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LITTLE SPARROW: …“THERE’S A DOOR WE FIND AND WE START TO DREAM”… INTERVIEW BY MELANIE SMITH / SHAY ROWAN

It was perhaps inevitable that being born into a home in rural Cambridgeshire where music played such a large and significant part of family life that a young Katie Ware would find from within a desire to discover for herself what it would feel like to write and perform her own music. It was from here that she took the first steps on a musical and personal journey that would see her play with various bands in the South of England before fresh and inviting opportunities drew her North to Manchester where she has remained since.

Stepping back from the music scene for a little while she used the time to reflect on the things in her life that had by now become most precious, the direction in which she wished to develop her songwriting ability and the way she could best convey her feelings through her music. It was during this time that she began to create the first of what is steadily becoming a growing body of work that ranges in style from love songs of aching beauty with poetically fragile expressions of sadness and joy to those bearing an almost fairytale quality with lyrics shrouded in a sense of mystery and intrigue.

In 2010 she decided that the time was right to share those songs and from there was born Little Sparrow. Over the last year the number of opportunities for Little Sparrow to play live has steadily grown and along with that so have the number of people fortunate enough to witness a singer who possesses a rare ability to project the honesty and passion contained within her songs in a way that you believe every word to be a truth burning from deep inside her heart and someone who is as captivating to watch as she is to listen to with her beautifully emotive use of expression mirroring the sincerity of her delivery and making her stand out from other performers.

Recently, none other than Simon Raymonde – head of Bella Union Records and a man who has worked with countless brilliant musicians including (as part of the Cocteau Twins) the legendary Elizabeth Frazer – described Katie’s voice as “pure and lovely” and said that “she possesses a natural talent as a writer and singer”.

Today Little Sparrow takes some time away from her songwriting to tell Mudkiss something of her past, her ambition for the forthcoming year to increase the number of her live performances and how the plan to release her first album plays a huge part in continuing her journey on the road to fulfilling her dreams.  - Shay Rowan

MEL: Tell us a little bit about yourself, when did you first get into music and start writing songs?

KATIE: Well my dads a guitarist, he played in several bands in the 60’s and 70’s and when I was young he used to play the guitar to me. He was in a few bands 'Czar', 'Tuesdays Children' and 'Consortium'. He was always playing guitar to me as a kid, that was when I first picked up on it. I started making songs with my Sindy dolls, singing to each other and it sort of went from there. I got a little tape machine, so from about 9 or 10 I was making my own songs all the time.

We had a piano in our house but cos we are a family of hoarders, I couldn’t actually reach the piano! So I said to my Dad can I get to the piano and he said, well if I make you a little pathway to the piano I want you to play that everyday. I said aright you’re on! So that was it then, I might have been 11 or 12 and I just wrote all the time on the piano. I used to write little love songs all the time, I don’t know why [hearty laugh].

MEL: What about playing guitar?

KATIE: Do you know what I only started playing guitar in my twenties! Basically I sang in loads of bands. I first started doing things in school, playing piano in assemblies, so everyone knew me as singing on the piano. Any opportunity I would be playing.

MEL: So what about your introduction into the live music scene later?

KATIE: When I was about 17 I joined an all girl band called Daze, actually the first gig I did with them was at the Hacienda here in Manchester. We supported a band called The Italian Love Party, at the Stonelove night. We met a few people then. Danny Macintosh, he was a tour Manager and he then put us on at the Roadhouse. That night we met Guy Garvey, he worked on the door then, that was the first time I met him. It was around 1999 -2000. That band broke up, one of them went travelling around the world, but weirdly in that period I got a phone call from a guy called Joe Moss, who used to manage the Smiths, saying that a band called Marion needed a new singer. I’d never heard of them to be honest, I’d heard of Marillion obviously, but not Marion. I remember going into the HMV on Market Street before I met him and said to this girl, can you put Marion on the listening post. I listened to them and I was like “oh my god they are amazing, oh my god, I really wanna sing with these. I met Joe and basically from that moment on I then joined Marion [a Britpop band]. We renamed the band Headway, it didn't seem right to keep the name Marion without Jamie Harding. Jamie had some personal issues which meant the band had to split up due to him not really being around at the time. I was with Headway for a couple of years, I think from 1998 to 2000, but then that kind of dispersed cos Phil [Cunningham] the guitarist now plays with New Order and then I went away for a bit, went travelling. I had never played the guitar on stage before; I wrote songs on it but never really played it live. Actually on my travels, I picked up the guitar and started really playing it, so only later on in life, I started using it more. 

I’ve always been able to write a song on it back from playing with Daze. I just used to bring it to the table with a very badly played skeleton of a new song. I play guitar, piano and anything that I can get my hands on and can make a noise with, I will give it a go!

MEL: Can you remember the first serious song you wrote?

KATIE: It was when I was younger on the piano, I was round about fourteen, it was called ‘Positively Wrong’ and at the time that went on local radio when I was growing up. That song was probably the song that my parents thought…you know I think she is onto something here. Then when I went into sixth form I met a guy called Nick who helped me to record it, who I still record with now.

SHAY: So was that the first time you got involved with Nick Crofts? [Katie’s producer in London.]

KATIE: He came to do music technology, which is what I was doing and then I said I’ve got this song that I wrote lets do it. He did and just made it sound amazing and that was it then. That was my first song, it was about not being in love, [laughs] the fact that I hadn’t been in love with anyone; I had never lived with it at that point in my life so it was more about that. I don't play that song anymore, but you never know, one day I might dig it out again.

MEL: Are all the songs you sing your own and which is your favourite song/s to play live?

KATIE: Yes they are my own songs, and my favourite one to play depends on who I have got with me at the time. My line-up changes from gig to gig, depending on who can make the gig. There are five of us altogether, but three of them tour with other bands, so if I am on my own it will probably be ‘The Hunted’. It’s about a bear falling in love with a human, a fairytale [laughs]. If I have a full band then it would be 'The Swallow Flies'. This song really builds and is amazing if we are all there.

MEL: Why do you like singing that one? (The Hunted)

KATIE: It’s a lovely one to sing, I can get lost in it, from the moment I start singing it to the end, I am in it, I am there, on the hillside.

SHAY: One of the things I’ve told you before and never ceases to impress me is how you do get lost in your music, from the moment you enter the stage really you are in character, you are very much part of the song and carry it through. There are a full range of emotions on show and its what really gives the music such brilliant strength.

KATIE: I get very lost in it, I almost put myself back to when I first started writing it. I do see every gig as a performance and yes I probably do put myself into some sort of character. 

MEL: Do you get that lost in the music that you are not even aware of the audience?

KATIE: Definitely! There’s always stories going round in my head that help me imagine I'm somewhere else. 

MEL: You don’t get stage fright at all then?

KATIE: Oh yea, it’s a big problem actually. I suffer terribly with stage fright. I get so nervous that I can't talk to anyone before I sing. If anyone does talk to me, I will be staring blankly at them and feeling incredibly sick! My last gig at The Castle wasn't too bad, I was relieved that I might be starting to curb it. Although I won't hold my breath.

I used to do theatre, I did the Edinburgh Festival when I was younger, I was in the National Youth Music Theatre and I think that was the worst stage fright I ever had. I was the first person on stage in our play and I’d come on with the curtains still down and I had to get on this cart, with my back to the audience, I played the part of a Pedlar, a bloke, who had a big coat like a cloak and I just had visions of me turning around and saying “I hate McDonalds” and just completely ruining the whole show. I was plagued with it all the time, one of my fellow actors would say to me; “go on I dare you to fart or something” and I was going “shut up, shut up”, while the curtain would be going up! It was like that every night, what if I said something really bad in the performance and they’d be like "you’re out!" [laughs]. I think that’s what I'm scared of, saying something out of order. I was with that theatre company for a year when I was 18.

MEL: What do you primarily see yourself as a songwriter or musician?

KATIE: I see myself as a singer that writes songs, my voice is my instrument, I love singing. I love writing songs also, the whole process of it. I just see it as something that I do and is part of me. I don’t see myself as a guitarist, I never have done. All the sound engineers that know me will all say that at soundcheck I say “turn the guitar down”, probably they are not doing that, but in my mind they are. If I could perform without it, I probably would. 

SHAY: Graham was the first band member you performed with, so when did that come about?

KATIE: That’s right yes, that goes right back to when I met Guy Garvey. When I first came up here to live I hung out with all those boys elbow and I Am Kloot, all of them. Then one night we held a party back at mine, and then Graham came back with us and I lived in Levenshulme, Graham lived in Levenshulme as a child and I remember we walked around Levy together and we just clicked and I never thought…well, he used to play with Elbow back then, and I never thought in all my days would he ever play with me. I played rockier music back then, I went under another name, a few years ago…Katie Ware, and I just called Graham up, we were at Blueprint Studios. I went “Graham are you in town at all, have you got your violin” he goes “yep”…”can you get to Blueprint in about half an hour” …”Yep”…”do you want to play on this track”…”yep”. He he just came and played on this track and that was it then, we have played together ever since that moment.

MEL: Why did you move from South London, did you move with your family?

KATIE: No, I am not actually from London I am from Cambridgeshire. My folks are from North London but I came up here when I got that call from Joe Moss. I’d been gigging with the girls and I was kind of at a loose end, and he asked me to audition for the band. I guess since the year 2000. The people here in Manchester were great, amazing, I had just started to come up here at lot at weekends, I got the call and that cemented it. I used to hang out at the Night and Day cafe, Dry Bar and the Down Under Bar.

MEL: Why the name Little Sparrow, cos it’s quite Edith Piaf?

KATIE: It goes back to Guy Garvey. It’s got nothing to do with Piaf actually but obviously it’s what she is called. Guy used to call me “cockney sparrow”. So he’d refer to me and say “here comes that little cockney sparra” … we used to text each other ‘bye sparrow’. It’s cockney sparrow here! Then I met up with him a few years ago to get some advice off him, I had just come out of the Marion/Headway period and I wanted to go out on my own. He said maybe you should call yourself a different name like ….Sparrow?. I thought Sparrow is alright, but I came away from the meeting and I thought….Little Sparrow [laughs].

MEL: Are you still in touch with Guy?

KATIE: Yea, funnily enough I got a text off him this morning, I’ve not seen him for ages though, I did a bit of singing on a ‘I Am Kloot’ track a couple of months ago. The song is called 'These Days are Mine', their new album comes out on the 21st January. I did a bit of backing vocals on the track, there was about ten of us there, it was that kind choral effect and I got to see Guy then, he was producing the album. I’ve not seen him for ages, obviously he is mega busy, and he’s gone massive. I texted him about a year ago, "I know you don’t have any time but can you give me a bit of advice", and weirdly I got a text back which said “I’m really sorry I just noticed your text back in March. I know its taken me about the same time as it would to have a baby to reply” [laughs].

SHAY: I did my discovery of you on 20th December 2010 at the Castle and that was purely by accident as I’d gone to see another band. I bought the EP on the night, which I played to death. I was just wondering where the point of origin was for Little Sparrow?

KATIE: That was my comeback gig, as Little Sparrow. I first did Little Sparrow at Cord Bar downstairs. Gordon Jackson got me that, he was the one that helped me get those gigs. He sorted The Castle gig and he did the artwork for it. Gordon is a Manchester based freelance photographer who specialises in music photography. He helped me do my press shots for my website too.

MEL: The songs appear to be very much from the heart, are they based on purely personal experiences?

KATIE: Yes, but some aren’t, …I have found when I was younger they were totally, totally from the heart, then as I got older…and over that hill [laughs] you become a bit more closed, you don’t want everyone to know how you're feeling. So weirdly I kind of write from a third person at the moment, and I quite enjoy that, you can get away with it. With the song 'By My Side', I imagined a woman who lives in a harbour town and her husband going out to sea. The wife longing to see her husband again. 

MEL: Do you use other people’s personal experiences at all?

KATIE: Definitely yea! The people that surround you in your everyday life, there's always something going on. When you see people and they say “oh I’ve just fallen in love” you totally get onto that early period and get lost in the emotion. I'm a bit like a sponge; I soak it up and store it, whatever is happening. If it moves me, a song might come out of it.

SHAY: How quickly can you pick up on something like that and start turning it into a song; and does it come easily to you?

KATIE: I don’t set out to write a song about anyone, it just happens, at the end of the night…[hums]… Sometimes it can happen very quickly, in a matter of minutes, and other times it will just be the seed of an idea, which gradually grows and blossoms over the course of a few days, weeks and sometimes months.

MEL: Is that how you start to write, you get the tune first?

KATIE: Sometimes a melody will come into my head first – I used to have a Dictaphone, but now I just use my voice memo's on my IPhone, even if it is in the middle of the night I’ve found myself going down to the kitchen [humming a tune]. I normally pick up the guitar or sit at the piano and see what happens!

I’ve got two songbooks and envelopes. I tend to use old envelopes, or any scraps of paper to scribble down ideas, lyrics. I don't really have a set way of writing a song.  

I must explain about the bear song, because there is a reason that I wrote a song about a bear. A label in Germany called 'Bear Family Records' asked me to do a song for their 35th Edition box set, and they said the song had to be about a bear.

Reading books really helps me write too. The song Polly is about a book I read last year, the main character is not called Polly, but the song ended up being about this person. She is an artist who lives in the attic, that’s why I sing come back to the attic, cos she dies and the house, the home is missing her. It's one of my favourites at the moment.

MEL: Talk us through three of your favourite songs, of yours?

KATIE: Erm.. Well 'Polly' is definitely a favourite at the moment because we have just finished mixing it in the studio, so I'm listening to it quite alot. It was alot of fun to do too. 'The Swallow Flies' is another favourite because it's uplifting and makes me feel positive when I hear it. It's written about a dear friend who is no longer with us, but it is a celebration of that person, a last dance with that person. Erm, this is tricky, the third would be 'By My Side', it's such a sweet song. I love the thought of the chorus sounding like a musical box, and Graham's part on the violin is breath taking.

MEL: Are there any lyrics that you are proud of?    

KATIE: Oh that’s hard! There is a lyric that I have its called ‘Perfume’ I don’t do it very often, I really like the lyrics....it doesn’t really mean anything to anyone else, but it never does. The bit where I sing “You walk but never run, it was the promise that you'd never harm me’ I used to be so proud of it,..…I love that lyric! It was about someone that would never run, it was about a guy, he was never seen to be running.

MEL: I know we touched on this earlier but do you ever get really emotional on stage when singing?

KATIE: Oh Definitely, I think that is almost what the buzz is about performing. I probably do it too much! There is a song that I have written about my mum called 'Tender' and I don't perform it every time purely because I get too wrapped up in it and get upset. I've got to learn to distance myself from the lyrics on that one, then I will be able to share it more. 

MEL: Do you ever feel like doing something a bit rockier or livelier or it is folk all the way?

KATIE: If I could get a bit more rocking I would believe me…I think that a lot of the new songs, that I shall show to Sarah [Cello player] tomorrow are a bit more rockier, I think I have a tendency to go that way. I think they might not fit into the set [laughs]. We’ll see what she says when we play them tomorrow. My Dad prefers rockier music, he's like 'plug the electric guitar in!'. But I enjoy singing so much more now I'm singing in a folk style, I think it suits me and my voice more. You tend to end up wailing when you rock out, and getting a sore throat! I feel like I've found myself at last with 'Little Sparrow', it feels right.

MEL: There seems to be a massive resurgence currently in acoustic folk scene, especially in the North West, what are your thoughts on this?

KATIE: Good init…brilliant great, it makes me feel excited. It gives people like me more opportunities to be heard by a wider audience because its becoming more acceptable. I was saying to Shay before like The Lumineers are getting really big over the past few months and they started off doing their gig at Gorilla, its coming up in February, it got moved to the Ritz, now they are at the Academy. It’s just gone Boom. Fingers crossed!

MEL: What interests do you have outside of music?

KATIE: I’ve got lots! I know this sounds really weird, but I am quite into building work [laughs]. Not decorating, that’s too ladylike, I like things like building brick paths…bit weird that eh…a bit blokey [laughs]. I can’t plaster I wish I could, I would be raking it in. My little project a few years back I put old bricks in piles at the side of my house, I was gonna do a brick path in my garden, so to the disappointment of my neighbours, I was collecting these bricks and storing them down the side of the house, their kitchen overlooks this. I’d be driving past skips and looking…brick porn…”ooh yea, really good” I kind of spent two years finding bricks out of skips, loading them in the car and eventually I built a brick patio with old bricks [laughs].

MEL: What is your own personal music period and has it inspired you at all?

KATIE: I think it would be the late 90’s, All About Eve, New Model Army, Sisters Of Mercy. The Cure. I was a pasty goth [laughs]. I would save my money so I could buy every album that these bands had done.

I have to say that when I met Joe in Manchester, he introduced me to a whole new world of music, like Van Morrison, Gene Clark, Phoebe Snow. I’d never really listened to anything like that before, he really opened my mind up to other music.

MEL: What did your parents listen to?

KATIE: Oh Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Carroll King….. but mostly my dads own music! My Dads got long hair, he’s had a studio in the house my whole life, so I’ve grown up with all that. They are quite eccentric my parents [laughs].

MEL: What’s been the highlights so far in your musical life, for you personally?

KATIE: I think there are several. Meeting the lads from Marion and writing with Phil was an amazing time and experience. I even got flown to LA by their old record label and got taken round Universal Studios. It was an amazing time. 

Doing the Edinburgh Festival with the National Youth Music Theatre and experiencing life as a performer in the theatre was invaluable.

Singing in Exchange Square, Manchester a few years ago to 2000 people, was a highlight too! But to be ultra cheesey, the highlight at the moment is meeting and performing with Graham, Sarah, Johnny and Mitch. I'm very lucky girl to have them on board.

MEL: Your band are a mixture of cello, violin, acoustic & electric guitar, talk us through your band a little bit! There's Graham Clark on violin, Sarah Dale on cello, Johnny Lexus on electric guitar and Mitch Oldham on percussion.

KATIE: I had Graham on violin first, then Johnny came along, he plays guitar and is a friend of a friend, he is a bit of a guitar whore, he plays with Paul Heaton, so I have to share him. I then looked at maybe adding a bass player or cello player, Graham gave me a number of a cello player but I never rang it for a bout 6 months and when I eventually rang Sarah she was brilliant, we got on straight away and we had a jam, and just clicked. Strangely enough her partner Mitch, who was in the house at the same time I first visited, was a percussion player/drummer and I felt that was what we were missing! He was listening to us playing and ended up sitting in and joining in. I said can we have you as well, he said “yea I’m in”. They are from Todmorden, up near Hebden Bridge.

MEL: What’s up and coming for Little Sparrow?

KATIE: We are gonna hopefully shoot this video on the 20th in Sheffield at a theatre called The Lantern Theatre. It’s an old theatre which has been done up and we are gonna get a male ballet dancer to do this dance in the theatre, maybe black & white I’m not sure yet as I like the redness inside. It's going to be to the song ‘Sending The Message’ which is recorded, but I’ve not actually put it out there yet. A guy called Araam is filming it, he did the first Sofarsounds video in Manchester. The male dancer is from my work, and he keeps it kind of hush, hush from everyone. I actually had a little tear in my eye when I saw him perform…I was like that “oooh that is amazing”.

MEL: Who has written the script/storyboard for it?

KATIE: There isn’t a script we are just gonna have him dancing and then we’ve got an idea for what we want to do. It’s going to focus on the dance but there will be the band in certain shots too. It's gonna be fun! Can't wait. Watch this space!

SHAY: You’re planning to do some more writing next week?

KATIE: Yea, Sarah is coming tomorrow to live with us for a bit. We’ve kind of got seven songs in the bag, we just need to get maybe 5 or 6 more, and with her being here we can roll on and do that. We are putting an album together and I'm either going to release it myself or I’ve got a few independents interested, but I’m also going to find out what I can control myself.

MEL: With the new songs do they sound livelier, richer; it sounds that way from what you said earlier?

KATIE: Yes, they might sound a bit harsher than the softly softly ones. I’ve got one which is a bit like ‘By My Side’ too. 'Polly' is a bit more upbeat, a bit tribal!. I don't mind as long as it's interesting, you’ve gotta keep it interesting haven’t you? 

MEL: What do you aspire to do with your music career?

KATIE: Sing for a living! I would love to sing with an orchestra behind me too. I reckon that would be the best feeling. How amazing would that be! Yep, one day, one day!

MEL: And finally what was your new year’s resolution and is there anything you want to say to round off the interview?

KATIE: To try and stop hoarding, I’ve got that disease where I hold onto anything. I have that thing where people say just let it go and I say no. But you’ve got to have people who keep stuff don't you or you wouldn’t have any history of these things. 

I’d probably say the wrong thing, I need to be less cheesy, and I need to be less honest!

Interview [conducted in The Richmond Tea Rooms] by Melanie Smith /Shay Rowan
Introduction written by Shay Rowan
Photos by Melanie Smith [Woodland shots] Shay Rowan [around Manchester shots]

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