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20.08.22   >   AYMHM 17: Never Told A Soul

A good album you may have missed... (see them all HERE)

Never Told A Soul

Never Told A Soul

John Illsley

It is more than possible that you have never heard of John Illsley. Yet he played bass guitar in what was once the biggest band on the planet, Dire Straits. Though one of the founding members of the band, it was frontman Mark Knopfler that wrote the songs and seemingly called all the shots. This creative monopoly did not sit well with Knopfler's brother David, another founder member, who left the band after a couple of albums because his input was marginalised. Illsley, the quiet and unassuming bassist, seemed happy to let Mark steer the ship, and given the band's meteoric success it did him no harm. He and Knopfler remain close friends to this day. But like any intelligent and competent musician, the capability to create is innate and Illsley wrote songs in his own time. It isn't clear if he pitched any of them to Knopfler as Dire Straits songs. My feeling is that he may not have felt his songs were good enough. Everything Knopfler had done had turned to gold, platinum in fact, and Illsley would have been wary of tampering with that formula. Yet once you hear some of his songs it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine them as Dire Straits songs with Knopfler growling out the vocals. It is tempting to think of Illsley as the George Harrison of Dire Straits–capable, but not feeling as though he could get a look in. I think if Knopfler did decline to use the songs for the band then he did it in a supportive and tactful way because their friendship never seems to have wavered. It may even have been Knopfler's idea for Illsley to release a solo album.

Never Told A Soul was released in 1984, a vintage year in which Knopfler himself released a solo album, the soundtrack to the film Cal, and of course, the year Katie was born. Knopfler plays guitar on four of the seven tracks but this is entirely Illsley's album–he wrote all the songs and produced it. And it is good. There are five or six songs that I don't think would have been out of place on a Dire Straits album, and I’m actually glad they weren't otherwise this album may never have happened. Illsley is a more than capable lyricist as well as musician and this is an album that deserved better success but it is tough to make waves in the music industry without being extroverted and showy, which Illsley definitely is not. The title track is gorgeous, with Knopfler's dreamy acoustic guitar beautifully underlining the quality. Jimmy On The Central Line, a song about a busker on the London Underground, very cleverly fades in–an unusual idea and one that works brilliantly to replicate that feeling of music gradually getting louder as you approach the source. This is an album that hasn't just been thrown together, it has been carefully crafted by people that know what they're doing and it has stood the test of time well.

John Illsley has released five more studio albums over the years and is still active into his seventies. He toured a couple of years ago playing some of his own songs alongside several Dire Straits classics, giving fans a rare chance to hear that material performed live, with Knopfler continuing to rule out any chance of the band reforming.

Listen to Never Told A Soul on Spotify via the link below:

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05.08.22   >   Aerial Objects Live Show Announced

Katie will give a one-off performance of Aerial Objects with Simon Goff in Berlin on 7th September. Getting to see these songs performed live is a unique chance that very few people will ever have so if you are able to go I'd highly recommend you to. Visit the Reservix website for tickets.

03.08.22   >   Venue Change!

Katie has reported that the Bonn concert on the 8th of August will now be held at Brückenforum. If you already had a ticket I assume it will be transferable to the new venue but if I were you I'd check to see if there's anything you need to know. If you want to buy a ticket there's an updated link on the On Tour page.

bonn 2022

01.08.22   >   Thoughts on Aerial Objects

I have decided to stop reviewing Katie’s albums. The reason is simple—I have loved every album she has ever released. No matter what she does I just seem to ‘get it’. In light of this, I can hardly be considered an impartial reviewer of her music when I know I’m highly unlikely to give her anything other than five stars. She would have to make an utter dog of an album to get anything less from me and after making music for more than two decades I don’t actually believe she knows how to make bad music. Her love of the craft and dedication to detail almost guarantee her end product will be quality. Her music may not be everyone’s cup of tea but that is true of any artist and it is a reflection of the listener’s taste rather than the artist’s ability.

Instead, I will merely offer my thoughts and observations on her latest offering, Aerial Objects, a collaboration with Simon Goff. I will begin with a warning—I absolutely love this album. Yes, yes, you knew I was going to say that but there’s a but. The but being that I cannot guarantee that you will. I have already seen a one-star review of it in a prominent paper and the simple fact is that Aerial Objects is Marmite. It is unlike anything Katie has done before and there will be fans that recoil against change and simply refuse to give it a chance. For me, that is a shame because this is a special album, dripping with musical and lyrical quality but it is not for me to tell you what to think, rather I can only tell you what I think and hope it helps you decide to give something new a try.

It is a difficult album to categorize. There are vibes of classical, ambient, electronica, late night jazz and the kind of carefully considered lyrics that Katie began to hone with Album No. 8. You could easily consider it to be background music and yet it rewards immersive listening with cleverly crafted and layered music that seems to hook you more with each play. I’ll introduce each of the six tracks in order by giving a quote from Katie about that song.

Tbilisi Airport

I like the line ‘kept looking for that weight of sadness in me, should I move here, but all that I could find was being thankful that I was here’ You know when you’re writing and some inner voice knows more than you do...
...that's how this one felt. K x

Inspired by the story of the ‘Deutcher Werkerbund’ a German association of Artists, Architects & designers which preceded Bauhaus, we wanted to know who built Berlin, went into a rabbit hole of the works of Werner Duttman.

Simon’s violin eases us into the album, quickly joined by a steady but subtle bass line. When Katie begins to sing you quickly realise the vocals are an equal partner to the music rather than being the leading act. The whole album is as much about the music as the lyrics and Katie’s voice is treated as an instrument rather than the star turn. This track is interesting because of the opposing perspectives Simon and Katie have about airports—Simon seeing them as depressing places where people have to endlessly wait in tedious limbo and Katie seeing them as exciting portals to new adventures. Personally, I see them as both those things. Like all the tracks on the album, rather than try to extract the artists’ meaning from them you are encouraged to get lost in the words and melodies and derive your own feelings. Let the music take you places in your own mind.

It Happened

It happened isn’t about one specific event, it's a blueprint of how I feel when something dramatic happens. How quickly the idea of certain groups turn in my mind into friends or foes.

Possibly my favourite track on the album, and it can quickly become an earworm that will bounce around your brain for days. It boasts a chorus of Katie singing “da’s” in a ridiculously catchy manner that is highly reminiscent of Enya and instantly made me think about her “The Celts” album. The only thing I haven’t managed to get my head around is the abrupt ending to the song mid-sentence—it is quite jarring and if there was meant to be a point behind it I’m afraid it is lost on me, although perhaps the clue is in Katie’s words above about something dramatic happening. In the old days, I might have just thought the tape ran out.

Hotel Stamba

The hotel that inspired this song is in Tbilisi, it used to be an old printing factory, and turned into a hotel a few years ago, designed in a stunning contemporary style, with plenty of Georgian artistic heart in it.

The music here has multi-layered Philip Glass vibe about it that varies in light and shade to give an underlying sense of drama to Katie’s calm and dreamy vocals. Just a gorgeous song.

Textures Of Memories

Have you ever experienced something so good, that when you try to remember it, your mind has subdued the effect? as if you don’t deserve the magic and beauty of the experience. That’s what this Textures stumbled upon for me.
Also inspired by the sunrises and sunsets in Manhattan, Simon did a perfect job of capturing those heights and the mad energy of that city in our minds.

The vocals are more prominent on this track and it feels like the song could easily have been added to Album No. 8. There is some exquisite violin work from Simon on here, with an achingly beautiful melody starting when Katie’s singing drops back in the mix for a deliberate distant effect. Stunningly beautiful music and lyrics.

Aerial Objects

Aerial objects came about from the blueprints of classic songs, and the words that are used most often in them and given the greatest weight…we kept going back to aerial objects, hence the mention of Bowie’s Starman..
... Nina Simone’s Birds, Judie Garland’s Rainbows, all the mentions of Heaven and angels in songs.. I bet there's loads we've missed ...

More Glass-esque musical drama to stir your soul and Katie’s haunting vocals echoing around your brain. This track is well named because it almost does make you feel like you are floating above the landscape on a moonlit night. You don’t want it to ever end.

Millions Of Things

The words for Millions of things was inspired by the Making of the British landscape by Nicholas Crane we start the album in a man made space and finish in a natural environment, the forming of these epic islands.
It's also about the environment of language which Nicholas Crane uses so stunningly. The painting of thousands of years with words is something else in his book.

At almost seven minutes this is comfortably the longest studio track Katie has ever recorded. It is also her most lyrically ambitious, with nearly four hundred words. That could get her a high five from Bob Dylan, though she might have to settle for a doff of the cap from me. The music is a little more restrained on this track but there is still plenty going on behind the scenes when you pay attention, assuming you can get past the surprise of hearing Katie singing about quintessentially-British landscape explorer Nicholas Crane, a man who never goes anywhere without his umbrella. From now on, I doubt I’ll ever go anywhere without a means of listening to Aerial Objects. Katie is creating more masterpieces than Rembrandt and this album, not forgetting it is a collaboration with the impressive Simon Goff, is another one to hang on the wall. Sooner or later she’ll release an album that is merely pretty good and we may all feel a tad disappointed. Though I wouldn’t hold your breath on that.


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