Interview – Kate Jackson

The John Peel Centre’s events intern Lottie Brazier speaks to Kate Jackson (formerly of The Long Blondes) ahead of her performance for BBC Introducing… Suffolk on the 23rd September:

Lottie: You grew up in Suffolk, then moved to Sheffield, and now you’re back here…

Kate: I lived here, I grew up here, I went to school here, my family lived here! So when I went to Sheffield, I went for university and stayed because we formed the Long Blondes and that really took off so I had to be there. I ended up staying there for 8 years. But I was always coming backwards and forwards between Suffolk and Sheffield for my whole life. So I never really kind of fully left!

Lottie: Can you tell me a bit more about the Bury St Edmunds music scene? Because I know you work with Seymour Quigley who is a big part of the scene there.

Kate: Yeah, Seymour is part of my band, The Wrong Moves. But he’s also in another fantastic band called Horse Party. And he runs the Washing Machine nights at the Hunter Club here. He has a lot to do with the John Peel Centre as well. Since he’s moved back from London to Bury, he’s been largely responsible I think for reviving the Bury music scene. There are lots of other people who help out but he’s the driving force behind it.

It’s really great if you’re a kid growing up in Bury St Edmunds because you think that you live in a backwater – it’s not London, it’s not a university town. There’s not much reason for touring bands to come here. So it’s great for it to have its own music scene. It’s really important I think. People in their mid teens will see a band like Horse Party or The Wrong Moves or The Virtues – there are lots of really great bands here now. And they’ll be encouraged to start their own bands. I actually work at the rehearsal rooms in Bury – I’ve got a studio there. I’m an artist as well, I’m a painter. So I’ve got my art studio upstairs from the band practice area. My whole life revolves around music, really! There’s a drum kit encroaching on my desk…

Lottie: I find it quite interesting that Bury St Edmunds has such a big music scene considering it’s not a university town.

Kate: Yeah it has a life of its own. Though it’s helped having the Hunter Club becoming more of a proper music venue in the last few years. They’ve had the big room all sound proofed properly now, the Washing Machine nights are in the smaller room. You can get 200 to 250 people in there – it’s always sold out, which is a great sign considering it’s every other week. There are enough people in Bury St Edmunds who want to come out every two weeks and see some great bands. Some of them have never played before. Seymour always gives a bunch of new kids a chance. They might be supporting one of the more popular bands or they might be supporting a band that’s come down from Norwich. We had SuperGlu play up here recently, they’re from Manningtree – really amazing, such a good live band. Everyone gets on really well. It’s not a cliquey scene or anything like that, it’s just has a nice atmosphere.

Lottie: So with your debut album, ‘British Road Movies’, you co-worked with Bernard Butler from Suede… And he produced it, right?

Kate: He was my hero when I was a child – I loved Suede so much, they were my favourite band. When Suede first came out I had never heard anything like it. Grunge was just such a massive thing in the UK at the time. Everyone was really into Nirvana. And I liked Nirvana but they were American, I just wanted to hear a British band to do something that I could relate to.

I was signed to Rough Trade with The Long Blondes and [Bernard Butler] was also managed by Rough Trade so when they band split up I spoke to Geoff Travis at Rough Trade about what to do. And I said that I’d like to do some solo stuff but that I really need to work with somebody; I needed somebody to write with. I’m not confident enough to write songs on my own. I need somebody to bounce ideas off of and to help me with the music side of things. So we talked about various people and Bernard’s name came up and I was like “Oh my god! Yes! Please ask!” And he said yes.

We started working on the songs which are now on British Road Movies a long time ago and I think we had our first writing session back in 2008. We did some demos. It always felt like we had a really good creative connection; we have a lot of similar musical reference points. Things like David Bowie, The Smiths, Blondie, T Rex and Neil Young. We brought these into the music. Lots of the songs on British Road Movies sound quite diverse musically, because it really depended on what mood we were in on the day! And what we’d been listening to that morning. Sometimes we’d be listening to Brian Eno and other times it’d be Nancy Sinatra. We ended up finishing the record when I got back from Rome, because I wasn’t around for about 4 years and I was living there. I didn’t do any music at all. And when I got back I was thinking “I’ve got this album on my laptop! Songs I’ve written with Bernard Butler!” I really had to do something with that. We met up again, went back into the studio and he and I revised some of the tracks. We got the album mastered last year, and now it’s out.

Lottie: What were you doing in Rome, just out of interest?

Kate: I went there back in 2010, initially – I had a boyfriend. So that’s what took me over there in the first place. It was there that I started doing a lot of painting, a lot of artwork. I really started to develop my own style. Rome’s such a beautiful city.

Lottie: So I’m assuming that your art now is kind of different to the stuff that you were doing in Rome because a lot of it’s to do with Brutalist and Modernist architecture in East Anglia.

Kate: Kind of, but I mean I was painting this stuff in Rome as well. So that’s sort of what made me realise how homesick I actually was! Because I missed lots and lots of things about being in England. Particularly I missed the landscape and the colours. Just the things that you grow up with; the normal things. Like the way that the roads look, they way that our motorway bridges are different to the motorway bridges in Italy. The way that our service stations are different. They colour of the sky here is different; grey. Haha. You know what I mean?

There are these little differences, and you don’t appreciate those when you’re living in England the whole time, it’s only when you go away and you don’t see them for a long time. You think “All I want to do is come back and have a digestive biscuit and smell the smell of England!”. While I absolutely loved living in Italy and I’m glad that I had the chance to do that, I would probably not want to live abroad again for a long period of time, because I like living in the UK. A lot of my work, my lyrics and my painting, is about the British landscape.

Lottie: Do you think that the way you work as an artist has any effect on the way that you write music at all – in a really general sense?

Kate: I never used to see them as having much to do with each other. But in the last 18 months or so I could definitely see the links between the two. Especially because I had left that record alone for a long time, I hadn’t listened to the demos until I tied them together. But I had been painting, I had been doing all of these abstract Brutalism pictures. I had been doing a lot of British road stuff. And then I went back to my lyrics and could see that they were about the same thing… That they’re all relating to each other. That’s why the album ended up being called British Road Movies because I could just see that as being the common thread running through a lot of the songs. A lot of them make reference to being on the road but it’s all within the context of the UK which is unusual. Just looking at the British landscape and the normal stuff that you wouldn’t usually write about or take any notice of. Things that you’d perhaps drive past or walk past without a second thought.

Lottie: What draws you to the landscape in East Anglia, specifically?

Kate: East Anglia reminds me a little bit of the American landscape. Because it’s so, so flat. You get these vast, wide expanses of space. And the fields of East Anglia, especially in May when the rapeseed fields are out and you get these really dramatic contrasts between the fields and the sky. And then the roads run cutting through. I’ve done a lot of drawings of the A14, especially around Bury St Edmunds, where there is a sugar beet factory. The sugar beet factory’s like a talisman for me – it’s a symbol of home. Every time you go away and you drive back towards Bury St Edmunds, whichever direction you’re coming from, you can see the sugar beet factory on the horizon, and then you know- ‘Ah! You’re nearly home.” So that’s an important thing for me. A lot of people that I’ve spoken to about those pictures who come from this area can relate to that, because that’s their symbol of home as well. That’s what they look for on the horizon.

Suffolk is such a beautiful county. I do a lot of walking as well – we tried to do a coastal walk that runs the length of East Anglia. We started off in King’s Lynn and we got as far as Hunstanton. And then a second stage where we do Hunstanton to Cley. And then we work our way down to Manningtree. But I always look for things in the landscape that cut through. Anything sculptural, for example, the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich. And if you’re on the Suffolk coast as well, the docks at Felixstowe, because it’s really dramatic. You wouldn’t necessarily expect that within such a rural landscape. It’s concrete that jars and cuts; it makes me excited, visually, anyway.

Lottie: I really get that, because I think that people have this idea of the countryside as being all cottages and flowers around the door, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s great to see other aspects of it being documented.

Kate: I haven’t painted them yet, but if you drive to the coast, there are all these water towers – big concrete water towers. I’ve always noticed them ever since I was a little girl and my mum and I used to go to Aldeburgh, several times a year. I love Aldeburgh. But on the way, there are about four different water towers – when I was a child I used to say that they were teddy castles! Why am I telling you this? Haha. But I might draw something like that, or the Martello towers on the beaches and the gunning placements. They’re everywhere on the Suffolk coast. They jut out into the sea quite a lot because it was one of the first place that the Germans would have landed. All that stuff’s interesting.

Lottie: You’re going to be playing at BBC Introducing in September – I’m really looking forward to that.

Kate: Yeah I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve not actually played at the John Peel Centre before. So that’s exciting. I’m excited to see it and be in the venue.

Lottie: It’s a lovely venue because it’s a converted corn exchange, it’s a little tucked out of the way…

Kate: Yeah Seymour’s been telling me about it. Horse Party have played there, lots of my friends have played there. But I haven’t had the chance to play there yet.

As well as this gig on the 23rd, we’ve got a show coming up at the Hunter Club in Bury on the 1st October for another Washing Machine night.