Talking Music: Kathryn Williams Discusses Anthology Release and UK Tour
Liverpool born singer/songwriter Kathryn Williams releases her twenty-disc anthology via One Little Indian on August 30, 2019.
Stretching across two decades worth of work, from her 1999 debut album, Dog Leap Stairs, Anthology is lovingly curated and presented featuring new art by Kathryn herself. Anthology not only features Kathryn’s original albums, newly packaged in a slip case book, but also another book of ten CD’s consisting of rarities, a book of interviews and a book of lyrics, in Kathryn’s own words, “It’s a treasure trove!”
On the eve of the release and ahead of an autumn UK tour which brings her to the Folk House, Bristol on October 4, Kathryn Williams chats to Andy Howells about the Anthology.
So, the Anthology set is covering your solo output for the last two decades?
Yes, twenty years! I got the rights back for my major label records. I spoke to the label I'm on - One Little Indian - about It and they were saying “Oh, we should do a best of.” I was like “Well, we could do a box set. It grew from there.
They were saying, “We could do all your albums, it will be lovely!” I said, “Well my fans are so loyal and lovely, I don't want to cheat them into buying everything they've got just in a new package. If they are going to get a box set, I want them to get a large amount of something that we've never had before, that they can’t get anywhere else.”
Putting the box set together has been a real labour of love for you?
It really has. We started working on it in 2015. That included two years compiling with me going through everything from the past, trying to work out which songs that go with each album.
It’s like a journey, all the artwork, the lyric book and then there’s an interview of which a journalist did with me about each album.
Then we had all the problems, we’d got people to pre-order. Then the plant that made it boxed it up before the glue was dry. They shrink wrapped it, put it on a boat to us and it came ruined! We had to get all that sorted out, so there’s been loads of delays. Out of all the hundreds of pre-orders, everyone has been so understanding, but it’s had a difficult birth!
So, with the box set, you get the original albums, plus bonus discs to accompany each one?
Yes, and they’re related, which I thought would be nicer than doing one bonus album of bits and bobs. So, on the very first one, Dog Leap Stairs, I found a tape which was my Gran’s, of me singing when I was about four! That’s special to me, so that’s the first track on the first bonus CD.
It ranges from some live tracks to some that were recorded in studio and never released. I always do more songs when I ever put out on the record, so there's loads that have never been heard, either home recordings, demos or studio mixes, all a real mis match of things, but related to each album.
As you’re a creative person, do you find going back over old material a bit of a challenge, perhaps finding some pieces you might not want to look at again?
Yeah, I do. Some of the songs on here aren't polished and slick. Some of them are home recordings of what later went on the album, just so that people can see the very first beginnings of a song and how it came. I’m literally writing a song and I press record as I'm writing it in my head.
It's like a backstage pass into the intimate world of writing and music making.
Over twenty years, we’ve accessed many different types of recordings via CDs, Tapes and vinyl, but then you have all the minidiscs and DAT’s plus stuff in the studio. Trying to get through everything it is still a drop in the ocean of what I’ve got, it’s a lot!
In this time, you’ve clearly developed as an artist.
I’m a different person now and its weird hearing the younger you, recordings from twenty plus years ago and you go “Gosh is that me?”
Before the Anthology, I never really looked back, I’ve always been going forward, so it was quite a strange thing to turnaround and look twenty years behind me!
It’s an odd thing because it feels like I’m closing a chapter in a way, but It felt like it needed to happen because I’ve got a lot of new things happening and coming out.
Maybe in the next twenty years I can get my second Anthology out! I just want to keep going and search for the songs!
Were there any surprises for yourself on the Anthology as you were uncovering material?
There were loads of songs that didn’t make it on to Crown Electric. The bonus album for Crown Electric, I just think is amazing. There’s Sorrow Flies and Same Page from that and there was a song called Covers, which I can’t believe didn’t get on an album. Its just one of the best songs. That could be an album itself.
Looking back, I’m just proud that so many songs are getting to see the light of day. There’s a nice experimental backwards bass I did of a Beatles song, And Your Bird Can Sing. On the bonus disc of Relations, there’s also loads of cover songs that have been done live.
It’s a real treasure trove and I feel a bit knobby saying that, but it’s a nice gift to give back to people supporting me!
Compared to some musicians, you’re highly prolific. I can’t think of many artists who have produced ten solo albums across twenty years.
With those artists it can be quality and perfectionism. I do have that too, I work every day. Sometimes I work eighteen-hour days. I work with other people, I'm a mum, I make every second count!
You’re also very active on social media platforms. Fans can often see what you’re working on and your new ideas. Do you get inspiration from the feedback?
What I do get is a connection. Very early on, it was difficult for me. I did have stage fright, agoraphobia and panic attacks. I always felt people were going to laugh at me or that I wasn't good enough.
What I do like about being the person on the end of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is that it is me and it isn't somebody else doing it. If somebody asks something, I'm happy to reply. It brings me closer to people. At the end of the day, we're just people, you know?
You’ve recently been creating lots of original artwork to sell at your forthcoming shows. How do you tap into that creativity?
I sat down with my son who loves drawing and said, “We’ll do some art!” I really used to like doing paintings and I was telling him about it and showing him. We sat down at the table and by the end of the day, I had ten paintings!
I had this real sense of time slowing down. When you’re busy, I think it’s important to do things that slow your time down, whether its cooking a meal, doing a painting or reading. Social media and stuff take up so much time, always renewing and refreshing, you could be on it all day.
When you take time out do something that you love, it gives you a sort of satisfaction that you wouldn't otherwise get.
You’ve created artwork for the Anthology box set, that’s taken you full circle, because you hand drew the covers for your first CD releases over twenty years ago?
Before Dog Leap Stairs, the first thing I did was fifty original water colours and I even did the Letraset lettering by hand. It took longer than it did to make any of the songs.
It's come full circle really because everything's now streaming and online, so you need to make something precious and special. Selling paintings online and on tour is something special. Also, things like the box set. Presently, we are not putting the bonus CD material anywhere except on the box set.
You’re out on tour across the UK soon. The nearest you’ll be coming to South Wales is Bristol, but I gather you’re a bit disappointed you haven’t got a Welsh date scheduled in this time?
My family are originally from Wales, I’m a Williams! I’ve played Cardiff and both Newport’s and got them confused in the past when travelling to the gigs and noticed after half an hour of driving (Laughs). I’ve played Swansea, although I’ve hardly played North Wales at all.
What I want to do is get a good Welsh promoter to book me on just a Welsh tour! In fact, anyone who comes to the Bristol gig from Wales, gets something free from me!
As you’re touring to coincide with Anthology, I’m guessing its going to be difficult to know what songs to feature?
I’m asking everyone to bring sleeping bags because it’s a twenty-hour set (laughs). I’m going to try to do songs through the years that mean something, and stories attached to that, but also have some in the bag in case people shout things out.
Do you like to be spontaneous at a gig rather than have it all planned out?
I used to hate it, because I needed a set-list for my nerves!
Occasionally, if someone shouts something out, I’ll do it. I usually go “I haven’t planned it, lets see how bad this goes!” and we’ll all have a laugh together!
Only in the last couple of years have I realised the value of a live show. Its an event that happens once, its never repeated, even if you go to see the same person play, you’ll never be at that gig again! It’s quite a big gift to give as an artist as well, to go out and use your time and do this. You want to make it special for the audience and you want to make it special for you, because its precious and you don’t know how many gigs you have left in you!
You’re all in the moment together.
For full details of Kathryn Williams forthcoming tour and how to order Anthology visit www.kathrynwilliams.co.uk