England have just lost yet another Test match. It would be easier to deal with if I felt that they were learning from their mistakes. It’s just that every game same selectors pick the wrong team, the same batsmen flash outside off stump, the same slip fielders drop catches and the same bowlers bowl the wrong lengths. The problem is that a lot of these players think they understand, they think they know everything they need to know and they don’t seem willing to learn or to change.
I suspect that a lot of us are the same. We think we know stuff, we think we understand ourselves and when things don’t work out as we would like, we look outward and not inward. We blame others rather than look at our knowledge and understanding. My favourite podcast of the last couple of years is “Nothing Is Real” a podcast about The Beatles. The tag line is “everybody thinks they know The Beatles but how much do we really know”. How much do any of us know. About anything. The older I get, the less I know.
I thought I knew all the music that my musical guru Peter liked this year, but when he sent me his “Best of 2021” playlist, I found a number of artists I’d never heard of. I thought I knew what he liked and I made assumptions. Incorrect assumptions, as it happens. He claims to have told me about Katy Kirby ages ago but I have no recollection of that conversation.
In 1989, I took a small group of pupils on a Summer Holiday to Switzerland. I discussed the arrangements with the Headteacher of Chancellor’s School who agreed that I would only need one other member of staff to accompany me. A few months later, when the Chair of Governors suddenly took an interest in extra-curricular activities, I was summonsed to a meeting when I was asked why I was only taking one other member of staff. I replied that the Headteacher and I had agreed this previously, to which he replied “I have no recollection of that conversation”. Since that time, I have used the phrase as a get-out when I have forgotten something. It’s quite powerful and I can recommend it. For example, “I have no recollection of you saying you didn’t want me to drink six pints of Harvey’s” or “I have no recollection of you asking me to clean the bath”.
So, I have no recollection of Peter telling me anything about Katy Kirby. I thought I knew what he liked and, if I do have a vague memory of him mentioning her name, I guess I would have dismissed it because which serious music lover likes Kathy Kirby anyway?
Kathy Kirby represented Great Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1965, coming second with “I Belong”. When she was in her teens, she started an affair with bandleader Bert Ambrose, who was 42 years older than her. The affair lasted for about fifteen years until his death in 1971. During this time, she also had an affair with Bruce Forsyth. In 1983, she retired from the music business and her schizophrenia caused her physical and mental health to suffer. She lived on state benefits until her niece, Sarah, married Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark at which point she was encouraged to move into Brinsworth House, a residential and nursing retirement home for theatre and entertainment professionals in Twickenham. In the Sixties, Kathy Kirby was a very popular light entertainment artists and she hosted her own BBC programme. Some of the guest artists on her shows included Jessie Matthews, Val Doonican, Stubby Kaye, Billy Fury, Adam Faith, Kenny Ball, Tom Jones, Roy Castle and Dave Allen. In the days of just two TV channels, I watched these programmes uncritically but, in time, I came to the opinion that I hated “light entertainment”.
So this album has nothing to do with Kathy Kirby. I thought I knew who Peter was talking about, but I was wrong. This album is by Katy Kirby who is a 25 year old singer-songwriter from Spicewood, Texas (35 miles West of Austin). “Cool Dry Place” is her debut album and it was released in February 2021.
Katy Kirby was brought up in an evangelical Christian family where, apart from the hymns she sung in church, the only music she heard was Christian rock music. The Association of Vineyard Churches is the name given to a religious movement from Texas and a label called Vineyard Worship released a number of worship albums which were a formative influence on the young Katy Kirby. From these albums and, especially from her father, Katy Kirby learned about harmonies as this music was meant to be sung by congregations. She says “They’re still beautiful songs and melodies, and there is a simplicity built into them that it seems like I’ve internalised. “
Her upbringing was not a straightjacket and she was encouraged to question her faith and broaden her mind. Around the age of 13, she heard albums by Sufjan Stevens and The Strokes but when her school friends discussed Crimson or Zeppelin, she had no idea what they were talking about. Her musical horizons broadened over subsequent years and she started composing her own songs. She says that this transition was “the weirdest and one of the darkest experiences that I’ve had – trying to rewire my brain to not have a loving God that’s ever-present in it”. She attended a Christian University in Nashville and, while there, started to learn guitar. The first song she learned how to play was “Blackbird” by The Beatles. She says “I think, quite honestly, that picking pattern and the way that song functions with the vocals is probably something I internalised pretty hardcore. “
The album has nine songs and is very delicate. Katy Kirby is backed by a full band who play with great restraint and sensitivity. Her writing is not dogmatic. “It sounds better to pose statements as questions, and also I’m the child of two lawyers so rhetorical questions are pretty in there.” Aha! Here’s someone who realises she doesn’t have all the answers, she doesn’t understand everything and finds fulfilment from a life of searching.
Here’s a live performance of the whole album.