‘Her songs are well crafted. They don’t sound “written”. They sound organic, somehow.’ Genevieve Tudor
“Denny is the owner of a truly striking voice, clear as a mountain stream and perfect of diction, and her own accompaniment on viola and violin, alongside (Charlie) Skelton, who also plays guitar and Northumbrian smallpipes, really brings her songs to life…a very fine album.” Gerry Ranson, R2 **** (4-stars)
‘Compelling and beautifully delivered.’ Mojo Magazine
Full reviews selection:
fRoots Magazine review by David Kidman
The Kittiwakes produced one of 2009’s most mesmerising records, the folk concept album Lofoten Calling. Kate, one third of that trio, now launches out on a solo career with this rather special disc containing 12 of her own compositions (11 songs and a Scandinavian-inflected instrumental piece), which manages to be at once upfront in the method with which she establishes her distinctive musical personality and inclusive in its portrayal of subject matter which almost always has a personal relevance and connection (i.e. it concerns matters that are literally closer to home for Kate than the Norway of Lofoten)
But Kate’s songwriting has no truck with narcissistic introspection; instead, through keen exploration of her own heritage, Kate afford insights into the lives of her ancestors. By telling and evocative use of language, she re-imagines and comments on the harsh experiences of great-uncle Billy in World War One and ponders the impact of the suicide-by-drowning of great-grandmother Nellie Follett, while Beverley reflects on, and celebrates, the life of Kate’s husband’s sister, who died in 2010. Kate’s childhood reading provides the inspiration for William and the Boat (which recounts an incident from Wordsworth’s Prelude), and a devilishly quirky Scottish fairy tale forms the basis for the unexpectedly chirpy The Milk White Dove. A local West Midlands legend is retold with relish on The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall, whereas Getting By concerns the hardship faced by Greenwich residents in the early years of the 20th Century.
Best of all, though, are those songs where the universal collides with the personal, as on the atmospheric drone-accompanied Brittle Boned, which was inspired by the experience of extremes of weather during a stay on Skye; here Kate meditates on the permanency of the mountains in time and the landscape, and its closing pipe-tune coda continues onward into the succeeding track, Almost Forever, a charming celebration of all the things we love. The hopeful, positive message of Fear and the welcoming hearthside waltzer title song then leave the listener with a warm glow.
Kate’s fresh, bracing singing voice is underscored by deft accompaniment from her own handcrafted viola and Charlie Skelton’s guitar (or violin or smallpipes), with occasional embellishment from Phil Underwood (anglo concertina or melodeon) and either Mark Hutchinson or Peter Dunhill (guitar on one track apiece). A limpid aural tapestry which yields a gently poignant and increasingly haunting musical delight. www.katedenny.com
Taplas Magazine review by Keith Hudson
It’s HARD to believe that the songs the young Kate Denny sings aren’t a great deal older than she is – but they are all written by her. She takes inspiration from various sources ranging from Wordsworth (William and the Boat) to places she knows and family members. Her voice is superb with plenty of variation and she’s also an accomplished violin and viola player.
Denny’s songs show a strong social conscience; Billy tells the story of a soldier who died of injuries in World War 1 and Nellie Follett was her great grandmother who took her own life after becoming a single mother in the early 20th century. Accompanying throughout is the very able Charlie Skelton on guitar or fiddle, switching to Northumbrian pipes on one track. The two play Lapwing to Shore – the only instrumental track – as a fiddle duet. Kate Denny has a bright future ahead of her.
the bright young folk review by Rosamund Woodroffe
In the magically delicate Closer To Home Kate Denny of The Kittiwakes, embarks on a solo project. It is a promising set of original tracks whose inspirations range through family history, fairy tales, poetry, and local legends. Each one sets a scene and tells a story, each one takes you on a journey.
William and the Boat, is influenced by a story of William Wordsworth’s childhood. A young William runs away, gets in a boat, becomes frightened of the mountains in the dark, and returns home. The pacing guitar melody creates an atmosphere of tension which is eerie and mystical.Getting By is a song which – despite the use of the Anglo-concertina that inevitably invokes memories of the good old days – reminds us of the hardship of life in the early 20th century. And considering the recession, is just as apt a way to describe the current economic climate, illustrating the way which traditional themes are applicable to every era and that human experience doesn’t really change – whether it is the 1900s or the 2000s we are all just ’getting by’.
The most moving songs are those which are based on family history; Billy, and Nellie Follett, both of which end in tragedy. Billy is about the First World War and Nellie Follett the retelling of Denny’s great-grandmother’s suicide. Billy is brilliantly moving, and the phrase ’nineteen years too soon, another poppy starts to bloom’ is an intensely lyrical description of the futility of war. Most of us have relatives who died in the First World War, and even though this song recounts her great uncle’s tragic early death, it is a universal experience and the tragedy is reflected in the sensitively mournful viola part. The next tale from the Follett family is Nellie Follett, and if you hadn’t read the sleeve notes for it you could be forgiven for thinking of it as probably an already established traditional folk track, as the themes of bastard children and death are ones which feature heavily in the folk song books.
The standout tracks are The Milk White Dove, and The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall. The Milk White Dove is based on a pretty gruesome fairy tale which includes all the really crucial elements of a good story; evil stepmothers, infanticide, cannibalism, magic, revenge and a happy ending – everything you could possibly want from a song! As well as the fantastic content of the track, it has a very catchy chorus which will have you singing along from the first listen.
The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall draws its influence from a folk tale from Denny’s home town of Great Wyrley about highway men, sisters, gold, large houses, murder and wandering ghosts. An impressively joyful song considering the sad end which the cunning sisters meet, and another great song whose content doesn’t seem exactly novel but does tell an interesting and compelling story. A future classic.
The strength of this album lies in the simple format which the music takes. Each track, except for the final joyful goodbye of Closer To Home, features guitar, an occasional concertina part, and Denny’s viola and voice. It’s really back to basics, there’s no musical fussiness. This approach gives each number an authentic sound, and even though each is an original creation it feels like you are re-visiting old favourites.
Closer To Home is a showcase of beautiful lyrics and evocative storytelling. The highly personal content serves as a reminder that there is a folk song hiding in everyone’s past, and the whole album sparkles with a secret magic which is never fully released but is always just beneath the surface.
Shire Folk review by Jonathan Roscoe
The phrase ‘future classic’ is one that’s often bandied about, usually in a fairly meaningless fashion. However, in the case of Kate Denny’s solo debut ‘Closer to Home’, it might just be appropriate. That’s because these twelve self-penned songs feel already part of the folk idiom. Songs of infanticide, highwaymen, weather and wildlife sound like they were coined centuries ago, so steeped in the tradition are they. This is not Denny’s first album, however. She’s part of The Kittiwakes, whose folk concept album about the Norwegian islands, ‘Lofoten Calling’, is well worth getting hold of.
On these spare, simple songs Denny plays violin or viola on most of the tracks, aided and abetted by Charlie Skelton who adds some superb violin solos. The story songs, such as ‘The Milk White Dove’, about a woman murdering her stepchildren, and ‘The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall’, about two sisters deceiving highwaymen in 17th century West Midlands are standouts, but the real emotional heft lies with the more personal songs (hence the album’s title). ‘Beverley’ about the death of her husband’s sister is particularly moving; especially the evocation of the wildflowers, trees and horses that are in the field next to her grave.
Musically ‘Closer to Home’ is in the same territory as Emily Portman and Nancy Wallace, if perhaps more conventional than either. If you fancy a listen you can hear a few tracks on her webstie www.katedenny.com, where you can also order it for £10.00.
Originally from Great Wyrley, near Walsall, and sometime member of The Kittiwakes, Denny is very much of the trad folk persuasion, her solo debut a collection of self-penned stories that draw on family history, local legends and fairy tales alike.
Playing violin and viola as well as providing the vocals, the arrangements rarely add more than acoustic guitar, though a couple of tracks (the brooding Fear among them) do feature concertina while Brittle Boned, an otherwise a capella song inspired by last September’s extremes of weather on the isle of Skye and a sunny walk though Glen Brittle, is underpinned by the drone of Northumbrian pipes.
Nature imagery looms large, even the solo instrumental, featuring her and Charlie Skelton on violins, is titled Lapwing To Shore (swallows and curlews also take flight through love song Almost Forever), so it’s no surprise that William Wordsworth should be the subject of opening track William And The Boat, a tale of a furtive midnight row on the lakes taken from The Prelude and set to pizzicato fiddle. Literature’s the source for The Milk White Dove too, a sprightly adaptation from a book of Scottish Fairy Tales in which a wife murders her stepson and turns him into family dinner, his bones recovered by the daughter and turning into a dove which ultimately heaps retribution on her and recompense on dad and sister.
Elsewhere family deaths provide the inspiration for Billy (a lament for a great uncle who died from wounds sustained after hanging on WWI barbed wire), Nellie Follett (a great grandmother who worked at Walsall leather factory and drowned herself in the canal after having a child out of wedlock), and the melodically tumbling Beverley (a gentle elegy for, presumably, her mother). Staying around home territory, perky ballad The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall recalls the sisters who, according to legend, fled from London to Great Wyrley to escape the plague and built the hall with gold fleeced from highwaymen, only to eventually have the past catch up, their ghosts allegedly still walking Jacob’s Hall Lane.
Now residing in Greenwich, her interest in local history has produced the concertina accompanied Getting By, a song about life in the peninsula in the early 1900s written for a community play and clearly showing a Kurt Weill influence. However, as the title track farewell, a waltzingly joyful melodeon and fiddle backed singalong that sounds part McGarrigles, part Cajun, clearly reveals, you can take the girl out of the Black Country, but you can’t keep her heart away.
Bliss Aquamarine review
I’ve been a fan of Kate Denny’s music for some time now; I first became aware of Kate through her debut solo album, Runa Megin, released under her maiden name Kate Waterfield. This was a highly innovative blend of experimental, electronic, folk, world, and medieval-inspired music based around the theme of the Nordic runes. This vastly original album still remains one of my favourites. Kate subsequently formed the sadly short-lived band The Kittiwakes, whose album Lofoten Calling continued the Scandinavian theme. This was a concept album based on the Lofoten islands north of Norway, its lyrics taking in elements of the islands’ folklore and history. Weaver is told from the perspective of a Viking Age woman awaiting the return of her beloved from the sea; The Arethusa is based on the ship Kate’s grandfather served on during World War II, which was involved in action at the Lofoten Islands; and Ole Petter is a jaunty song about a local shepherd described in the sleeve notes as “part man, part myth”. The musical influences on this album were more obviously English, at times conjuring up scenes of Regency-era country dances, but the mixture of Norwegian and English elements is not as eclectic as it may initially seem. Some British folk traditions have been exchanging ideas with Norway for centuries, maybe even millennia. I once saw a documentary on Northumbrian folk music that highlighted the Norwegian influence on the folk dance traditions of that area. The same is also true of the Border Ballads from northern England and southern Scotland, whose melodies and lyrics are clearly from the same tradition as the medieval ballads of Norway. The Kittiwakes’ blend of English music and Norwegian-inspired lyrics is therefore simply another stage in a very long musical tradition.
Following the split of The Kittiwakes, Kate has gone solo again. Her first solo album released under the name Kate Denny, Closer to Home, is out now on Lapwing Records. There is no obvious Nordic lyrical theme this time, but one thread that does run through the album is Kate’s local and family history. Just as The Arethusa was inspired by Kate’s grandfather, there are songs on her new album that tell the often tragic stories of other members of her family. Billy was Kate’s great uncle who died in World War One, and Nellie Follett was Kate’s great grandmother, who committed suicide due to giving birth outside of wedlock. Closer to Home is not a family history concept album however; it explores other topics important to Kate, ranging from songs inspired by personal experience to songs that draw their inspiration from Wordsworth and Scottish fairy tales.
William and the Boat is inspired by an incident from Wordsworth’s youth, which he wrote about in The Prelude, which Kate studied at school. The words are set to a convincingly traditional-style melody and effectively sparse guitar and viola accompaniment. Getting By was written jointly with Rib Davis, a historical researcher and playwright. It is based on Davis’ play Chuck Out Your Mouldies, about life on the Greenwich peninsula in the early 20th century. Lyrics about working hard to make ends meet are combined with a melody that is jaunty yet tinged with an appropriate level of sadness and seriousness as befitting the subject matter. The concertina gives the song rather a nautical feel. Billy is slow and stark, and no-one with a heart can escape being emotionally affected by the tragic story contained within the song. The same is true of Nellie Follett, which hits home just how different the morality system was in the early part of the last century, and how lucky women are today now that marriage is a choice not a necessity.
The mood lightens for Lapwing to Shore, a traditional-style folk instrumental co-written with Charlie Skelton. The Milk White Dove is based on a Scottish fairy tale, and is aptly described by Kate as “particularly gruesome”. Murder, cannibalism, an evil stepmother, it’s all here. The gory lyrics are juxtaposed with a rather jolly tune, a songwriting method that is not unknown in traditional folk music. Brittle Boned sets darkly evocative lyrics to a suitably bleak minimalistic bagpipe drone. The song ends with a Northumbrian smallpipe solo from Charlie Skelton, which is very much in the spirit of traditional Northumbrian folk music. The Sisters of Jacob’s Hall comes from the history of Great Wyrley, the West Midlands village where Kate grew up. Two sisters travelled from London to Great Wyrley, building Jacob’s Hall, which the locals speculated had been built from ill gotten gains acquired from tricking some highwaymen. The highwaymen tracked down the sisters and murdered them, and local legend has it that their ghosts still haunt the lane adjoining Jacob’s Hall. The title track Closer to Home is a cheery folk number based around melodeon, guitar and violin. Its lyrics encapsulate the theme of the whole album, that is the intention of focusing on matters of personal importance to Kate. As Kate explains: “Having released an album about faraway islands above the arctic circle, I wanted to focus my writing on matters closer to heart and home”.
Whilst still rooted within folk music, Closer to Home is in many ways different from Kate’s previous musical projects. All three of her albums so far show Kate Denny to be a very versatile artist, each album exploring folk themes from a very different angle. Many of the songs on Closer to Home can be an uneasy listen indeed, with their emphasis on death, whether in the form of tragic tales of Kate’s own ancestors or morbid stories drawn from the folk tradition. However, that does not detract from the fact that Kate is a hugely talented songwriter and musician whose work seamlessly blends contemporary, personal aspects with strong traditional influences. More information at www.katedenny.com