Kathryn Williams, Johnny Steinberg and the Bluefish at the Central Hall, Wymondham Music Festival, 26 June 2015
This was my first visit to Wymondham’s Central Hall, and I was stopped in my tracks upon my arrival by the sound of Kathryn Williams’ beautiful voice soundchecking “Cuckoo” which sounded superb. A very good start in an impressive venue, recently refurbished with great attention paid to the acoustics of the place, to evidently good effect.
A balmy summer evening eventually giving way to some spots of rain there was nevertheless an extremely good turn out of 200-plus just about filling the venue. Johnny Steinberg kicked the music off – a central figure in putting this gig on in his home town of the past eighteen years, he was joined by his two Bluefish, providing strings in the form of violin, mandolin and banjo.
The excellent sound provided a good platform for his stories, not only between songs but in his evocative and expressive songwriting and clear delivery. His songs cover a wide spectrum of feelings, events and scenarios, from eating in a posh restaurant wearing a dressing gown belt, tight rope walking between the twin towers (inspired by the brilliant biopic Man on Wire about Philippe Petit), to a very moving number about the Barnsley “Pals” battalion of WWI – Tears Falling Like Rain. Johnny always strikes just the right tone when chatting with the audience, easily affable, likeable and witty. It was a most enjoyable set and the audience responded well, I overheard several complimentary verdicts, especially about Tears Falling Like Rain. Johnny writes really well crafted songs and the lyrics, especially, really draw me in. I’ve heard Johnny play several times and some of the songs have become quite familiar to me (Hey Pamela got the audience joining in too) and it makes me wish I had more of his recorded material, and I can’t say greater than that, it’s always the sign of a good performer and artist. Johnny has actually also written with Kathryn Williams, and Andy Bruce who was playing piano with her tonight. I look forward to seeing Johnny Steinberg again somewhere soon.
I have to confess that Kathryn Williams had somehow gone somewhat beneath my radar until I became aware of her via Johnny. Checking her out before the gig I played her new album on Spotify and immediately fell in love with it. The understated, sparse arrangements, perfect lyrics and that gorgeous soft, floating voice are right up my street and listening whilst processing some photos I realised I had listened to four of her albums back-to-back and enjoyed everything, The Quickening making a particularly powerful impression on me. Apparently Hypoxia is her 12th album, a prolific songwriter but one who maintains a very high standard. It’s a special work.
The whole of her new album “Hypoxia” is inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and what I like about her style is not just the excellent songs but the emotive quality of the works. I always like to feel moved by art and this is most certainly the case with Kathryn Williams’ haunting pieces. She doesn’t wish to over explain her songs but to let the listener feel and interpret them how they will.
She played two sets with her band tonight (Andy Bruce on piano, guitar, and her bassist Simon who had to dash off to Glastonbury straight after the gig), the first an assortment of songs from her various albums and the second being a playing of Hypoxia in full. The songs every bit as moving live as they are on record but with that special feeling of hearing music performed live. She clearly understands this and values the importance of the shared experience of a concert, playing Neil Young’s I Believe in You for the encore as a special unique one-off moment between the band and the audience. The band played beautifully and Kathryn was warm, witty, immensely likeable and charming and sang exquisitely all night. She’s a real gem.
The album itself is a wonderful work of which she should be very proud, the songs are beautiful though melancholic and obviously visit some dark places. Kathryn’s voice is so smooth and soft but there is a distinct edge too.
I came to this gig almost straight after watching that incredible set by Milly Hirst on BBC’s live coverage of the Glastonbury Festival and in a way this was the perfect gig to follow that. Kathryn’s music is not a million miles away from Milly’s, certainly in mood.
It was a lovely gig in a good venue that made me feel I should come out to Wymondham more often (though I wish the stage curtain would obscure the step ladders!) and I saw more familiar faces in the audience than I expected to, including my friends Richard Penguin and Dorraine so it was nice to have some catch ups in the interval.
My thanks to Kathryn Williams and her wonderful band, Johnny Steinberg and the Bluefish (and not least for introducing me to Kathryn), The Wymondham Music Festival Committee, Wymondham Central Hall, and sponsors Rosedale Funeral Home.
words and photos (c) richard shashamane 2015