Unlike most of her peers, Kate Walsh doesnâ€™t have an iPod or a Walkman. She does own a television, but she hasnâ€™t plugged it in since last July. Consciously or otherwise, this gifted 23-year-old knows that, in a world teeming with distractions, itâ€™s best to give the muse some elbowroom in which to work. â€œA lot of the time I just like to sitâ€, says Kate, â€œor Iâ€™ll go for a walk along the beach. The songs tend to come when I have time alone to think.â€
If forgoing the telly is one marker of her individuality, another, more significant one is Kateâ€™s debut album proper. A soothing, richly sensual work, Timâ€™s House is an admirable contribution to the quiet revolution. Packing heart-stoppingly beautiful songs – if â€˜Your Songâ€™ and â€˜Tonightâ€™ donâ€™t move you we respectively suggest you check your pulse â€“ the album has maturity and finesse way beyond Kateâ€™s years. Put simply, itâ€™s a corker, and to understand how and why she came to write it, we need to backtrack a little.
Kate was born in the tiny fishing village of Burnham-On-Crouch, Essex. â€œA pretty little place with lots of farms around it.â€ She loved growing up by the sea (which probably explains her current place of residence, Brighton, and the seagull cries which ornament â€˜Is This It?â€™), but not everything about Burnham was quite so magical.
â€œPeople could be tough thereâ€, she recalls. â€œIf youâ€™re doing something different and you donâ€™t quite fit in, they let you know. Thereâ€™s always that group that rules the roost, and that want status and popularity whatever lengths they have to go to. Thatâ€™s what â€˜Talk Of The Townâ€™ is about; how, if you put a foot wrong, theyâ€™d condemn you for it. I never fitted in there and I ended up going to four different secondary schools.â€
Fortunately, Kate had already found an escape hatch in music. Dad listened to Classic FM and Pink Floyd; mum played piano and liked Jimi Hendrix and The Beach Boys, and her elder brothers were into experimental electronic music. Kate, meanwhile, had begun having piano lessons aged five, relishing them from the get go. Naturally, some years elapsed before she could play the works of impressionist composers such as Ravel and Debussy, but play them she did. Kate still counts Claude Debussy as a key influence on her sense of melody, but she has also learned from Joni Mitchell, Talk Talk, The Longpigs, Tori Amos and many more.
â€œActually, I canâ€™t write very well on the pianoâ€, she says, â€œbut as soon as I picked up the guitar that was it. My songs are either about heartache or growing up in a small townâ€, she adds when quizzed further. â€œPeople always say they donâ€™t understand how someone as young as me has so much heartache to write about. I donâ€™t think I have any less or more than most people, but it definitely inspires me and I channel a lot of things through it.â€
Listening to the album you hold in your hands itâ€™s difficult to countenance, but for many years, Kate didnâ€™t realise she could sing. Sure, she did the â€˜hairbrush as microphoneâ€™ thing in her bedroom, but initially she wanted to write film scores or compose songs for other people. At 18, she was accepted to study for a music degree at The London College Of Music and Media in Ealing, but when an acquaintance heard the songs sheâ€™d been writing and expressed an interest in producing an album for her, Kate deferred her entry into college.
We neednâ€™t concern ourselves with the album that resulted here – suffice to say it was the kind of false start that few successful artists avoid: decent but unrepresentative, neither turkey nor swan. One thing Kate learned from the whole experience, though, was that she wanted to have more control over her own career, hence Timâ€™s House â€“ a swan if ever there was – will be released on Kateâ€™s own label, Blueberry Pie.
Why Timâ€™s House? Well, because Kate and multi-instrumentalist Tim Bidwell co-produced the album chez Tim, the latterâ€™s experience as in-house producer for Brighton label Folklaw enabling him to help Kate shape a record of great heart and class. Witness the exquisitely subtle strings that usher in â€˜Bettyâ€™; the beguiling Ry Cooder-meets-early-Rod Stewart lead guitar on â€˜Talk Of The Townâ€™; the quietly assured charm of Kateâ€™s vocal on â€˜Fireworksâ€™, a bittersweet Joni Mitchell circa Blue-friendly gem she wrote last Bonfire Night.
â€œItâ€™s always alone on November the fifth, regardless of whether I have a boyfriend a few weeks before or a few weeks afterâ€, she says, explaining the origin of â€˜Fireworks.â€™ â€œItâ€™s about me not wanting to go out because the fireworks are too loud and my dogs are upset.â€
For all the unhurried grace of the diverse instrumentation deployed on Timâ€™s House, itâ€™s Kateâ€™s choice vocals that ultimately make it so special. Listen to the spellbinding subtlety of her phrasing on â€˜Tonight.â€™ Listen to the way that, throughout the album, she manages to sing with the humanity of Kathryn Williams and the soft bell-like clarity of The Sundaysâ€™ Harriet Wheeler while sounding like no one but herself.
At the time of writing, Kate Walsh still has to spend a fair bit of he time â€œselling soap to posh ladiesâ€, but one senses that this may be about to change. â€œIâ€™m really proud of the new record and I canâ€™t stop listening to itâ€, Kate says with a typically modest smile.
We give you Timâ€™s House, then, a place where youâ€™ll want to kick off your shoes, lie back, and listenâ€¦
auntie annieâ€™s porterhouse
monday 1st october
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