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London Music Award Nomination Katy Carr: ‘[on album Coquette] .. proclaimed no less than “a masterpiece” by Music Critic, wove the wrench and reality of loss, battle and bloodshed with the slow-burn of feverish eroticism and the heady bloom of romance in a dark time.’
We live in retro times – and era of endless cultural stripmining where the shock of the new is largely notable by its absence. While the cheerfully vulgar bump ‘n’ grind of burlesque has been big, bosomy business for a few years now, it’s a purely aesthetic vision of the 1930s and ‘40s. It’s not without art but as a theatrical tradition rooted in pearly flesh and pouting nipples, it can only ever be a signifier of that era.
On the other hand, alt-folk chanteuse and pilot Katy Carr, who has just completed her fourth album, has harnessed her passion for the same era to create a body of moving work inspired by true stories, real people, aviation and military conflict. Combined with her interpretations of everyone-round-the-piano wartime heart-lifters and showstoppers, her fitful and big-hearted artistry resists simple categorisation.
Carr is a fine example of that much-maligned beast we call Authenticity. Born of British and Polish parents, she joined the RAF on the brink of her teens: “In my teenage years I needed discipline, belief, confidence building and to be kept out of mischief. The ATC gave me constant thrills – every weekend I would hang out with Royal Air Force pilots, visiting different aerodromes and airfields. I dreamt of flying all the time and was hugely inspired by Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson. The era of the 1940s also provoked a strong passion for the music of Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, The Ink Spots and George Formby.”
A scholarship from the RAF led to music school and a creative career was born. Armed with a combination of military discipline and musical creativity (an alliance of traits rarely found among artists), Carr was well placed for a career in which her idiosyncrasy as a musician meant she’d have to forge ahead under her own steam – even the most avowedly avant labels fight shy of butterflies they can’t easily net. Her first three albums, Screwing Lies, Passion Play and Coquette – on which she variously plays a vintage electric Wurlitzer piano, ukulele and banjulele – feature both solo work and numbers with her band, the Aviators. Carr’s dulcet and often haunting vocals – reminiscent at times of a disembodied voice singing in a snow-muted landscape – have been heard everywhere from the Royal Opera House to Glastonbury.
Coquette, proclaimed no less than “a masterpiece” by Music Critic, wove the wrench and reality of loss, battle and bloodshed with the slow-burn of feverish eroticism and the heady bloom of romance in a dark time. The outstanding track is Kommander’s Car – a tense-stringed, four-minute true narrative account of a Polish man’s escape from Auschwitz in 1942. The man, Kazimierz Piechowski, now 92, was also the subject of a documentary produced by Carr and shown at Warsaw Kultural House to mark the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation earlier this year. Carr’s contribution to highlighting the experience of a man caught up in one of humanity’s greatest failures is does not end there. Her newly completed album is, says Carr, “a deep net of historical delights” and concentrates on the Polish experience of the war. Its release will also coincide next year with the 70th anniversary of Mr Piechowski’s Auschwitz escape (a man of such unequivocal courage surely deserves the respectful epithet of a title).
Katy Carr’s unaffected love of the 1930s and 1940s, plus dedication to her art and her spiritual era are all the more precious for paying as much attention to the vagaries of the human heart as to those subjects which hint at how low humanity can sink. She’s a true original, standing out like the spark generated by a Swan Vesta applied to a cigarette in the Blackout.