KATHERINE Priddy’s debut EP, Wolf, was chosen by Richard Thompson, no less, as The Best Thing I’ve Heard All Year.
That was in 2018, since when the Alchurch singer-songwriter has been on the gradual rise, leading to the June 2021 release of her debut album, The Eternal Rocks Beneath, on Navigator Records.
It duly topped the Official UK Folk Chart; reached number five in the Americana charts; received a five-star review in Songlines; made Mojo magazine’s Top Ten Folk Albums of 2021 and attracted airplay from Radcliffe & Maconie, Gideon Coe, Cerys Matthews, Guy Garvey, Tom Robinson and Steve Lamacq on BBC 6Music, as well as on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show.
On the road there have been tours with Thompson in 2019 and 2021, a joint run with Sam Kelly; support slots with The Chieftains and Vashti Bunyan; a sold-out December solo tour and an appearance at the Folk Alliance International Showcase in Kansas City in February.
Now, the penultimate night of Katherine’s 15-date spring travels brings her to the National Centre for Early Music in York tomorrow (1/6/2022), on her return to North Yorkshire for the first time since playing the Magpies Festival at Sutton Park in August 2021.
“It was their first year running the festival in the grounds there, and it was really brave of them, to be honest, as we were just coming out of the Covid lockdowns, but we had a really lovely crowd,” she recalls.
Katherine is making her mark on the contemporary roots scene with songs that bear testament both to growing up surrounded by nature and to her love of language, literature and poetry from her days of studying English Literature at the University of Sussex in Brighton.
“I first wrote a song when I was maybe 14/15, but it took a few years for me to really progress,” she says. “I did some performing in my teens and early twenties, but now I’m making up for lost time.”
Katherine had first set foot on stage to play Dorothy in her school play [The Wizard Of Oz] when she was nine. “I later taught myself to play guitar but I was convinced I couldn’t sing, though I did pass my GCSE, and I did do the odd show and performance at university,” she says. “But it wasn’t until I graduated that I went into a studio for the first time.”
As for performing live, “I’ve always been really nervous,” Katherine admits. “When I first started, I had to play sitting down because my knees were shaking so much! I still get nervous, but you have to enjoy it or you won’t have the energy to keep going. Having some self-belief and focusing on the good feedback is important.”
Katherine grew up in Alchurch, a rural village to the south of Birmingham. “There wasn’t an awful lot of music going on there, though they did start a folk night at the men’s club, just over the fence from my garden, so I played there, and it was good to have Birmingham on the doorstep,” she says.
She has now moved to the Second City. “It’s not quite as lovely and green, but it’s still lovely,” she says. “I recorded The Eternal Rocks Beneath there, at Rebellious Jukebox, a studio that Simon Weaver runs almost as a hobby but he’s a fantastic superstar producer.
“It’s next to the factory where all the whistles are made for FIFA in the industrial heart of Birmingham, underneath a road next to the Jewellery Quarter.”
When writing songs, she puts an emphasis on the lyrics . “Some people hear a melody first, others write the lyrics first, and for me it’s always been the lyrics. I want them to be able to stand on their own like poetry, where each word has weight,” says Katherine. “It should be the same with lyrics, where you have to concentrate on finding the right word.”
On her debut EP Wolf, the title track was inspired by Heathcliff, and Katherine returned to Emily Bronte’s book for her debut album. “Wuthering Heights is my favourite novel, and I loved how Cathy described her love for Heathcliff as being ‘the eternal rock beneath’,” she says.
“A lot of my songs have themes of childhood and growing up, and for me, it fitted in as a foundation for what’s coming next.”
Does haunting vocalist and finger-picking guitarist Katherine consider herself to be a folk musician? “I think I’m just outside, with one foot in folk and one foot elsewhere, but what I appreciate about folk songs is that they tell stories,” she says.
Sometimes she performs her storytelling songs solo, but “these days I play sometimes with George Boomsma [a surname of Dutch origin, should you be wondering], “she says.
“He’s from Northallerton, so he’ll definitely be with me tomorrow, doing the supporting set as well as playing with me. He plays electric guitar and sings some really nice harmonies, and we’ve done a song together called Ready To Go. That’s the working title. It’s unreleased so far, but we’re quite likely to perform it tomorrow.”
A summer of festivals awaits Katherine, to be followed by recording sessions in the autumn and winter for her second album, with song-writing in progress.
In the meantime, tomorrow offers the chance to discover why Richard Thompson was so impressed by that first EP, Wolf. “It was bonkers that he heard it,” Katherine says.” I still don’t know how he got hold of a copy! When it’s a first release, you’re proud of it yourself, but for someone of his standing to say what he did was such a boost.”
Revolver presents Katherine Priddy and George Boomsma at National Centre for Early Music, Walmgate, York, June 1, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 658338 or ncem.co.uk.