Kate Jackson’s debut solo album ‘British Road Movies,‘ has been a long time coming (‘on the drag’ in fact) although according to Kevin Shield’s clock eight years is but a mere wrinkle in time. There were times when it appeared a Kate Jackson solo album would simply never happen. Kate appeared to have given up on music after relocating to Rome to peruse her first love, painting. Thankfully the appeal of grey skies, weak tea, weaker TV and the perpetually cynical humour of whey-faced English folk proved too much of a draw for Kate and she eventually returned to her hometown of Bury St.Edmunds. There was also the small matter of the fact that she still had a half realised album on her laptop originally written with Bernard Butler, yes, THE Bernard Butler, which began to nag away at her…
‘British Road Movies’ is a beautifully conceived and wonderfully realised collection of songs, which whilst stylistically eclectic, holds together as a cohesive whole due in no small part to Jackson and Butler’s instinctive talents. Bernard Butler who must have his guitar strings fashioned from spun gold and Jackson who’s vocal chords must be constructed from the same material combine their formidable artistic expertise to produce an album that manages to sound contemporary yet timeless. There’s the propulsive electronica on album opener ‘The End Of Reason’ , a warning about the excesses of social media, there’s glam-rock strut and Suede-like swagger on ‘Homeward Bound’ whilst tracks such as ‘Metropolis’,’Stranded’ and ‘Wonder Feeling’ (which originally surfaced in 2011) are imbued with a glorious Northern Soul style stomp and are illuminated by Butler’s vivid coruscating guitar flourishes.
If Butler’s guitar work is impressive then it’s equalled by Jackson’s sublime vocal performance, this sounds very much like the real Kate Jackson. Indeed, in a recent chat we had with Kate she did reveal she was rather playing an exaggerated version of herself as the iconic alluring lead singer of The Long Blondes. Throughout ‘British Road Movies’ her vocal is far more emotive than her previous work and has a depth, tenderness and warmth which makes it a far more personal experience. The predominant underlining theme of the album is one of discovery of searching – first via escape, and then seeking a connection, somewhere to fit in before the realisation that what you’d been searching for had perhaps been right in front of you all the time. Because that sense of place, connection, and love is perhaps for some of us only truly found in the place we’d been trying to escape – “home.”
The album smoothly shifts through a number of musical gears, the lilting evocative poetry of the cinematic, part spoken part sung ’16 Years’ is heartfelt and spine-tingling, whilst at the other end of the spectrum ‘The Atlantic’ soars and swoops with a strident new wave swagger and is perhaps the most “Long Blonde” moment on the album. ‘Lie To Me’ is utterly wonderful which sees Kate in full on Dusty Springfield mode and is a track that sounds very much like a lost Burt Bacharach classic. As if to prove what a diverse album ‘British Road Movies’ is, the album finishes with a gentle flourish in the shape of the tranquil but stirring piano ballad ‘Last Of the Dreamers’ and the sparse ‘Velvet Sofa From Number 26’
If you’re excepting a Long Blondes style record, you’d perhaps be best advised to pop ‘Someone To Drive You Home’ on. However if you’re a fan of beautifully crafted sophisticated, evocative British pop music, full of wistful poetry and passion then ‘British Road Movies’ is the album for you. It would appear that Kate Jackson returning to music has finally arrived ‘home’ and it’s made us realise how much we’ve missed her.
We had a chat with Kate recently, who we found to be warm, witty and charming and nothing like her slightly cold, aloof Long Blonde persona. Mind you she still wears a beret better than most.
VP: I guess the first question would be … eight years since the Long Blondes and despite the odd appearance musically we wondered if you were ever going to really go for it again ?
Kate : Yeah it has been a while ! And I did get the “Where did she go, what has she been doing with her life?” [laughing] .. Well after the Long Blondes split I did initially start writing this album. I spoke with Geoff [Travis]and Janette [Lee] at Rough Trade and said I’d like to carry on writing new material. They were keen for me to do that and asked who I might like to work with. I mentioned I’d love to work with Bernard Butler who was always a hero and then to my amazement Bernard agreed and we met up to work on some writing sessions. We wrote quite a few of these songs on my new album at Edwyn Collins West Heath Studios in East London.
This was around 2009 and 2010, but then in terms of finances and getting the record out there we ran into trouble as it’s actually quite costly to get an album released. We wanted to do the songs justice and for it to be well produced, but it became apparent that we weren’t going to be able to get a label to help fund it to the standard we wanted. So Bernard and I decided to take a break from it, which coincided with me really wanting to get back into painting so I ended up moving to Rome. I was coming back to England occasionally and still writing with Bernard and also doing sessions with the likes of Chris Constantinou and Marco Perroni from Adam and The Ants and Elliot James. Although I was constantly writing I didn’t have a label and simply didn’t have the funds to release any of them myself or record them to the standard I’d have wanted.
So basically that’s what I’ve been doing, writing and painting. When I was in the Long Blondes I didn’t have a chance to paint as we were on the road or in the studio, living in each other’s pockets meaning I didn’t have that space to paint, which was originally my background far more so than music. So I took time out to try and develop my own style and explore themes I’d always been interested. And of course, Rome is such a beautiful place!
VP: How does one go about going to Rome and becoming an artist!
Kate: [Laughing] Well I did have a friend and so I went over there and lived in Rome with my friend! I came back in 2014 and during the first six months back here I set up a studio in Suffolk, by this point I had a number of clients so could just about sustain myself as an artist in the UK. Anyway at some point I’d been on holiday and happened to see Nick Cave’s 20000 Days on Earth and it made me realise how much I’d missed the process of just being in a room making music with friends. I hadn’t done that for such a long time, it’s totally different writing with people you don’t really know, which was what I had been doing. I just wanted to be in a band again, it wasn’t even with a view to putting out the album I’d started with Bernard, it was just to make music.
Anyway, when I first arrived back home in Bury St Edmunds, I met my friend Shannon (who is now my drummer) in the pub and the first thing she said was “why on earth aren’t you still doing music ?” and I responded ‘ Y’know what? – I probably should,’ and Shannon made it clear she was definitely going be my drummer. Weirdly the rest of the guys who are now in my band came to the pub that night, and we talked about it and that’s essentially how it started. I then rang up Bernard and he said “that’s really odd you should get in touch after all this time because I’ve had a week off and have been tinkering with our songs. I haven’t listened to them for ages and they are still really great and we should definitely do something with them.” So it all sort of fell into place during that one week back in 2014. We then started working towards releasing the music. I mean it’s taken a long time to get to this point but I can’t tell you how excited I am to finally have these songs coming out on vinyl, CD, digital as a proper release!
VP: And you’d said that you’d also had these songs on a laptop that weren’t properly finished, I mean how fully formed where they and have you been pleased with the reaction to the news that you’re back ?
KATE: Some were more formed than others, some were rough demos , some needed mixing. None were ready to go on an album, so after contacting Bernard we worked on them again, I did new vocal takes, Bernard tinkered with the mixes on some of the tunes, we added some new tunes until we were happy then we got it mastered last year and now , finally, it’s ready to come out ! As for the reaction, it’s been really overwhelming, I had so many lovely comments about ‘Metropolis’ and so many people contacting me on social media saying they’d been waiting for his to happen. It made me realise how glad I am that I decided to pursue this because I really was so close to giving up on it completely concentrating on my art and not bothering with music again! But I had those songs on my laptop and it kept nagging me, I kept thinking “I’ve made a record with Bernard Butler and he was my guitar hero and Suede were my favourite band as a teenager , I have to release this.” So it’s being released on my own label, properly DIY !
VP: You’ve said the album’s a sort of road movie, but that the UK is essentially more like Antiques Roadtrip than Jack Kerouac ? It’s an album full of yearning, and searching for meaning in a sense
KATE: Haha , yes I guess when I was in The Long Blonde we spent a lot of time on the road, up and down the UK and a lot of my visual imagery comes from these boring viewpoints snatched through car windows – motorways, flyovers, service stations. The sort of thing I saw every day but which you often tend to ignore when you’re going from A-B , it’s just background landscape , white noise. I wanted to highlight those spaces, and almost over romanticise them. In fact, it didn’t realise how much I’d done that until I went back and revisited the songs! When I was thinking of an album title ‘British Road Movies’ seemed to make perfect sense as so many of those songs do reference the road and searching for home and lost friends and family and a sense of belonging … so you’re right it is a yearning, searching kind of record. I started thinking about the road movie as a genre and how it’s such an American thing? I mean how many British movies celebrate the landscapes? ‘Clockwise’ ? [laughing] There aren’t many … ‘Withnail and I’? [laughing] I did google it and someone tried to do a top ten, but they were really struggling. Our British road movies do tend to be a bit Antiques Road Show, and on TV, it’s all Countryfile or Coast or cookery programmes that travel around the country. All a bit quaint but why shouldn’t it be cinematic ? That’s kind of what I’m trying to do with the album!
VP: And I believe you’re a bit of a fan of walking around the countryside
Kate : Oh yes I do love walking, a lot of my creative ideas come from walking and always have done. I used to walk around Sheffield and just think! These days I’ll drive into the countryside, and then get my OS map out and walk and see where that takes me to . My artwork has definitely been inspired by these walks. I’m also quite interested in psychogeography and Iain Sinclair’s work, the layers of history – were you walk you’re leaving your trace when you walk through the landscape but you’re also experiencing the trace of humanity that existed in that place as well [laughing] sorry, this is getting a bit deep now! In America they don’t really have the walking tradition – here we have with the right of way and OS maps whereas in the US it’s very much a driving culture which may explain why we don’t really have the road movie here so much. We probably have more of a culture of rambling, in fact, maybe I should have called it ‘British Rambling Movies’, that might be the next album title [laughing]
VP: Maybe you should pitch a new TV show to a production company ? Kate Jackson’s Rock roll Rambles
Kate: Haha, oh yes, please send me off walking ! I’d be packing some high heels in my backpack though then I could walk all day and party at night!
VP: It’s an elective album, stylistically, but also entirely cohesive …
Kate: Yeah it is, Bernard and I have pretty similar taste and all roads lead back to David Bowie! I mean that was our starting point, every time we met to write we’d chat about what music we’d been listening to. In a way he lulled me into a false sense of security getting me to talk about music because I have to admit I was pretty nervous about working with him. I was kind of like ,” I’m not worthy, he was one of my heroes how can I live up to this!” But he was great and so good at putting me at ease. As we’d be chatting he’d start strumming his guitar or go over to the piano and casually say things like “I was thinking about this chord sequence” …so a lot of the songs stemmed from those sort of conversations about music. The essence of the album is his amazing guitar work, production, and my vocal over the top, that really gives it it’s cohesion and with that in place, we could have done anything
VP: It’s a great album, you don’t really sound like you’ve ever been away and songs like ’16 Years’ already sound like timeless classics
Kate: Thank You! Yeah, ’16 Years’ is one of my favourites, it links back to the Long Blondes in terms of the delivery too. On our debut Album ‘Someone To Drive You Home’ Dorian and I used to do some talky bits ! It’s about my best friend Erica so it means a lot to me that song!
VP: Another track “Wonder Feeling” has echoes of the Long Blondes for me, whereas you’d previously sung about being ‘Separated By Motorways’ this time the motorway seems to be celebrated as something liberating, having a connectivity to adventure and escape…
Kate: Yeah exactly ! It’s a sort of triumphant young lovers run away together , an escapist floor filler !
VP: Live dates, festivals, will you tour the regions ?
Kate: We’ve got live dates coming up but at this moment in time we can’t do a full traditional regional tour. My band pretty much have full-time jobs so it’s a tricky balancing act at the moment, I’m self-employed so I can commit time but it’s not fair to ask too much of my band members at this stage! However, we will be playing London on June 3rd and then Glasgow on 4th and down to Sheffield as well as The Great Escape and some in-stores at Rough Trade. It’s basically what we can do rather than what we’d ;like to do – I’d love to do Liverpool, Manchester etc . Maybe in the autumn, we’ll be able to make it. It’s the practicalities I’m sure more and more musicians have these problems now. Getting five people signed to a label with an advance is a rarity these days as the money just isn’t there!
VP: Have you noticed a big change in how musicians operate now and how the industry has changed since your time in the Long Blondes?
Kate: It was sort of happening when I was in The Long Blondes, we were one of the last five pieces to get a decent advance from an indie label where we could quit our jobs. I’m not sure in this current climate if The Long Blondes would ever have been signed. That probably explains why so many solo artists and duos do get signed these days and of course, the financial implications mean that people don’t want to take the risk unless it’s a dead cert. I perhaps think the biggest difference now is everything is so focused on social media and everything is so internet driven than it was with The Long Blondes. We didn’t have a facebook page, we had a MySpace page , it was that long ago [laughs] but it’s interesting for me to come back and hopefully do this again. I mean I didn’t think I’d have the chance again, and I do feel I’m carving my own path, more so than with the Long Blondes. We had a lot of help from the labels etc , but this time, I’m having to learn more about the business side of everything! I mean I’m the label, the manager and the artist ! So I’m learning how the industry now works ! Saying that I would obviously love it if a label signed me and took all this work off me [laughing] because it’s so hard! It’s so much more work! Now I know where every penny goes and how much everything costs! And I’m the one making the decisions! With the Long Blondes, it was more a case of ‘off you go, have a nice time’ and we’d play some shows… [laughing] I probably shouldn’t say all this !
VP: So does your art inform your music and vice versa, when working on one does it spark off ideas for the other
Kate : Yeah they do now! When I did an artist’s residency at Bury St Edmunds last summer it became apparent that my lyrics and paintings were coming from the same place. It’s obvious now looking back but I did used to completely separate the two in my mind. For example, even a couple of years ago I thought I couldn’t possibly use these images for my album art, and I thought I would have to specifically design album work, as my paintings were separate. And the thing is they’re not, obviously ! They are both coming from the same place , examining our British landscape in quite a voyeuristic way ! And the placement of characters within that isn’t obvious, I mean I don’t include any characters in my paintings, and my lyrics are often quite oblique, there’s only a hint a person might be in there. There’s no straightforward narrative in the way say Jarvis Cocker would write about a specific person. Their quite abstract, and perhaps because they aren’t so specific you can place yourself in it ?
VP: And can your art work and prints be procured online ?
Kate : It can indeed, over at my website http://www.katejackson.co.uk/art – under Art, or Shop .. I’m getting some more prints made as they’ve sold out and I am available for commissions should anybody wish to do so, which is how I make my living really. I’ve dome quite a few for local business’s and offices as they are quite large. You can’t really get a sense of scale on the internet but they do lend themselves to quite stark modernist interiors
VP: You’ve said the album is about a search of for home and belonging , so final question what does ‘home’ mean to Kate Jackson ?
Kate: Hmm, that’s an interesting question especially considering I’ve been living abroad for a number of years. I think that really sharpens your idea of home. Once I’d moved to Rome, it seemed that was going to be my home for the foreseeable future, but it was really odd as I went into a bit of a panic about the idea of being an ex-pat ! Which ultimately led to me moving back to my hometown of Bury St. Edmunds. I think I missed that sense of belonging , of being part of a community, the people I’d grown up with. Bury’s always been important to me, even when I lived in Sheffield I always came home. I did feel quite isolated, that’s not to say I wouldn’t live abroad again, because I do also miss the cosmopolitan feel of big cities, Berlin, for example, is somewhere I love. It was the first European city I visited before I was in a band and worked for a vintage clothing company and it definitely felt like home. I miss Sheffield too, I had such a great time there. In fact, all us ex-Long Blondes met up there last year, it must have been the first time since we’d split that we were all together in the same place , and after such a long time you wonder how much people may have changed, but you know what? Everybody was exactly the same and it was lovely.
So in answer to your question what does home mean, for me Bury St Edmunds will always be home – a place I go to recuperate and a place where I feel loved.
‘British Road Movies’ will be released on May 20th, 2016 on Kate’s own Al Pachino inspired “Hoo Ha Records.”
Tuesday 17th May – The Portland Arms, Cambridge (tickets)
Thursday 19th May – The Great Escape, Brighton (tickets)
Friday 20th May – Rough Trade East, London – 7pm (info)
Friday 3rd June – Courtyard Theatre, London (tickets)
Saturday 4th June – The Hug and Pint, Glasgow(tickets)
Sunday 5th June – Picture House Social, Sheffield (tickets)