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31.03.20   >   Katie Bite: Forgetting All My Troubles

forgetting all my troubles

30.03.20   >   Auto-Tune

I got to thinking about auto-tune for some unknown reason. It’s that tricksy software that can change the pitch of vocals (or indeed instruments) when they are a little bit off where they should be. Cher brought it into the public consciousness by using it as a deliberate artistic tool on her 1998 song “Believe”. Was it necessary? In Cher’s case, absolutely not. Listen to the “with” and “without” samples and decide for yourself. Cher can give you goosebumps without electronic trickery—just listen to “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” or “Just Like Jesse James”. But let’s be clear here—there was no subtle con going on with “Believe”. They used auto-tune at it’s highest setting to deliberately get that vaguely robotic sound. I don’t think it was at all necessary but Cher wanted to go with it and at the end of the day you have to respect an artist’s choices and hear them as they wish to be heard.

Cher - Believe (with Auto-tune)

Cher - Believe (without Auto-tune)

Is auto-tune a good thing in general? It has been widely criticised for covering up an artists inability to sing in key. But you could argue that it is no worse than a writer using Grammarly to tweak their writing or a graphic artist doing a little photo “enhancement” with Photoshop. Its use is probably far more widespread than people realise—it has been ubiquitous in recording studios throughout the 21st century to make sure virtually every artist sounds pitch perfect in a world where perfection is deemed necessary.

Which means we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room—has Katie used it? Well, I’ve never heard her nor Mike Batt mention it but it will have been part of the toolbox of the recording studios she has used and its use is said to be prevalent within the industry. However, there’s an important point to remember about auto-tune: it’s a corrective tool. If you sing correctly then it has nothing to correct, just as if you spell your words correctly then a spellchecker has nothing to change. Bearing that in mind, it is extremely likely that auto-tune sits twiddling its thumbs when Katie sings. I’d like to think she turns the damned thing off anyway on point of principle but I really doubt it has had much use in her career. You can think of it as a safety net that she isn’t likely to need. In the majority of cases where it is used it is very subtle, so much so that many listeners would never notice it had been used. Don’t forget, Cher’s deliberate use of it required it to be turned up to 11—at its normal setting it probably wouldn’t have had much effect.

Auto-tune can be used in real time, i.e. live, and it garnered negative reactions again when The X-Factor admitted using it to make their contestants sound better. There were times when it was obvious but I go back to the earlier point that it only corrects something if it needs correcting. There is a school of thought though that perfection in a studio is one thing but when performing live an artist should be themselves, warts and all. To this end, David Mindel launched a campaign called “Live Means Live” for artists to perform gigs with no auto-tune or backing tracks, and Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran have joined it. When all is said and done, it’s the little imperfections that make us human and we should embrace them.

29.03.20   >   Lyric Card: Turn To Tell

turn to tell

28.03.20   >   Track Notes 87: Deep Purple

Album:  

Writer(s)

Peter DeRose, Mitchell Parish

Length:

3:49

Notes:

Back to that great old American Songbook we go. This classic was written as a piano piece in 1933 by Peter DeRose. The sheet music sold so well that Mitchell Parish added lyrics in 1938 and it has never looked back.

If you're a trivia junkie then how about this: the rock band Deep Purple were named after the song—as unlikely as that sounds, when they were looking for a name Richie Blackmore suggested it because it was his Nan's favourite song and they went with it.

Amongst the many covers are an instrumental version by The Shadows and a duet by Donny and Marie Osmond. What a world. One of the best versions was by Sammy Davis Jr until Katie came along and took the song to a new level, as per usual.

YouTube:

Only offering on YouTube is one of those photo slideshow jobs, mixing pics of Katie with a few paintings. But it's better than nothing. Deep Purple.

Lyrics:

Deep Purple 

27.03.20   >   Performing Live

I want to give a quick reminder to those of you that subscribe to Amazon Prime in the UK that you have access to Katie’s wonderful exclusive concert at Cadogan Hall from 2017. It’s brilliant, of course. It’s Katie.

katie at cadogan

This seems like a good opportunity to talk about performing live. I’ve seen a few noblets on Twitter criticise Katie for not engaging more with the audience. Well, she doesn’t need to. She lets her music do the talking. You go to her concerts to hear her sing not so see a stand-up routine or watch her dress like Elvis and crowd surf. I suspect those critics weren’t particularly Ketefans, just the types that go to concerts for just about anyone who’s in town. Real fans go to see her perform the music they love and they sit mesmerised by a top artist at the top of her game.

Personally, I hate crowd participation. Rhythmic monkey-clapping is inane and annoying and just spoils the performance. Even worse is when an artist points the mic at the crowd and invites them to sing. Bugger off, I’ve paid fifty quid to hear you sing not this tone deaf mob. If I wanted to hear them sing I’d have bought a ticket to “The Audience—Live in Concert”.

Katie does throw in the odd comment and anecdote here and there and that’s enough; we don’t need to hear lengthy explanations about every song. This was particularly important with the “In Winter” tours, which were themed and designed to have a certain flow and ambience and take the audience on a journey. Too much babbling would have ruined the vibe of it all. It was pitched perfectly and those that thought she wasn’t engaging were clearly completely failing to immerse themselves in the experience. They were the sort that want a guided tour round an art gallery telling them what they’re supposed to think about each painting. You’re meant to decide what it means to you, not someone else! I need to draw a line under this quickly because it is in danger of turning into a full-blown rant. I know some of you, at least, will be with me.

26.03.20   >   Surprise People!

While we are all shut away from each other there will be many birthdays and anniversaries that won't get celebrated properly. We can't get out to buy gifts. We can't get out to give them. This is a time for imagination to kick in. We can still do things to amuse and entertain each other and lift someone's spirits. It's a time to think outside the box. You have the whole internet at your disposal! And it doesn't have to be a special occasion, you can just surprise someone with something to cheer them up.

Let me lead by example. Here's a fun idea you can do for someone: make them a playlist of the Top 20 at the time of their birth. You can get the info you need from officialcharts.com and then create a playlist in Spotify or Apple music. It's a fascinating (and scary) snapshot of what the world was like when you entered it.

By way of a thank-you to Katie for the incredible music she has given us, here is her Birthdate Top 20 Spotify Playlist. There's some good stuff in it but just make sure you know where the skip button is before you get to number 5.

katie's birthdate playlist

The Top 10 Singles as they were when Katie was born. Altogether now, "Agadoo doo doo push pineapple shake the tree..."

25.03.20   >   Music In A Time Of Need

It may not always seem that way but human beings are basically social animals. And with the restrictions the government is now imposing on us there will be many people that find it difficult to cope without the human touch. If, like me, you’ve lived alone for years then things may not seem too different. I’m fortunate to be happy with my own company and I don’t generally experience loneliness very often but I know people who can barely function alone. If you know people like that then you need to make sure you are keeping in regular contact with them because their spirits will likely nosedive over the coming weeks.

One thing that really helps is music. For some reason, music affects our brains like very few things can. I have no idea why. At some point in our past there was no music. We’d all sit around the fire in our caves and just grunt at each other. (No doubt there are many households where that is basically still the case.) I’m assuming we developed language before music, purely because had we discovered music first we would probably have used it to communicate like birds do. But at some point someone was probably fidgeting with the femur of a wildebeest and started tapping rhythmically on a nearby skull, as you do, and someone else said “hey, that’s groovy” (or whatever the cave-speak equivalent was). Who knows. It is all conjecture. But music had to have started somewhere and once it had then it quickly became part of our DNA. And the power it has to mess with our emotions is phenomenal.

In times of need, music is something we often turn to. And now, more than ever before, that is going to be the case. We will all have our favourite musicians that we will look to for the comfort we need while our human contact is confiscated. Some artists are already starting to perform “live” on social media such as Facebook and Instagram Live. The trouble with that is the technology is still quite patchy and many will have a poor experience, especially if there are a large numbers of viewers. It also requires everyone to log on at the same time. What I think would be a better solution is for these artists to film their own little performances and upload them to YouTube so that people can watch them at any time (and multiple times too, if they want). In terms of Katie, there are a ton of videos to be found on YouTube, both on her own official channel and uploaded by fans. There are even full concerts to watch.

We are lucky to have the internet, which is a lifesaver in so many ways. It is hard to conceive of how we would have survived without it. Yet we would have. Humans are resilient. And something tells me that even if we had to go back to living in caves with nothing more than a fire to look at then it wouldn't be long before we started to sing to each other. Music is our comfort blanket and at times like this we need to snuggle up and get nice and cosy inside it. Whilst healthcare workers are doing extraordinary things to keep our bodies healthy I want to also give a shoutout to musicians everywhere for keeping our spirits healthy.

24.03.20   >   Katie Bite: Feels Like Home

feels like home

23.03.20   >   The Unheard Krupa Album

Today would have been my Dad’s 93rd birthday. He was a jazz drummer and his idol was the legendary drummer Gene Krupa (the first drummer inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame). In late 2014, whilst Dad was in hospital awaiting a triple-bypass heart op, I managed to find a rare Krupa album he didn’t know about. He was so excited when I showed it to him. But he never got to hear it. He never left the hospital, and died in the spring of 2015.

Continuing the theme from yesterday, if you have elderly loved ones in your family it is so important you let them know how much you care. Now. You may feel young and invincible and your life is always so busy that now and then you may think it would be nice to do something with them. But then your phone pings and your attention returns to your busy life and the “something” gets put back on the shelf. The thing is, the elderly can’t wait for you forever. It is up to you to find time in your schedule for them, and you need to do it before it is too late.

I could have recorded that Krupa album for Dad but I was expecting him to return home. I didn’t entertain the idea that he wouldn’t. And I knew what a treat it would be for him to sit back in his armchair and listen to it. I finally got round to listening to it for him. It was just jazz music. I was listening with my ears, not his. The special “connection” I feel listening to Katie is what Dad had listening to Krupa. It cannot be passed on, it is just a special thing that each of us has to find for ourselves. If (hopefully) in many years from now when I’m gone somebody finds and plays my copy of “In Winter” they might think it is rather nice. But they will have no concept of how much that album meant to me, how it helped to turn my life around. It makes me think of Blade Runner—“all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”.

Although my parents are gone I’m lucky in that they both died knowing they were loved. I made sure in their final years that we shared some good times. I wish I’d started sooner but at least I didn’t leave it too late. I never got to know my grandparents at all. So cherish what you have while you still have it. The coronavirus epidemic may restrict how much contact you are able to have with elderly relatives but it does give you an opportunity to sit back, evaluate your life and perhaps start making plans for when all this is over. Things left unsaid or undone are a heavy burden to bear. Don’t let it happen to you.

gene krupa album gene krupa

The album that Dad never heard. And a signed photo of Gene Krupa, complete with name check for yours truly.

22.03.20   >   A Word on Mother's Day

The global pandemic has hit people hard this Mother’s Day, with government advice being to self-isolate and stay away from the over 70s. With many people postponing a family get-together today many will have to resort to Skype, WhatsApp or the good old fashioned telephone. It’s not the same, but it is better than nothing.

Mothers are extremely precious and they cannot be replaced. Mike Batt wrote the gorgeous “I Will Be There” after losing his mum, and it is a song of great comfort to all of us that have lost ours. It isn’t something you ever completely get over, but certain days, such as Mother’s Day, Christmas, and of course her birthday, are never the same again.

When all of this virus madness is over I recommend you all to do this: take your mum on a trip somewhere, just the two of you. Perhaps some place she always wanted to go but never got around to. Pull out the stops. Find the time. Find the money. Make it happen. She will treasure the experience but so will you and you’ll be so glad you did it in the years ahead after she is gone. If your Dad is still around then do something similar with him too. They may want to both go with you at once. Resist this. Three’s a crowd. Take them separately and just give them a special one-on-one time. And by all means send me a postcard!

21.03.20   >   Lyric Card: Downstairs To The Sun

downstairs to the sun

20.03.20   >   The Comforts of Home Cooking

Last year, I got my first real taste of genuine Georgian food. And what an eye-opener it was, not to mention a palate-opener. For someone brought up on beef burgers, chips and beans it was like being on another planet. I’d be lying if I said I loved everything—some things are an acquired taste and I didn’t have enough time to get used to them, but others were simply revelational. I’ve mentioned khachapuri many times, and it is now a staple in my life, but there were many home-cooked dishes put in front of me that I could imagine young Georgians being brought up on that were made to their mother’s or grandmother’s own recipe.

That got me thinking about my own childhood and my mother’s home cooking. It has to be said, Lancashire is not noted for its cuisine. We had our own bread rolls, exotically called oven-bottom barm cakes. They weren’t cakes, just soft bread rolls, but I guess calling them cakes made them more appealing to children. They were baked at the bottom of the oven, probably because the dinner itself was cooking in the main part. Oh, and “barm” is the word for the foamy scum on top of fermenting beer. Sounds gross, but it had yeast in it and so helped to leaven the bread. Barm cakes were gorgeous with Lancashire cheese, one of the best cheeses anywhere.

Mum’s speciality was potato pie. It was actually meat and potato pie, with minced beef and gravy, but there was certainly more potato than meat. Often, she wouldn’t bother making a crust—she would declare dinner to be “potato pie without a crust”, like the lack of crust was an exciting culinary feature. We, naturally, were thinking “so, it’s just meat and potatoes then”. We weren’t well off so I’ve never quite decided whether the crust omission was due to austerity measures or the fact that she simply couldn’t be arsed making pastry. She did love baking though, and there are no better childhood memories than walking in from school and smelling scones or cakes fresh from the oven. That’s the thing about home cooking—it’s what you are brought up on, what you know and love and are used to and look forward to. It doesn’t matter if your mum isn’t a Michelin-starred chef because she knows what you like and how you like it. There’s nothing pretentious about the ingredients, nothing arty in the presentation, just good honest food that you can trust. I’m lucky that I can cook for myself and I’ve now added several forms of khachapuri to my repertoire, but I’ve never attempted to make a potato pie without a crust. Some memories just shouldn’t be messed with.

potato pie

19.03.20   >   Playlist: Songs For Self Isolation

These are very strange days for sure. The whole world is staying indoors and keeping to themselves. It won’t last forever but it is a good time for people to take a moment to reflect on their lives and what is important to them. And of course, we are never alone as long as there is music in the world. I’ve put together a playlist to help get you through self-isolation. Katie has yet to write a song about a global pandemic (or at least recorded one—she may have half a dozen of them stuffed in a drawer somewhere for all I know) but these are a bunch of tracks that for one reason or another called to me when I was thinking about the subject. Doesn’t matter if you agree since they are all great songs and you don’t really need a reason to play them.

Songs For Self Isolation

  1. Sometimes When I’m Dreaming
  2. Looking For Clues
  3. The Closest Thing To Crazy
  4. Learning The Blues
  5. I Think It’s Going To Rain Today
  6. Faraway Voice
  7. A Happy Place
  8. Tiny Alien
  9. Plague Of Love
  10. Dreams On Fire
  11. Never Felt Less Like Dancing
  12. I Will Be There
  13. All In My Head
  14. Ghost Town
  15. Gold In Them Hills
  16. Forgetting All My Troubles
  17. All Over The World
  18. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out
  19. In My Secret Life
  20. Feels Like Home

18.03.20   >   20 second Hand Wash Singalong

These are strange times my friends. Everyone is banging on to us about washing our hands all the time. And they stress that we should wash them for 20 seconds. How do you know how long that is when you're stood at a sink? Various songs have been suggested around t'internet but you know me—naturally I'm going to look to Katie for a solution. And as always, I have found one...

Tiny Alien 20-second Hand Wash Jingle

WASH YOUR HANDS UNTIL THE MUSIC STOPS!

And if you want to sing along...


   Who are you my tiny alien,
   why do you love to hide?
   Who are you my tiny alien,
   what can you see inside?

Happy bug-blitzing!

17.03.20   >   Self-isolation Check List

intermission

If you find yourself needing to self-isolate then it helps to create a checklist of essentials you will need to get by. I find self-isolation easy, being a writer and having no friends, but some of you may find it difficult. Here's my checklist:

  []   Katie's entire back catalogue
  []   A crate or two of Georgian wine
  []   Plenty of cheese and flour to make khachapuri

Well, that's about it. I can survive indefinitely if I have those. Your list may be longer but I wish you luck. Stay safe and stay healthy until the world gets back to normal (if it ever was). AAK will of course carry on regardless and if you find yourself with more "me" time then why not poke around some of the menu items on the left? There's a lot to discover here and there's always the ARCHIVES if you've arrived at this party late.

16.03.20   >   City Lights & Movie Soundtracks

Georgia's answer to Nicola Benedetti, Lisa Batiashvili, has announced she will be releasing a new album entitled "City Lights" on May 29th. Why should you care? Well, apart from the fact that she's a stunning violinist, Katie has written a track for the album. It is a love letter to London called "No Better Magic". I've listened to some of Lisa's albums and they are wonderful so this unexpected collaboration should be a joy. It might seem an odd match on the face of it but they are both Georgians that left their homeland during childhood and became hugely successful in the music industry. Lisa is a little older than Katie but their careers are broadly parallel (Lisa released "Works for Violin & Piano" in 2001). And Katie can play the violin so she has an understanding of the instrument.

city lights

I've mentioned movie soundtracks a few times recently. This seems like a good time to talk about them again. I've already said I think Katie could write a Bond theme but she could aim even higher—a complete movie soundtrack. Why not? There's no doubt in my mind she has the musical talent and I'm sure there must be female directors out there that would bite her hand off if she approached them. I can't actually think of a movie soundtrack written by a woman though I'm sure there must be a few. It could be a Georgian female tour-de-force if Katie involved Lisa Batiashvili and the Gori Women's Choir. Hard to imagine the result being anything other than breathtaking. Come on film directors, give Katie a call!

15.03.20   >   1984

Things don’t often turn out the way you expect. Many of us that had read Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four were wondering if the actual year itself would bring Thought Police, Big Brother, world war and quite possibly the end of life as we know it. Turns out it didn’t. In fact, it was rather a momentous year. Here are some of the highlights:

Mark Knopfler was not resting on his laurels between Dire Straits albums “Love Over Gold" (1982) and “Brothers In Arms” (1985). In 1983 he wrote the lovely soundtrack for “Local Hero”. In 1984 he wrote the even lovelier soundtrack to “Cal”. I have little doubt I have listened to “Music from Cal” more than any other album in my life. Both vinyl and CD had to be replaced because I’d worn them out. Why did it connect with me so much? It seems to have passed most people by completely. Well, I was fascinated by Irish music and culture and I was a Mark Knopfler fan so it was always likely to be a winner in my eyes. The film itself was quite bleak—I think I’ve only seen it once—but the soundtrack is so beautiful. It is haunting, evocative, occasionally dramatic but mostly soothing. It is only 35 minutes long and there are no vocals but for years it was my go-to chillout album at the end of the day. Wine and "Music from Cal", and I slept well.

The Apple Macintosh was unleashed on the world. Nowadays I’m definitely an Apple fanboy but back then, and for many years after, I couldn’t afford to be. Apple made computers to be drooled over in magazines, but they weren't cheap. The original Macintosh unleashed upon the world the graphical user interface. Anyone that has grown up with mice and windows may find it hard to comprehend text-based computers. (I remember spending hours typing in program listings from computer magazines, typing “run”, hitting Enter and being confronted with “Error...”, because I’d mistyped something somewhere in the hundreds of lines of code. Downloads? What are they? Reflect also on the decision to call a mouse a mouse. They could have called it anything and we’d have been stuck with it. “Pointer manipulator”, “Pebble”, “Grenade”, “Sheepturd”….

Astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart made the first untethered space walk. Can you imagine that? 1984 was bringing science fiction to life.

Back to music, and Bruce Springsteen was about to hit the stratosphere when he released “Born In The USA”. After albums such as the critically-acclaimed “Born To Run” he had a decent fanbase but MTV had become a thing and the music video was king. They seized on a bemused Bruce, made him over into a clean-cut pretty boy and promoted the merry hell out of him. It worked and turned him into the biggest star on the planet but it wasn’t the rock’n’roll he’d signed up for and he made sure his next album, “Tunnel Of Love”, was a more sombre, reflective piece of work and put an end to his moment of madness.

In 1984, CDs had only been around 15 months and early adopters with their shiny new players were still waiting for record companies to get behind them. Many new albums were appearing on the format but artists back catalogues were often frustratingly unavailable. As always with some new technology there was a chicken and egg situation—consumers didn't want to buy players with nothing to play on them whilst record companies didn't want to invest in a format hardly anyone owned. Then a tipping point gets reached and it is suddenly all hands to the pump to get all the existing vinyl albums out on compact disc. In 1984, Dire Straits were working on "Brothers In Arms", which, upon its release the next year, was to kick open the floodgates for CDs once and for all. Sting's falsetto intro to Straits' "Money For Nothing" could be heard floating out of hi-fi shops all over the country as it was deemed the perfect demonstration of digital music.

But surely all of these wonders of 1984 were totally eclipsed in September when, in the barely known land called the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, a baby girl was born and named ქეთევან მელუა, Ketevan Melua. Here we are in 2020, Katie is brightening our lives and though many Orwellian prophecies are coming true the world is still a good place to be and 1984, thanks to Katie, is the gift that keeps on giving.

14.03.20   >   Track Notes 86: Shirt Of A Ghost

Album:  

Writer(s)

Katie Melua

Length:

3:19

Notes:

I'm still trying to decide if this one is about a woman daydreaming while she's doing the washing or one that has just murdered her adulterous husband, or both, or neither. I like how Katie's lyrics often leave you with a bit of work to do to form a picture and remain open to interpretation. Compare that with, for example, Mike Batt, whose lyrics often do just what it says on the tin (see what I did there?). I might expand on that thought in a future blog.
Anyway, this song appeared on the CD single of "Call Off The Search" exactly 16 years ago tomorrow. (Yes, I could have waited another day but then that sentence would have been wrong wouldn't it?) Actually, there were two versions released. The other one contained "Turn To Tell" instead. "Why would they release two versions?", you probably aren't asking. Well, if I was an old cynic, and I am, I might suggest it was to boost sales and enhance the chart position based on the idea that gullible nutter fans like me would absolutely buy both versions so as not to miss out on a single track. I know some fans are like that because, well, I just do.

YouTube:

You have to be prepared for slim pickings now we're on to B-Sides. Only thing on offer here seems to be another one of those photo montage efforts with images of Katie and pictures of washing and ironing Shirt Of A Ghost. Not sure if it was meant to, but it made me chuckle.

Lyrics:

Shirt Of A Ghost 

13.03.20   >   The Magic Of Music

Music is sorcery. It has a power over us that we cannot resist. Thankfully, it is generally a force for good. After my parents died I was in a dark place for a while. Katie’s voice was the one flickering candle giving me hope in the darkness. I clung on to it for dear life and let her guide me back to the light. I owe her more than a little website can repay, but it’s all I have to offer. It has made me wonder though, why Katie? I like plenty of other artists. I used to find Enya really relaxing to drive to yet I didn’t find her candle in the darkness. Or any of the others. So what was it then? The melodies? The lyrics? I don’t think so, at least nothing in particular that I can point to and say made a real difference. It was just something about her voice. I have no idea what exactly so I can’t explain it. It is intangible. But somehow she was getting through to me on a different level. I suspect you’ve all experienced this to some extent, perhaps with different artists, though if you’re reading this then Katie must mean something to you too. Does music carry a subliminal message? If so, does the performer even realise that or is something within them secretly riding on the back of the song and making communication in a way that neither singer nor listener is aware of? I don’t have the answers. (I have a theory, which I’m not going to divulge on the grounds that you’ll all think I’m daft.)

Surely there’s a reason why we connect with some artists and not others. But I think, like the mysteries of the Universe itself, the magic of music may be unknowable. We can create it and we can consume it but I’m not sure we can truly understand it. There are primal forces at work, ancient rhythms that have been etched in our DNA for millennia. If you listen to a singer that everyone is raving about and think “I just don’t get it” then maybe you weren’t meant to. That message wasn’t intended for you. On the other hand, I may be reading far too much in to all this and music is simply music. But I don’t think so. And nor do advertising companies, who have long known about the power of music and how it can reach the inner recesses of our brain. After decades I still often hear jingles in my head about such things as “the crumbliest, flakiest chocolate”, “a finger of fudge”, “the Milky Bar Kid” or “mild green bloody Fairy liquid” (not sure the latter was the exact phrase). And yes, chocolate is more memorable.

Perhaps one day someone will figure it out and be able to explain precisely what is happening beneath the mystical surface of music. I hope I’m not around for that day. Ignorance is bliss, and for me music is blissful. I see the magic of music as being a required subject at Hogwarts, and Katie as the Hermione Granger of the class.

12.03.20   >   Give It A Caption...

pensive mike and katie

Some photos are just begging for a caption. This one could be...

(a) Name a song we've done beginning with "E".
(b) Whatever you do, don't look at the sandwiches.

or perhaps you can think of your own, though I'd be surprised if you could be bothered.

11.03.20   >   Stairway To Heaven

Katie once said that two of her favourite songs are “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway To Heaven”. I’m with her 100% on that. But they’d be even more my favourites if she covered them. Frankly, “Bohemian Rhapsody” might be a challenge. It is so quirky and distinctively Queen that it is hard to imagine anyone doing a different version. And those multi-layered vocals, well, it would be interesting and with the Gori Women’s Choir on board just about anything is possible. Intriguing to say the least, but I consider it rather unlikely.

Stairway To Heaven” is a different proposition altogether. It’s a song that suits Katie down to the ground. No, I’m not completely bonkers and yes, I did just say a Led Zeppelin song is suited to Katie. Look, forget the second half of the song with the screeching Plant and searing Page that send the Zeppelin soaring into the stratosphere, and think instead about the early part of it—clear, gentle vocals and melodic acoustic picking. I can see Katie playing that beautifully. All she needs to do is figure out how to keep the entire song on a leash. And I think it would work. Air guitar anthem or not, it is a stunning lyrical and tuneful song and surely everyone would agree that Robert Plant sounds better in the early part of the song (and at the end) than when he lets rip three-quarters of the way though and sounds like he trod on a plug.

Katie’s ability as a song-whisperer should never be underestimated. Just look how she reined in the wall-of-sound-esque “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. One issue might be the length of S2H, which is around 8 minutes as LZ perform it. But take out the solo and reduce the intro and maybe you could cut it down to around 6. Still a tad long by Katie’s standards but she has gone over 5 minutes a few times so it is by no means impossible. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that Katie would do a stunning job of it. She has form, already nailing BOTW, FOG, DAF and WL in recent times. I believe S2H could beat the lot. You might get the odd LZ diehard harrumphing into their scrumpy but never mind that, the thing is she’d be introducing the song to a whole new generation and that is something worth getting excited about surely?

Will it ever happen? Probably not. I’m down on my knees begging and giving my best puppy-dog pleading eyes but at the end of the day she has her own agenda and she’ll explore whatever roads look most interesting to her rather than pandering to requests from middle-aged rockers who probably ought to be hiding in their greenhouse tinkering with their tomatoes rather than trying to tell platinum-selling artists their business. Think I might go with cherry toms this year…

10.03.20   >   Katie's Blog

Katie’s official web site has had several makeovers down the years. It probably looked best around the launch of In Winter, when it was styled to the theme of the album artwork. Sadly, the latest incarnation is a case of style over substance—there’s very little content, it’s hardly ever updated and there are quite a few errors to be found. There’s not much there for fans, other than a link to the merch store. Such a pity. However, it wasn't always like that. In the early years of her career, Katie’s web site was quite a resource. There was even a forum and guestbook in the beginning, though with the rise of trolling that was possibly always going to invite trouble and it was eventually retired.

One amazing feature that lasted almost a decade was “Katie's Blog”. Now, I know I try to post something here every day and woohoo, give me a gold star and all that, but frankly, I’m just Joe Nobody in the middle of nowhere doing nothing much of anything, whereas Katie in the early noughties was a rising star in the process of going supernova, so although her posts were only around half a dozen a year it was fabulous that she found the time to do anything like that, and when she did post they were often a joy to read. They nearly always began with an apology for not having written in a while with promise to write more often. Bless. I don't think blogging was ever really her thing and of course, just because we're fans doesn't give us any right to know about the details of her life. Nowadays, if she feels inclined to share something she'll post on Instagram. Thankfully, without apologising.

I’ve just spent an evening going back through them all from the beginning and it is fascinating to see her grow from a 19-year-old, pre-COTS, wondering if anyone would buy her album to a hotel-weary megastar travelling all over the world and meeting just about everyone worth meeting such as The Queen, Nelson Mandela, Buzz Aldrin, oh there’s just too many… (Remember that thing about 6 Degrees of Separation? If you’ve met Katie then that’s it—you've probably got the entire population of the planet covered. I mean, just imagine how many links those three alone give you!)

To be honest, it felt like I’d sneaked into her bedroom and gone through her diaries, but I’m so grateful she made those blog posts for all those years. And it’s wonderful to think of the artist she has matured into now we’ve reached the year of perfect vision. I don’t feel like I have any business sharing any of her posts with you but still, I guess they were out there on the web for all to see so I would like to show you one entry that caught my eye in the light of Katie’s recent performances at the Bridge Over Troubled Water 50th Anniversary Concert.

katies blog 2006

Finally, I want to end with a quote from Katie’s Blog from October 2005:

“If you happen to come across a celebrity/artist/famous person who is really nice consider yourself witnessing a strange phenomenon.”

Well, all I can say is I have met Katie. And I guess therefore I’d have to call it a strange phenomenon. Perhaps even an X-File.

09.03.20   >   Katie Bite: Dirty Dice

dirty dice

08.03.20   >   Mistaken Meanings

People tend to take things at face value. Song lyrics are no exception. How many times does a humorous comment fall flat on Twitter? Just like when you’re speaking to someone on the phone, listening to a song you only have the words to understand the meaning, and without gestures and facial expressions to give you clues it is normal to assume a straightforward interpretation. But whilst someone on the phone may be trying to get their point across clearly, songwriters often deliberately try to be more vague and make the listener work a little harder for the meaning. This is actually a pretty good strategy because it enables you to make a contentious point whilst claiming otherwise. The classic example is “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles. Unless Macca makes a definitive statement on the matter (he has tried but not particularly successfully) then opinion will remain divided as to whether the song was about LSD or just a schoolgirl’s painting.

Politicians have been known to misunderstand songs, and this can be particularly irksome for an artist. In the Reagan era, Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” was seized upon as a rallying call, practically becoming a national anthem for the American way. But it is actually a protest song about how the American dream has faded for working class Americans who feel increasingly isolated and left behind. Jimmy Carter waxed lyrical about John Lennon’s “Imagine” but Lennon described his song as “virtually the communist manifesto”.

There is often more to love songs than meets the eye. The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” (which Katie of course covered) seems like a standard example. Yet Robert Smith has stated it was about hyperventilating. Oh, and Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69”, well that ain't about the year…

The fact is, people hear what they want to hear. And Katie’s songs are no exception. She seems to have a penchant for songs with a bit of a twist or a hidden meaning and many of her “love songs” are a bit darker than people realise. Probably the best example is “If You Were A Sailboat”, which is often considered the dreamiest love song, and even gets played at weddings, heaven forbid, when in fact it is about a controlling relationship. Perhaps the issue is that Katie just seems too nice to be singing about dark matters. Love gone wrong is a common theme, as in “What I Miss About You”, but after hearing the first couple of verses people are locked into dreamy love mode and gloss over the way things go south after that.

Are mistaken meanings frustrating for a songwriter? It’s a double-edged sword isn’t it. No doubt they can be—Springsteen was certainly vexed. But it can also be fun being ambiguous and letting the listener make their own mind up. It’s also a generous thing to do. Instead of the song being all about the songwriter they are sharing it so that you can interpret it in your own way and make your own decision about what it means to you. If you are trying to be clever and hide meanings in your lyrics that’s fine just as long as you are aware that your message may not get across to everyone and your song may be completely misconstrued. If you don’t have a problem with that then great, but be careful—you never know when your words may come back to bite you!

07.03.20   >   Bridge Over Troubled Water: 50th Anniversary

The special concert for BBC Radio 2 was aired last night, which saw various artists including Katie, Will Young, and The Shires performs tracks by Simon & Garfunkel to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album.
Katie got things under way with a charming rendition of "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)", which really got the party started. Young was given "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and had a fair stab at it, but Katie's version would have been better. In the second half, Katie performed "So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright". I'm pretty sure if I'd put a tenner on her ever covering that I'd be able to retire tomorrow. Naturally, she made a great job of it, but sandwiched in between those two performances was, for me, the real gem: "Scarborough Fair".
This song is one of S & G's best known tracks, and is based on a traditional English folk song. It was also one that was lingering on my wish list to hear Katie sing, so big tick there then. How was it? Well. I want you to imagine something for a moment. In your mind's eye, drift back through time a few hundred years to a sleepy English village, the picture postcard type with thatched cottages and leafy lanes. It is a perfect summer's day with clear blue skies and the warm sun caressing your face. You gradually become aware of soft, melodic singing. You see a beautiful young woman strolling wistfully down the lane towards you. She seems in a world of her own as she sings "Scarborough Fair". You feel frozen in the moment, mesmerised by her voice, enchanted by her words, transfixed by the gentle longing in her eyes. As she arrives in front of you she stops singing and just smiles serenely. For a moment, you are caught between worlds. Then the image of the village slowly dissipates from your mind as you become aware of an audience applauding vigorously. You can still see the young woman but her appearance has changed—it is Katie and she is humbly accepting her ovation...
What I have just described is how I felt during her performance, when for three minutes I was transported through the mists of time to a lost, innocent world. Utterly spellbinding. I pray the track one day makes it onto an album. On a strange day when I'd attended a funeral and seen a dead horse by the roadside with its heartbroken rider, it was just the life-affirming lift I needed.

06.03.20   >   Track Notes 85: Turn To Tell

Album:  

Writer(s)

Justin Sandercoe

Length:

2:53

Notes:

A melancholy little number by antipodean guitar guru Justin Sandercoe. If the name rings a bell it may be you've tried learning to play guitar with some of his videos or apps. He is a respected guitar teacher (with a certain K. Melua being one of his star pupils). He also toured and played live with Katie a few times in the noughties. If you fancy becoming a pleasant plucker then toddle off to justinguitar.com, otherwise please do stay here.
So what of this song then? Well, perhaps one to avoid if you're feeling a tad suicidal to begin with. The song appeared on the B-side (whatever that means in the CD-single era) of "Call Off The Search". Apparently it also appears on the South African release of the "Call Off The Search" album. Quite why is anyone's guess.

YouTube:

Nothing much doing here. You can listen to the song and gaze at some random bit of artwork if you want at Turn To Tell.

Lyrics:

Turn To Tell 

05.03.20   >   Lyric Card: O Holy Night!

o holy night

04.03.20   >   From Georgia With Love

Well now, Billy Eilish has done a cracking job with the latest James Bond theme hasn't she? That got me wondering—could Katie write a Bond theme? That’s an easy one. Of course she could! Just think about it for a moment. For one thing, she’s a very talented songwriter and a keen student of music. She would soon analyse the key components needed and expertly weave them in to her own style. Okay then, let’s drill down a bit more into those qualifications...

✅ Has her music appeared in movies before?
✅ Has she ever sung a Bond Theme?
✅ Has she worked with a former Bond Theme lyricist?
✅ Could she do a sultry Russian temptress accent (if needed)?

What would it be called? After the name of the movie, one imagines, so probably something like “Death Is Overrated”. Would she want to do it? No idea. Hard to imagine any songwriter turning down that gig though. I don’t know how these things come about. Maybe you just have to sit and wait for Barbara Broccoli to like you. Or maybe you can cobble something together, pop it on a usb stick and slide it under her door. Anyway, they won’t be needing another one for three or four years yet so it’s not a pressing matter. Thought I’d mention it though.

03.03.20   >   Katie Bite: I Think It's Going To Rain Today

I Think It's Going To Rain Today

02.03.20   >   Describing a Voice

We are all different, thankfully. Sometimes however, it means we completely fail to understand each other. We have different tastes and whilst we struggle to understand how someone cannot abide something we can’t get enough of, it works both ways. Sometimes people rave about something and you simply don’t get it. This applies to everything of course, but since I’m All About Katie I’m thinking specifically about voices here.

Now, some of you may need to sit down before reading this: not everyone likes Katie. I know. I’m only talking about her voice, remember—if they don’t like her for any other reason that’s their business and I don’t want to know about it. But, baffling as it seems, I have seen people criticise her singing. There will always be haters on social media. The natural urge of a Ketefan is to get outraged and indignant about such misguided lunacy but we have to keep calm and remember everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I myself have said that I don’t like Adele’s voice and I’m pretty sure legions of her fans would happily lynch me for it (what are Adele fans called? Adelf’s? Adolphins? Adeltoids?) Adele can sing though. I'm coming to that. The thing is, why do we like one voice and not another? What quality is it we are responding to? I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to that. It isn’t simply about tonal quality. There are a whole host of subtle factors that colour our perception. The personality of the singer is certainly a part of it. Pronunciation is another factor—the way a certain word is pronounced can be extremely endearing to one ear and massively irritating to another. Take Kate Rusby for example, her Yorkshire accent features heavily in her singing and that puts some people off whilst others, myself included, love her dearly for it. Phrasing, timing, pitch, volume, vibrato—there are so many components to a voice and like a good blended whisky, it is how these all come together in the listeners’ brain that determine how they perceive the voice. And I feel it is important to note that having a good voice and being a good singer are two different things, as I pointed out with Adele. Take Bob Dylan for example. His Royal Bobness is an excellent singer. That’s a thing you can’t deny, like the fact that peeling onions makes you cry. Does he have a good voice though? That is more open to debate. I love it, and I can’t imagine a world without it, but I can see why others don’t. His voice puts me in mind of a tramp gargling with gravel whilst walking over hot coals. Which leads me to another thought—how do you describe a voice? That’s a tricky one. We may love the same voice but for different reasons. Our perception of it will be different, and it will move us in different ways. So how would I describe Katie’s voice? Well, I know words and I’m not afraid to use them so here goes: when Katie sings I see shards of sunlight dancing delicately through a leafy forest glade and sparkling like miniature stars upon the icy crystal waters of a rocky mountain stream. Your turn.

01.03.20   >   Sketch Effect

sketch




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