“Are you sat here comfy for the ride? Well, they’ve locked the doors so just relax into that boredom!” This is what Kathryn Williams says to the lovely intimate audience of Sage, Gateshead after we are well into the set, celebrating her twenty years in music, across ten albums and quite a few EPs, and her latest release, Anthology. A night far from boredom and a night how I wished that there really was a lock-in.
Kathryn Williams is with Neil MacColl and John Thorne, who are two talented musicians in their own right and have appeared on a lot of Kathryn’s albums. Support act George Boomsma (who also did a blinding opening set) also joins for most of the night, lending his hands to the keyboard. There is an amazing chemistry that happens between them all on stage and not just with the music. It’s like we have become voyeurs to a night of musicians jamming. Through Kathryn’s storytelling of her journey through music, we listen silently and laugh warmly as she stirs the memories of most of the audience too.
My memory is that every time I hear the name Kathryn Williams, I think of a great friendship formed at university. My housemate recommended Kathryn’s music, telling me that it was quirky and different to anything I was listening to at the time, which was heavily Top 40, so she was not wrong. Some of the most simple sounding pieces are actually very complex and to see it come alive on stage, along with the attentive crowd, you could feel every little note on the surface of your skin.
The night is filled with many moments of laughter as we hear stories that include songs written whilst she travelled on motorways – Mirrorball, based on travels along the A1, sees the use of lighting that mimics a mirrorball, whilst Tradition talks about travelling back from her sister’s wedding. We also hear about the time she gave advice to Chris Martin of Coldplay when they were both nominated for the Mercury Prize – hers was for the album Little Black Numbers.
A personal highlight was indeed her performance of ‘Little Black Numbers’ which actually appears on the follow-up album Old Low Light. She tells us that her double bass player didn’t show for a gig but she did have a loop pedal and that’s how the song came to be what it is now. All I can say is, get to a live show and watch the magic happen before your eyes and if there’s a double bass player in the room, let the moment be about Kathryn and her loop pedal as it is everything! However, John Thorne does add extra excitement to the night’s performance when he joins in at the end, but to hear Kathryn’s silky tones layered on top of each other is quite something.
Kathryn Williams’ storytelling is also another level. Due to hurting her thumb whilst setting up the merch table, we get a welcome addition of Paul Smith (Maximo Park) to help perform a cover of ‘Love Hurts’. How they connected is a surprise to everyone but maybe a story never to be repeated. There are no high kicks in sight this evening as both of their vocals take centre stage. I saw Paul Smith on his solo tour and Kathryn joined him on stage for a duet and it is definitely something magical to hear and experience.
Through excitement and celebration we all seem to loose track of time, so much so that an on-stage discussion of how to actually cut the set happens…I would have called to keep us in until the sun rose up, but ‘Heart Shaped Stone’ and ‘Cuckoo’ are the chosen tracks to play, before a thunderous applause happens. And despite the doors opening and the house lights flickering, no one budges as a cover of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ is played as the final track to see out a wonderful night.
Words & Images by Victoria Wai