The Hospital Club, London
I signed up with Pledge Music to buy the album, buy the book, and buy the gig ticket. (For some reason after writing that I now want to adopt a stupid Dennis Waterman voice and say “write da feem toon, sing da feem toon”).
It was a collaboration that intrigued me: author Laura Barnett teaming up with singer Kathryn Williams to create a fictional ‘greatest hits’ album for a made-up music star. (For some reason now, I’m thinking of Garth Effing Brooks and his fictional rock and roll alter ego Chris Gaines, and no, God no, this is NOT like that!)
Last night I headed for the Q & A session and gig part of my pledge purchase, which was being hosted at London’s posh Hospital Club (a private members club and hub for people in the creative industries, don’t you know. Despite that, they let me in).
Laura’s new novel, Greatest Hits, tells the story of Cass Wheeler, a music star who, at the height of her fame, cuts herself off from the world. Two decades later Cass gradually re-engages with life as she compiles a personal ‘Greatest Hits’ tracklisting of her songs. Each chapter starts with the song’s lyrics (complete with fictional album/producer/recording studio credits) before giving us a flashback of Cass’s life at the time of writing.
It’s an inventive conceit, with atmospherically-drawn snapshots of a life lived through music. Laura’s decision to ask Kathryn to turn those lyrics into songs could have been a distraction. If Kathryn didn’t capture the mood, atmosphere, and style of the tracks – supposedly written during different decades of the fictional Cass’s life – it would be like watching the wrong actors being cast in a film adaptation (You know, Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, John Wayne as Genghis Khan, that sort of thing).
It had to sound right, and at last night’s Hospital Club event, Kathryn proved just how right it is. First she performed a couple of evocative solo acoustic versions of tracks during the Q & A session (hosted by Tom Robinson), her vocals holding the room rapt.
Then, during the second half of the show, with a backing band which included Magic Numbers siblings Romeo and Michelle Stodart, things really started to fly.
At the sound check earlier, there had been scratchings of heads and scrawlings of chord notations, as the musicians (who up until last night had only played the songs a handful of times since recording the album) reminded themselves of the arrangements.
You wouldn’t have known it from the show: on the tiny stage, in the small, intimate room, the fleshed-out sound seemed as natural and easy as if they had played it night after night on tour, Romeo’s guitar-playing adding a beautiful shimmer to the sound.
The real strength of the music is its authenticity. Not the pompous ‘muso’ kind of authentic, but rather in the sense of it being a believeable ‘greatest hits’ set, spanning different eras and styles, but never stooping to pastiche. This could be Cass Wheeler’s comeback. These felt like her songs. And what a voice to give her.
The final song, Road of Shadows, summed the evening up for me, even though it’s more muscular and rock-ey than the rest of the tunes. Kathryn channelled real power into her more usually delicate voice as she sang the line ‘knocking down miles like dominoes’, Romeo casually cascaded guitar licks, Michelle nailed the driving bass riff, and in the middle of all this was author Laura, jumping up and down as she sang backing vocals, grinning from ear to ear. Kathryn gave her a huge hug and it was over. They looked like they’d had a blast.
Happy and appreciative. Pledgers outnumbering liggers.
It made me think..
I’m glad they took their imaginative leap together. And gave readers and listeners the chance to leap with them.
Also, Michelle Stodart is an extremely accommodating woman – when I asked for a photo with her (as some people have said we bear a bit of a resemblance), she came up with the idea of adding to the lookeelikeeness by lending me some of her hair.