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Maybe hypnosis would work

Mercury Prize nominee Kathryn Williams discusses how she's happy she didn't win, her new house, stage-fright and her inability to listen to her own music.

It's an odd business, this fame game. There are those who would bump off their granny or worse, appear on reality telly, in order to make a name for themselves. But, for some, fame is an unfortunate by-product of simply being talented. No one knows this as well as a shy singer-song writer who was thrust into the limelight when her album was nominated for the Mercury Music prize.

Kathryn Williams admits to feeling a sense of relief when her acclaimed "Little Black Numbers" didn't win. "I got everything I needed from the nomination, a lot of publicity", she says. She sold 40,000 albums. "I couldn't have asked for more. People think I'm being brave, but honestly, I didn't mind not winning!" She feels decidedly removed from the whole celebrity scene. "I generally don't go to showbiz parties", she says. Though only 28, when Kathryn got a publishing deal, the first thing she did was buy a house. "I'm not into bling-bling!" she says. "At least I know my house is mine. And the music world is unstable." Something suggests that she is the kind of lady who would prefer an evening watching Eastenders and stroking her cat to going on all-night benders.

It's December in Dublin and Kathryn is doing phone interviews from her "lovely" bed in a Rathmines hotel. In the background, her husband Neil, who runs her record label and manages her tours, is pottering about, making tea. The two got married last year. "It's great!" she smiles in her soft Liverpool accent. "We were living together for a few years, so we had an idea of what it was going to be like. Being with Neil gives me the freedom to work on my music." They now live in Newcastle, where Kathryn went to art college. She briefly painted for a living, but was forced to fall back on waitressing when money got tight. It was during this time that she started writing music.

In 1998, she set up Caw Records, and released a mini album, "Toocan". The following year, her "Dog Leap Stairs" album won critical acclaim, and, in 2000, "Little Black Numbers" enjoyed glowing reviews and, of course, the attention of the Mercury nomination panel. She released her third album, "Old Low Light", last year.

She cites her influences as Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, Carole King, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young: "artists who make me aspire to be better". Of the more contemporary variety, she rates The Strokes, The Lullaby Baxter Trio and Damien Rice. Indeed, Mr Rice is the reason that Kathryn is in Dublin at the moment. Playing a gig together in the Olympia, she has nothing but respect for the songwriter who has had a successful year. "Damien's great", she says, "I've really been bigging him up. He deserves all the critical attention he's been getting."

Kathryn played a gig in Spirit earlier in the year and is happy to be back in Dublin, and particularly in the Olympia. "I love playing in theatres. It helps with my stage fright." She has suffered from this awkward condition for years. "It's much better now", she says, "I think it was worse when I was younger, because I felt I had no right or no qualifications to be up on stage. But I've had some help dealing with it. And I figure, if people have made an effort to pay money and come see me play, I must be OK!"

She still can't listen to her own albums, though, finding it too much like work, but, pressed to name her favourite song, she admits she does like 'Mirrorball' from "Old Low Light". "One day I'd love to be able to distance herself and listen to my songs objectively", she says. "Maybe hypnosis would work!"


by Anne-Louise Foley

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