sharp’ and the piano-laden `Black Oil’. It was still a long way from her bright start a decade ago that also saw her provide backing for JOHN MARTYN on his `Glasgow Walker’ set and an appearance in front of a 2000-plus crowd at an “English Originals” NICK DRAKE tribute night in 1999.
A children’s folk album with a difference and reinforced by Delicate Vomit’s Anna Spencer, The Crayonettes released PLAYING OUT: songs for children and robots (2010) {*5}. Concerning songs about brushing one’s teeth and other electro-type nonsense, the pair had a doting audience – their children.
On the other side of the spectrum, supergroup trio THE POND were Kathryn, plus Ginny Clee (ex-DEAR JANES) on harmonies and Simon Edwards (ex-FAIRGROUND ATTRACTION). Adrian Utley (ex-PORTISHEAD) at the mixing desk, 2012’s eponymous set, THE POND {*7} was a fusion of folk, electronica and trip hop, the ground mainly covered on `The River’, `Circle Round A Tree’ and the dub-step of `Bebop’, the latter featuring rapper Kirsch.
Her tenth and first solo record in years, CROWN ELECTRIC (2013) {*8} was another round of melancholy mood swings in the BURT BACHARACH meets DIDO motif. Comfortable in her lilting vocals, songs awash with nostalgia and enterprise were `Morning Twilight’ (one of two penned with ED HARCOURT), `Sequins’, `Underground’ and `Heart Shaped Stone’.
On a commission by New Writing North and the Durham Book Festival to scribe a concept set on Sylvia Plath’s lone novel, The Bell Jar, 2015’s HYPOXIA {*7} – meaning deficiency of oxygen reaching the body tissue – was a daunting task for Kathryn, in that it dealt with mental health and Plath’s suicide a month after the said book’s publication. Yes, it was 50 years ago, but many of Kathryn’s odes had a timeless aspect although underlining textures she’d explored with her recent “Pond” project. Steering her subtle singing delivery along the lines of moribund and mournful, she still managed to suggest opening-curtains-on-a-sunny-Sunday-morn by way of `Cuckoo’, `Electric’, `Mirrors’ and `When Nothing Meant Less’. Worth half an hour (x3) to get set the mood.
Switching her allegiances to easy listening jazz and teaming up with relatively unknown vibraphone player, Anthony Kerr, WILLIAMS succumbed to performing torch-song covers on RESONATOR (2016) {*6}. Anyone else other than the kooky Kathryn attempting such nocturnal nostalgia (`My Funny Valentine’, `Every Time We Say Goodbye’, `Stormy Weather’, `Embraceable You’, `The Very Thought Of You’ et al) might’ve been critically lambasted, but somehow her sweetly chilled vocal tones escaped the wrath of the jazz gods.
Kathryn proved her dexterity for her next project: a concept soundtrack album in conjunction with a fictional novel by best-selling author Laura Barnett, entitled, confusingly enough for long-time discography affiliates, “Greatest Hits”. Maintaining support from One Little Indian Records, June 2017’s SONGS FROM THE NOVEL: GREATEST HITS {*7} saw both creative parties supply the lyrics based on the 16 chapters/songs within. The double-set/single-CD was augmented by The MAGIC NUMBERS: Romeo Stodart on production, and sister Michele on instrumentation and backing vox. The novel depicted a fictional faded folk-pop star of the early 70s, Cass Williams, and her trials and traumatic tribulations from her childhood to her retirement, whilst the attendant songs (from opener `Common Ground’ to finale `When Morning Comes’) took on a lush, Laurel Canyon depth; `Lilies’ very MAZZY STAR; `She Wears A Dress’ very Motown-esque; `Road Of Shadows’ a post-grunge-y blues number.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jun2015-Jun2017

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