Well, this is a mammoth affair. Released as a limited edition box set Anthology exhaustively trawls pretty much the Mercury-nominated softly-voiced Williams’ entire musical career and output, bringing together all her studio albums into one collection, from her 1999 debut Dog Leap Stairs through to 2015’s Sylvia Plath themed Hypoxia, the only albums not represented being Resonator, her 2016 standards collaboration with jazz musician Anthony Kerr and 2017’s Songs From The Novel ‘Greatest Hits’ in collaboration with author Laura Barnett.
I’m assuming that anyone who’s into her work will already know these albums, so I don’t propose to run through them here. Rather, I want to draw attention to the other ten CDs in the set, the bonus discs associated with each studio release that includes demos, live versions EP and singles, work in progress sketches and, for utter completists, even a cassette recording of the 4-year-old Williams by her gran.
The latter appears on the Dog Leap Stairs bonus which also gathers the tracks from The Fade EP, ‘Crazy’, ‘Night Came’ and the slinky, jazzy double bass-backed ‘I Wish’ all from 1999’s ultra-rare Hand Painted Cover EP, two differently arranged live versions of ‘Fade’, a live ‘No One To Blame’ with cello and a different studio version of the spooked and whispery ‘Something Like That’.
Moving to the Little Black Numbers bonus, there’s a further four live recordings, ‘Fell Down’, ‘Flicker’, ‘Soul To Feet’ and ‘Jasmine Hoop’, the latter song having been a single from the album the B side to which, ‘Foreign Skies’, appears here. The first of several home recordings spread across the anthology, many of which never progressed to the studio, arrive with the strummed ‘Stood’, taken from cassette, ‘We Came Down From The Trees’ and, hitherto unreleased, the gently pastoral ‘Changeling’ and the wistful ‘Say Nothing’, the remaining number being her vocally double-tracked Carole King cover, ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ from the Soul To Feet EP.
The Old Low Light extras are almost all live tracks, five from Cabaret Frappe in Grenoble, two from Cambridge Junction and two versions of ‘Little Black Numbers’, both from Union Chapel, the undated first with loop pedal and the second from the 2017 Flying Seagull charity show. The remaining live track is a throaty spare guitar accompanied ‘Daydream and Saunter’ from her solo support show to the Be Good Tanyas at Colston Hall. ‘Without Beat of Drum’ was the B-side to ‘No-One Takes You Home’ while ‘Question Love’ is another previously unreleased home recording.
Relations was her 2002 covers album two of which (‘Candy Says’ and ‘Thirteen’) get live versions alongside non-album songs The Roches ‘We Are Kathy And Davey And Laura’ and Stephen Malkmus’s ‘Spit On A Stranger’ from Bush Hall, ‘What Goes On’ from Cambridge Junction, and ‘Saturday Sun’ from a Barbican Nick Drake tribute. Home recordings include Tim Buckley’s ‘Strange Feelings’, a barely there version of Joplin’s ‘Piece of My Heart’ that stands in stark contrast to the usual punch and a giggling intro, ramshackle ‘girls night in’ The Kinks’ ‘Set Me Free’, though there’s no indication of who the girls were. Plus there’s demos of Ivor Cutler’s ‘Beautiful Cosmos’, Tim Hardin’s ‘Hang On To A Dream’ and Nirvana’s ‘All Apologies’ and a stand out reading of Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’ recorded by Raevennan Husbandes at St Pancras Old Church. Alongside Paul Simon’s ‘Overs’, the B side of ‘Beachy Head’ recorded live in a garage with string quartet, there’s several studio outtakes that really should have surfaced before now, Tim Buckley’s ‘Buzzin Fly’, Nick Cave’s cello-coloured ‘People Ain’t No Good’, a sleepy, languid drift through Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ and a fine, upright bass-backed version of The Beatles’ ‘Bird Can Sing’.
Coming to the half way mark, Over Fly Over offers two live tracks, ‘Breath’ and, a Bush Hall encore complete with intro chat, her song for her sister, ‘Baby Blues’. ‘Old Low Light’ and ‘Three come as monitor and lounge mixes, respectively, there’s four demos (‘Indifference’, ‘City Streets’, ‘Shop Window’ and ‘Full Colour’) plus three unreleased song home recordings, the rainy afternoon feel, weather-themed ‘Overcast’, ‘The Gift’ and the fingerpicked waltzing ‘Old Letters’.
Next up is Leave To Remain which, save for a live ‘Sustain Pedal’ from Grenoble, is all demos and home recordings, the former including ‘Let It Happen’, ‘Glass Bottom Boat’ and ‘Hollow’. Of the latter, ‘Sustain Pedal’ and ‘Opened’ made it to studio while five are unreleased songs, of which ‘Calderstones’ is particularly strong.
Save for ‘Grey Goes’ (included as a home recording along with ‘Star and Shadow) and ‘Come With Me’, both live from Union Chapel, Two is predominantly unreleased studio cuts, seven in total, lining up as the carousel waltztime ‘My Dream’, ‘Just Let Me Go, ‘Keep Score’, a jazz-tinged ‘Time Machine’, the traditional folk feel of ‘Up North’, a Pentangle-flavoured ‘Watch Him’ and the circling fingerpicked ‘Show Love’. ‘Ghost’ is the monitor mix B-side from her collaborative single with Neil MacColl, ‘Come With Me’, while ‘Christmas In Hell’ was recorded for the For Folks Sake Christmas album.
On then to The Quickening with ‘Wanting and Waiting’, Somewhere’, ‘Just A Feeling’, and ‘There Are Keys’ all live from the Purcell Rooms, ‘Nothing To Offer’ being the B-side of the latter’s single version which also appears here in sketch form as a writing demo. ‘Pass Us By’ is included as both home recording and studio versions, while unreleased album session studio cuts include the evocative, vocally multi-layered ‘Timer’, ‘Starlings’, the softly whispered ‘Gateshead’, the slight but gossamer sweet ‘It’s Love’ and the catchily strummed self-assertive ‘Master Of Me’.
The bonus version of 2013’s Crown Electric opens with three unreleased album studio sessions, ‘Covers’, ‘Same Page’ and the terrific ‘Sorrow Flies’, proceeding, to add different studio takes on ‘Tequila’, a ‘Heart Shaped Stone’ demo and on the hoof late night piano accompanied recording of ‘Morning Twilight’. ‘Underground’ comes in a home recording and, in addition to live versions of ‘Picture Book’, ‘Sequins’ and ‘Heart Shaped Stone’, there’s writing demos of ‘Arwen’, ‘Gave It Away’, ‘The Known’, ‘Count’ (2am at a Chris Difford retreat) and, for those who appreciate trivia, ‘Monday Morning’, described as “a solo demo recorded on tour, in a hotel room with a bad cold”.
Finally, the Hypoxia bonus cuts are almost all live Aberdeen recordings from the tour with Ben Trig and David Page, but there is also a home recording of ‘Nothing Meant Less’, another Difford retreat demo, ‘Part Of Us’, recorded in a stairwell at Hurst House, and a writing demo of ‘Battleships’ that has the marvellous annotation of being “Recorded in Travelodge room on day off at the side of the A1”.
The 20 CDs come packaged in a box featuring her own designed artwork and pictures and also includes two booklets, a hard cover one of lyrics, the other an illustrated commentary on the albums, her career and songs. The definite word on her career to date, buy it for the Kathryn Williams fan in your life. And then keep it yourself.
Artist’s website: www.kathrynwilliams.co.uk
The Anthology trailer:
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