September 14, 2007


The two sides of KT Tunstall: Scotland's singing enigma, by Leon McDermott, Sunday Herald)

AT THE end of summer 2004, Scottish music looked as if it was about to mount some full-scale takeover of the industry. Three Scottish acts were up for the Mercury Prize. Two of them, Snow Patrol and eventual winners Franz Ferdinand, were on the verge of stratospheric US success. The third, KT Tunstall, was another bright hope who, like the members of the aforementioned bands, had spent a good decade toiling around the country, doing her own thing. But while Snow Patrol played indie dives and Franz Ferdinand made their own art, Tunstall had taken to the streets, busking her way to success, honing her songwriting as shoppers tossed coppers her way. But the moment which made Tunstall in this country was an accident.

Her debut album, Eye To The Telescope, had been well-reviewed and was doing decent enough business. But it needed an extra kick, and it got one. After rapper Nas was forced to pull out, she was offered a slot on Later With Jools Holland. The hip kids had tuned in to see The Futureheads, but it was Tunstall's solo performance of Black Horse And The Cherry Tree which stole the show. It was a catalyst in a chain reaction which propelled the Fifer higher and higher: over four million album sales worldwide, at last count.

In retrospect, Tunstall was an easy sell: a singer-songwriter with enough pop nous to satisfy the Radio 1 schedulers, enough grit for the serious musos who picked up on her via the pages of Mojo and Uncut, and safe enough to reel in the all-important Radio 2 middle market. Eye To The Telescope was a fine album, winsome and folky in places, gutsy and growling in others, and her live shows indicated that - unlike the raft of charisma-free teenagers who were being marketed to the same crowd - she had genuine personality.

However, there are two KT Tunstalls. There's the British version, in which her earthy credibility has an added layer of topsoil thanks to her association with Anstruther's Fence Collective and its genial monarch Kenny Anderson, aka King Creosote (whose new album is, coincidentally, also out tomorrow). The American Tunstall is a different beast altogether. There, it wasn't Later, but that show's cackling, day-glo nemesis American Idol which gave Tunstall her break. The UK fell in love with Black Horse And The Cherry Tree thanks to Tunstall's own one-woman-band rendition. The US fell in love when Katherine MacPhee sang the same song - twice - as one of her turns on the popular talent show. All of a sudden, people were ferreting out the original, and it shot up the Billboard chart. Within the year, Tunstall was huge, and she came without the cred-carrying baggage required to make her a hit in her native islands.

In Performance: KT Tunstall: Taking the Long View (David Dye, February 2, 2006, World Cafe)
-REVIEW ARCHIVES: KT Tunstall: Eye To The Telescope (Metacritic)

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2007 6:31 AM

There is a much longer, less polished, and higher energy - and I think better - version on You Tube. Looks to be from BBC4? Well worth a look if you liked this video.

Posted by: Rick T. at September 14, 2007 12:43 PM