I was lucky enough to attend Kathryn Williams (yes, her again) International Songdriting Retreat down in Stroud recently. Guests included Marry Waterston, Tom McRae, David Ford, Romeo Stodart, Graham Fellows aka John Shuttleworth aka Jilted John (yes, I did take my copy of the JJ True Love Stories LP complete with snakes and ladders board with me to get signed, No, I didn't have the bottle to ask him), Michele Stodart, Teddy Thompson, Sam Parton of the Be Good Tanyas and others including Kath's support for the tour and piano wrangler for her set, Astrid Williamson.
Over the years I've seen Kathryn play she has consistently had opening acts and collaborators that impress and make me want to see them play full sets - in the past this has included Clayhill with the much missed Gavin Clarke and Michele Stodart whose new album 'Pieces' promises to be a belter as evidenced in one of the songs she played at the retreats end of week concert.
You know you always hear those stories of someone going to a small club , a singer getting up to play a new song and it being something that will go on to be a world shagging standard? Well, Astrid sang 'Scattered' and I thought it already was. I remember thinking "is this a Joni Mitchell track that's not on 'Blue'?" as that's about all the Joni I feel I need not being too much of a beatnik jazzer. It's also reminiscent of Carole King but I'm pretty down with her oeuvre.
It was, I suppose, quite rude of me to think that Astrid was playing a cover on a night dedicated to fresh writing but I hope she doesn't hold it against me. Yet in a night of great performances and tunes, 'Scattered' just floored me and made me weep.
From the opening "I wish I was braver" which is a constant prayer in my head I was mesmerised by the way the song ebbed and flowed like the protagonists will to break free from a bad relationship. Lyrics so insightful and cutting to the heart, soaring in the chorus 'when your heart shatters and scatters like glass / it spreads into the future as well as the past" - it hits something deep inside, the truths we dare not tell.
There is such a mixture of longing, strength and vulnerability in Astrid voice, yes I know that doesn't make sense but let me try and verbalise these feelings. She inhabits the song, as if it were a dramatic piece. That's how she draws you in, by convincing you that what up ate hearing is honest and "real". No not "authentic" or "genuine" but a simple beauty.
Astrid hopes to tour later in the year with a band to showcase other songs from 'We Go To Dream' which have varied and inventive electronic and edgy arrangements. But I hope she keeps 'Scattered' as a solo piano number as it packs a hell of an emotional punch to the senses.