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KT Tunstall

Folk music is a broad church when it comes to artists like KT TUNSTALL, a rootsy pop singer-songwriter that has from time to time given the public the odd folk song, but basically her music is a potpourri of everything from blues and country to rock.
Born Kate Victoria Tunstall, 23rd June 1975, Edinburgh, Scotland, to a half-Chinese/half-Scottish mother and Irish father, she was adopted and raised among the dreaming spires, Sloane ranger students and bracing climate of St. Andrews in Fife. KT learned to sing from an Ella Fitzgerald tape, and began writing songs and playing guitar in her mid-teens. A year’s scholarship to a private American prep school was the cue for her first band, The Happy Campers, as well as her first stab at busking. Back in the UK, she studied theatre and music at London’s Royal Holloway College before heading home to Fife where she hooked up with the nascent Fence Collective, starting a band with Pip Dylan and touring with the Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra. A stint in the capital saw her promoting her own Acoustic Extravaganza nights (a forerunner of the still-going-strong Acoustic Edinburgh) before a 2002 move to London and a publishing contract.
In 2004, she joined worldbeat electronica ensemble, Oi Va Voi, providing vocals on tracks (including `Refugee’) on their debut album proper `Laughter Through Tears’. Despite the disappointment of a scuppered Columbia deal, her perseverance eventually paid off with the recording of a Steve Osborne-produced debut album for Relentless Records (also home to bluesy-eyed girl JOSS STONE).
EYE TO THE TELESCOPE (2005) {*7} announced TUNSTALL as a no-frills troubadour with a yen for cathartic, Celtic-anthemic choruses. A string of singles edged her ever closer to household name status, with both `Suddenly I See’ and the swooning `Other Side Of The World’ knocking on the Top 10. But it is as an albums artist that the lusty-lunged Fifer has made her name, attracting a Mercury nomination, selling a cool one million and seeing off the competition (and outselling even MADONNA) with a deft flick of her beloved loop pedal.
Jools Holland’s `Later With…’ was the first show to beam KT’s foot-stomping charisma into British living rooms, followed by celebrated spots on BBC4’s DYLAN tribute (performing `Simple Twist Of Fate’) and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay shindig in Princes Street Gardens. Subsequently nominated for three Brit awards, she scooped Best British Female Solo Artist.
One of these CD/DVD combinations, the odds ’n’ sods ACOUSTIC EXTRAVAGANZA (2006) {*5} – featuring a rendition of BECK’s `Golden Age’ – marked time while she worked on a proper follow-up, the Top 10 DRASTIC FANTASTIC (2007) {*6}. Dressed like a glam-rocker on the sleeve (think SUZI QUATRO in white!), TUNSTALL lacked the folky punch of her debut, producers getting their way on the sound and image; example singles `Hold On’, `If Only’ and `Saving My Face’. Putting electro-beats into the mix, TIGER SUIT (2010) {*7} was KT re-inventing herself once again with lead single `(Still A) Weirdo’ quirky, kooky and probably fodder for X-Factor contestants. Folk music it was not.
Here is a selection of B-side cover versions, etc:- `Get Ur Freak On’ (MISSY ELLIOTT), `Fake Plastic Trees’ (RADIOHEAD), `Walk Like An Egyptian’ (The BANGLES), `The Prayer’ (BLOC PARTY).
Back on terra firma and upgraded to Virgin Records, KT found her rootsy soul through her fourth long-player, INVISIBLE EMPIRE // CRESCENT MOON (2013) {*8}. Produced and co-penned by GIANT SAND chief HOWE GELB in Tucson, Arizona (whom she met on the Floating Palace project), the unlikely alliance was a masterful stroke. Delicate and fragile, leaning to the side of swathing melancholy, her introspective suites are divided between her divorce to band cohort, Luke Bullen, and the death of her father, David, a physics lecturer at St. Andrews University. Slow burning like a desert sun, TUNSTALL drifts between country-folk, bluesy jazz and Tex-Mex, overseen on several of the gilt-edged tracks, including `Made Of Glass’, the single `Feel It All’ and the RITA COOLIDGE-esque `Carried’.
Returning from sunny south California after working with producer Tony Hoffer, an invigorated carefree TUNSTALL was back in the saddle with a download EP, `Golden State’, a prelude to her fifth proper album, KIN (2016) {*6}. Helmed by the neon pop-rock overtones of `Evil Eye’ (the EP opener) and the SHERYL CROW-esque `Hard Girls’ and `Turned A Light On’, the upbeat Top 10 set proved mighty pleasing for her fans, having strayed not far from her tried-and-tested safe-house template.
If her previous set had centred on “mind, body and soul” motifs, then its sequel WAX (2018) {*7} had KT TUNSTALL again figuring out her sense of self-worth. FRANZ FERDINAND’s Nick McCarthy produced the album, an effervescent Top 20 record full of sparkling songcraft and a stylish swagger. A cathartic, mature and motivational set, the electrifying KT connected on best bits, `Human Being’, `The Night That Bowie Died’, `In This Body’ and the CHRISSIE HYNDE-like rocker `The Healer (redux)’.
© MC Strong 2006-2011/GRD-BG // rev-up MCS Jun2013-Oct2018

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