“…dazzling acoustic guitar picking reminiscent of John Martyn at his most fluid, punctuated by a Bert Jansch-like percussive snap/ there’s certainly a haunted quality to it”
**** MOJO (For début album Bundle Of Nerves)
“Phosphor is an excellent album, with more than a hint of the Kelly Joe Phelps about it.”
BBC Radio 2 (For third album Phosphor)
“If John Martyn, Tim Buckley and Joe Gonzalez rock your boat, here’s a new name to delight you”
**** The Sunday Express (For second album The Owl)
“Culley has a captivating turn of phrase. Reminiscent of Tim Buckley in the mellower moments and there’s a touch of John Martyn in the more strident tones.”
**** R2 (Stripling)
“Culley has earned rave reviews mainly because of his phenomenal guitar playing but his voice of often unfairly overlooked. With this album it comes more to the fore, as does his clever storytelling.”
Folk Radio UK (Stripling)
“Brilliant, dynamic, beautiful.”
10/10 Soundblab (For third album Phosphor)
“……excellent songwriting married to a technical ability and excellent voice…do not distract your attention from this musical genius.”
Ondarock (Italy) (For The Owl)
“…as rigid as a wooden bench, rough as a monk’s habit and yet loving and gentle as a three-legged bitch at the fireside and in the twilight of its life.”
JD Beauvallet, Les Inrocks (France) (For third album Phosphor)
“…hypnotic, atmospheric…really refreshing and inviting.”
**** Norman Records (For second album The Owl)
“…in another era – the ’70s, to be precise – Karl Culley would certainly have figured among the masters of English folk.”
RSI (Italy) (For second album The Owl)
“A genius in the making.”
**** Maverick Magazine (For second album The Owl)
Classic Rock Society Magazine (For second album The Owl)
Interview for The Music Fix
Karl Culley’s music is hard to classify. His dreamy lyrical prose, beautiful voice and rhythmic guitar playing are both instantly recognizable and startlingly new. Fans of Kate Bush, Bob Dylan orTom Waits will love Culleys story-like songs which all tied together nicely in his stunning debut album, Bundle of Nerves, out on the 10th of February. I recently caught up with him at The Lowry in Salford where he was doing an interview with BBC Manchester. We had a very nice chat about poetry, 80’s pop music, and those folkie purists.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself, where you’re from? Are you from a musical family?
Not really…not at all in fact. My dad played a little bit as a teenager, he was in a band called The Whirlwind Trio, playing intermissions in cinemas. But it didn’t go very far. He bought me a guitar when I was 18, and I learned to play it, taught myself to play it.
Very impressive guitar playing. So you taught yourself that? You didn’t have any formal training or anything?
That’s right. It may look impressive, but it’s in fact very technically naive. I don’t know anything about scales or that kind of stuff, I just kind of stumble across techniques.
Where are you from?
From Harrogate, near Leeds.
And is there a music scene, music community there?
It’s a very quiet town, it’s the kind of town where people go to retire, or raise kids. There isn’t a university particularly near by, so there aren’t a lot of good music venues. But it’s a nice community, with some really fantastic songwriters and musicians, a friendly community. But I’ve been playing outside of Harrogate for a while.
You recorded your album on the Isle of Jura in Scotland. A very isolated place. Why did you pick that location?
Well I had a choice of two. A choice of one studio in London and the other in Scotland and I thought I’ll choose the Scottish one. It’ll be beautiful no doubt. Although it was tough to get to. It’s a six hour drive and two ferries. But it’s gorgeous.
Do you think it helped inspire the music? Do you think the music would have turned out differently if you had recorded it in London?
I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t if it [the music] was inspired…it was just beautiful and lovely to be there. I’m not sure it inspired my performances. It was so cold though. There was one session, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t play. The bass player was kindly bringing me cups of hot water to warm my fingers. We tried lighting the fire, it’s in an old converted school, tried lighting the fire, but it was really windy and the wind was blowing the smoke down through the fire so the room was filled with smoke. So we couldn’t have the fire on, so I just had to suffer really.
Suffer for your art.
You are a published poet. Is recording songs and music another extension of that? Or is it a completely different discipline?
I think it’s a kind of distant cousin. There are analogies to be drawn but they are different disciplines. You can’t just kind of lift lines of poetry and put them into a song for instance, you have to chop and change. In poetry you have to be very aware of the rhythm, the internal music of the poem, and it has to stand up on the page, whereas lyrics they work with, I don’t know, a moment in the music to create something. You know, it’s like lyrics and the music are together to create a certain effect. There is a difference.
Is there one….this may not be a fair question, but is there one that you lean towards more?
Music definitely. Yeah, because I’ve had success with music [laughs]. I do love poetry, writing poetry, but I haven’t been published in a lot of places, a few magazines and stuff. I’ve just started writing again though. I think I just need a bit of a break from song writing because it’s driving me mental. So I think I’ll try to send out some stuff.
Do you think your songs, your music, are a bit more accessible to people than poetry? Do you think you might reach a broader audience with your music than perhaps with your poetry?
Absolutely, yeah, music is so much bigger than poetry. I mean you can’t walk into a newsagents and pick up a poetry magazine. You have to subscribe to them. There’s lots and lots of music magazines on the scene. Although some of my songs are a bit weird, my music is reaching more people than my poetry ever could.
Who are your influences? I was going to ask musical influences, but are you influenced by writers? Because you are a poet, does that have any kind of influence on how you create?
I don’t know. Yeah, I think it must do. The poets I like are Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes, they’re very muscular, lots of internal rhythm, fantastic rhythm. Yeah it must be somehow tie into my lyrics. A lot of my songs are quite dark and “imagistic” as well. And my musical influences, I don’t know, maybe they are similar to the poets I like, they do share a certain world view or something. I’ve never really thought about it actually. Perhaps I should! [Laughs]
Who do you like to listen to?
At the moment I love Kate Bush. She’s amazing. But originally I listened to people like Bob Dylan and John Martyn, Nick Drake that got me into playing the guitar and singing.
What do you think of the state of British music? Do you feel like you have a a place within it or do you feel like you’re looking in from the outside? Do you think there is a niche for you in the current music scene?
I wouldn’t have thought so, no. I mean just as an outside observer because I don’t really feel like an insider, I feel like a bit of an outsider.
Q and A for re:source festival program, Krakow, 2013
WHAT WOULD BE THREE OF YOUR DESERT ISLAND DISCS? WHY?
Pink Moon, Nick drake, because it’s flawless and beautiful Ys, Joanna Newsom, because it’s somehow both delighted and delighting. and The Seed At Zero by Robin Williamson. Robin sets Dylan Thomas’s poems to music and unbelievably it works, and his own words in his own songs on the album even stand up next to the words of Mr Thomas. Lots to ponder in long hours alone on an island.
YOU ARE ALSO A HUGE LOVER OF FILMS. WHICH DIRECTORS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT FOR YOU AND WHY?
I love Terrence Malik. always profound and poetic and he’s never given a tv interview. The Coen brothers are consistently good, very often great and they’re versatile. Miyasaki’s films are very pure and dreamy, dreamy light and dreamy dark.
YOU HAVE LIVE IN KRAKOW NOW. WHAT DO YOU LIKE IT? HOW DOES IT COMPARE MUSICALLY TO THE UK?
The best things about Krakow; it’s many nooks and crannies, gloomily atmospheric candlelit cafe’s and bars, lots of cultural stuff kicking off all over the place. Audiences here tend to be more attentive. I’ll stay.
WHAT COMPELS YOU CREATE MUSIC?
Compel is an apt word here. creating things, and particularly music, may be my way of working through some kind of bad blood or fear, or a way of orienting my way out of treacherous and labyrinthine situations and places.
Interview for Love Music magazine, 2014
Can you tell us about your musical journey so far?
My Dad bought me a guitar for my 18th so I taught myself to play, stumbled across various techniques. Was a singer in an indie band for a few years. Had my first solo gig at 23 – i exhibited an intense shyness and crippling nerves which I’v learnt to salve with well-measured pre-gig drinks. made some demos, sent demos out, recorded two albums with Triumphant Sound Records, the first on The Isle Of Jura, which i returned to to record my third Phosphor, working again with producer Giles Perring who released Phosphor on his label Sound Of Jura. These days I live in Krakow, with my Polish wife.
I love your music! I’ve been listening to Bag of Tricks. What would you say inspires you to write your music?
Thank you. sometimes music, sometimes poetry, sometimes prose, sometimes film. the songs materialise from a kind of fever, sometimes they drop near-whole from a cloud. the beauty and violence of nature inspires me. I often write about myself and life events through it. processing my thoughts and feelings over time. perhaps i use song-writing as a kind of negotiation with the world.
Is there any advice you could offer to new musicians looking to further their career?
Go to the crossroads. listen and read. immerse yourself. always ask yourself of a song ‘can i do better?’
What does 2014 hold for you?
I hope good things. ’13 was a mixed bag and seems to have further reinforced my tridecaphobia.
Where can we see you performing live?
I’ll be in the UK for 3 weeks in April for some dates. still booking them in but live dates can be found here; http://www.karlculley.co.uk/
Who would be your dream collaboration?
I think Robin Williamson is an underrated genius and I’ve been lucky enough to support him. Joanna Newsom is amazing, although if I ever did actually meet her in person I’d be a wreck.