Providence almighty! Award-winning singer-songwriter Katy Carr’s latest studio album - made in lockdown over 2020 in a year that few will forget - serves up some catchy songs with an edge. Inspired initially by a dream sequence that the Nottingham-born singer had, literary luminaries and others including George Orwell and Oscar Wilde influenced this latest work.
‘Providence’, her sixth to date following the release of ‘Paszport’ (2012) and ‘Polonia’ (2015) that both covered issues around homeland, identity and belonging, forms part of the final trilogy dedicated to the Polish World War 2 (WWII) trilogy. Tense stuff you might think and perhaps not ideal for forging musical excellence. But it works with a high degree of finesse and especially with Carr’s vocal range.
Prior to this her album ‘Coquette’, which related to the British, French and Polish WWII experience, was listed by Suede lead singer Brett Anderson as one of his top 10 albums of 2011 alongside Björk and Kate Bush amongst others. So her work cuts the mustard.
Picture yourself transported through Carr’s latest offering back to a Hampstead post WWII around 1947, where a party is being hosted at Hungarian-born architect and furniture designer Ernő Goldfinger’s house (2 Willow Road) for the elite thinkers, writers, military leaders of Britain and Poland throughout the ages. The Cold War has begun and Stalin has sealed his Iron Curtain stamp on Europe.
Themes around water - like miracles on the River Vistula (Wisła), Poland’s longest river (1,047km) abounding with Slavic legends, and Hampstead’s Ladies’ Ponds (track 6) - good versus evil, fighting for freedom as well as love and death are explored.
The first twenty seconds of the opening track, ‘Hero to Zero’, with its haunting cello intro - played by Rupert Gillett, who also co-produced and arranged the album, might have signalled something more brooding to come. Yet this is an uplifting album with a number of poppy and eclectic numbers. A multi-instrumentalist like Carr, Gillett played double bass, bass guitar, 6 and 12 string guitar, mandolin and banjo on the album.
Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), who was portrayed as the ‘Empress of the World’ and ‘Commander of the Seas’ in ‘The Armada Portrait (c.1588) following defeat of the Spanish fleet - regarded as one of England's greatest military achievements - also gets in on the act with ‘The Virgin Queene’ (track 9). 'All hail Gloriana!...I'll never see Olde England attacked...', Carr sings in this upbeat song.
Speaking to Carr from her north London base, I discover that those literary luminaries - also included the prolific American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs convening in her Hampstead dream, who wrote in science novel, ‘The Warlord of Mars’. As Burroughs wrote in this work: “If there be a fate that is sometimes cruel to me, there surely is a kind and merciful Providence which watches over me.” Frankly we could all do with a dose of that over the past given the Covid pandemic.
2020 also marked a host of significant anniversary milestones from the 70th anniversary of the Orwell’s death to the 120th anniversary of Wilde’s passing, and eighty years since the first transport to Auschwitz to forty years of Solidarność (Solidarity), a word that first emerged in August 1980 in Gdańsk’s Lenin Shipyard as the name of a trade union (NSZZ Solidarność) to defend workers’ rights.
At the heart of ‘Providence’ lies a link to a belief in the ‘Divine’ and help from other-worldly powers, so that no matter how hard life becomes the eventual outcome is always freedom as we are all connected to a greater force of ‘God’, ‘Fate’, ‘Destiny’, ‘Holy Spirit’ and ‘Miracle’ - guiding and caring for our every move. Carr says she learnt that “at the heart of every story was a quest for inner enlightenment, freedom and peace.”
‘Afterwards’, the album’s second track, was originally written by Peter Hammill for English prog rock band Van Der Graaf Generator’s debut album (1969), ‘The Aerosol Grey Machine’, with the lines: “It’s all too beautiful for my mind to bear…And as we shimmer into sleep, something’s unshared.” Carr’s handling of the song is certainly delicate and is shown to good effect.
The third track, ‘Miracle on the Vistula’, is a poppy track that is inspired and takes its cue from a decisive Polish military victory in August 1920 in the Polish-Soviet War that coincided with the Feast Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Bearing legends in mind, Queen Wanda of Poland from the eighth century and daughter of Krakus (founder of Krakow), is said to have thrown herself into the Vistula to avoid marrying a German prince. As such one might want to go “down to Krakow” in the opening line “to take my blues away”, as Carr sings.
Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea) of the Britons and Celtic Iceni tribe features on the fifth track. This widely considered British folk hero, whose bronze statue today can be seen riding a high on a chariot on the Thames Embankment next to the Houses of Parliament, Boudicea is “fighting for the land I love…fighting for my secret love…fighting for Great Britain”. Later on Queen Victoria's Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a poem, 'Boadicea', and several ships were named after her.
Hej Sokoly (Hey There Falcons), track 4, is one of the most popular folk songs in Poland and became popular among Polish soldiers fighting in the Polish-Soviet war. It tells of the story of a Ukrainian girl who says goodbye to her betrothed, a Cossack, for the last time. Carr has performed the song at gigs including the Womad Festival. The rousing concluding verse starting - ‘Wine, wine, give me wine!’ - puts a crowd in high spirits. And, this is an album that heightens your senses.
For more information about Katy Carr, who has been awarded the ‘Pro Patria’ medal for her humanitarian and musical work, and for details and to buy the latest album click here. The album’s artwork and design was by Susan Burghart (www.susanburghart.com), photography by Ben Wright (www.benwrightphotography.co.uk) and Jay McLaughlin.