Writer and photographer Ed King
I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as a ‘Kathryn Williams superfan’, but I championed her Mercury Music nominated album Little Black Numbers before it made the shortlist. Her soft declarations, personal lyrics, and lullaby melodies; Williams was an artist I knew when others didn’t, I think smugly as I hum ‘Soul to Feet’ with a wry smile and Kathryn Williams at the Kitchen Garden Café 24.04raging ego.
But I only learnt about Introductions, the anthology album Williams released on Record Story Day, the day before her Kitchen Garden Cafe Gig. The anthology features handpicked tracks from her 12 studio albums. 12… I own three Kathryn Williams albums. And my musical moral high ground is now just an embarrassing memory.
But it does mean that I am in for a night of new material – even if the material itself isn’t new – and I weave and squeeze through the very full York Road venue to find a suitable seat at the back. I’m excited; I last saw Williams in October 2005 at The Glee Club, when she was touring Over Fly Over (the third of her albums I own) and tonight I have nine more albums to meet. Which I guess is the point.
I perch on my chair at the back (taking photos at the Kitchen Garden Café is about as subtle as a Trump rally) and watch as the Liverpudlian ‘songwriter’s songwriter’ tells the Birmingham crowd we are going to get two sets this evening. A surprise to most of us in the room, but for the audience certainly a welcome one.
‘Fade’ from Williams’ debut LP opens the show, with its almost bluesy swagger and trademark soft vocals – sitting perfectly amidst the Kitchen Garden Café low light and warm décor. Kathryn Williams has a voice angels would call angelic; she’s not going to belt out a Streisand showstopper, but it’s firm, confident, and never has the word mellifluous been more appropriate.
Next is ‘Flicker’ from her second studio album, there’s a pattern emerging, and the one that started the snowball of music industry accolades. Again, it’s pitch perfect, literally, delivered by an artist with self-deprecating humility and yet total control.
Later, she would regale us with memories of being backstage at a Libertines gig (at the time both managed by Alan McGee) and making her excuses to leave the carnage by saying: “…my legs are tired, I’ve been gardening all day. And I’ve forgotten to feed the cat.”
‘Mirrorball’ follows, and the couple to my right (who’s copy of Introductions is now sitting on stage acting as a set list) start to sway. I feel warmer than I did in the sun. And as ‘Spit on a Stranger’ (Williams’ cover of the premillennial Pavement track) sprinkles itself across the room, I am literally on my knees (taking photographs).
At this point the only thing wrong with the world is the noise coming from whatever kitchen appliance has churned into action about five metres behind me. And there’s a lot wrong with the world.
The evening’s second set deviates from the Introductions playlist and even opens the floor for requests – although my fingers crossed pitch for ‘Soul to Feet’ gets lost in a wish list more educated than my own.
Kathryn Williams is a prolific songwriter with a vast back catalogue, one that has been released either through her own imprint, CAW Records, or through the fiercely independent One Little Indian Records, and the veracity of her music shines through.
There is a warm familiarity as she stands almost entwined with the front row; Williams’ vocals are the audio embodiment of a hug from a close friend, and the “very polite” Birmingham audience are brought into her world with grace and kindness.
But her lyrics are not saccharine, far from it, offering an astute analysis of someone who is sensible enough to fear the world but strong enough to love it. And to hark back to my halcyon days of GO TEAM WILLIAMS, listen to ‘Jasmine Hoop’ and tell me you’ve not been there too.
The evening comes to an end with a loop pedal layered rendition of ‘Little Black Numbers’ and an invitation to visit the sprawling merch table, replete with more albums than I have time or money enough to embrace in one night.
Instead, I wait patiently as the woman in front of me asks Williams to outline a tattoo in the making on her arm, a curious request, before putting my hand in my pocket to buy a hardback copy of The Ormering Tide – Kathryn Williams’ debut novel that was released in March 2021.
It turns out she is now a published novelist too, another welcome surprise and challenge to my ego.
For more from Kathryn Williams visit www.kathrynwilliams.co.uk
For more from the Kitchen Garden Café visit www.kitchengardencafe.co.uk