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Kathryn Williams: Feet Up.

27 May 2002 | 12:00 am | Chris Ryder
Originally Appeared In

Back In Black.

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Little Black Numbers is out now.

Kathryn Williams is a closet Neighbours fan. "No, no, I'm not," she protests. This is how she and her relatively new husband celebrated their marriage - by sitting down and watching endless Neighbours re-runs on cable. "That's cheeky. I deny it." She giggles. "I shall start my story with Kathryn Williams watches Neighbours daily," I counter. "You bastard, you bastard" she replies. "I'm going to have to come over there now, just to bribe you."

The preceding conversation came about after a natter about English culture and, in particular, the rather excellent series, Cold Feet, and its lively portrayal of the ups and downs and general relationship screw-ups that parallel, pretty much, those that dog most of us normal mess-ups out here.

To be honest though, it's just part of a lovely interview with the utterly charming and beguiling Williams, an already celebrated singer/songwriter who's called a folk artist by some even though that considerably understates her musical gladbag. Two self-financed albums, Dog Leap Stairs (1999) and 2000's Mercury Prize-nominated Little Black Numbers, into her career, Williams is arguably the most magical and profound female artist to emerge in England in recent times - certainly since PJ Harvey.

Little Black Numbers, now being licensed and re-released by East West (for the first time in Australia), is an album you must own if you love exquisite pastoral pop with melodies to die for and lyricism that is as sharp and quick-witted as it is narrative. Kathryn Williams writes short stories and sets them to music. Songs about liars, dogs, betrayals, depression, confusion, and a quiet, seething hatred that pin down the true nature of love. And the music that bears them on their way could only be made by an English artist: an acoustic-based melange where cello and Hammond organ add the warmth without crowding the space in which she likes to let her songs move. Simply, Little Black Numbers is one of the albums of this or any year. Genuinely moving and touching.

Born in Liverpool in 1974, Williams comes from musical stock: her father was a folk singer in the 1960s and music surrounded her so she took piano lessons but ended up preferring the guitar she taught herself to play. Eventually, she attended art college in Newcastle where a flat mate told her she would never make an artist but she could see her writing songs. One thing led to the proverbial another and here we are today. Of course, the Mercury Prize nomination changed everything. Kathryn became an overnight sensation.

Hype aside Kathryn does reveal that her new album is finished and will be released - in the UK, at least - in September.

"It kinda of sounds like Burt Bacharach meets the Velvet Underground," she says. That sounds cool. "It does sound cool," she chortles. "The nice thing is the first album was a beginning with loads of mistakes and loads of problems. Little Black Numbers came next and I thought 'Oh, I'll never be able to make something as good, again.' Then, naturally, I progressed. I'm never trying to say like 'Aaaah, this is the new album so scrap everything. This is it.' It's just a natural growth."

So if Little Black Numbers was spacious and airy and acoustically based and rural, this sounds a little darker and gruntier.

"Believe it or not, it's not really loads more... " She trails off. “On the new album I've written a song called No-One Takes You Home, which is quite drivey, Velvet Undergroundy, feedbacky, kind of hard. Then I wrote another song called I Made The Beatles Appear, which is about a hitchhiker who I picked up and she'd had brain surgery and thought that popular music hadn't existed before she thought of it, which is a mad concept. It's kind of a nice song though. It starts off with 'Our lives were like lines on a map, you could measure us by comparison' and then it becomes quite playful.”

"I just enjoyed trying to be quite arty with my words then pulling it back and taking the piss out of myself with comedy lines. My biggest gripe is people who are lazy with words. I'm not good at talking, talking. But as far song writing goes I can't bear people who don't work hard at trying to be playful with words. I have a love/hate relationship with people. I often love watching strangers because I don't have to see their faults. I just like to imagine stories when I see people. They're really easy short stories. I don't think I could ever write a novel or a book but give me 10 lines and a load of music in-between and I'm fine. It's like people think you are clever but the cleverness is actually making them think you've written loads when you haven't written a lot at all."