Top Tunes with Katherine Chandler

Hi Katherine, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

I’m a writer that works mainly in theatre and I’ve done a bit of film and TV and radio.

I love words and people and questioning things so I think being a writer is probably where I always would have ended up. I’m not from a theatre/arts background at all, I left school  before A levels like all my friends. I was more or less always working from leaving school. Me and my friend worked for her Dad on the markets and street trading for a while and I was a waitress for different places. I did a stint on the breakfast shift in the Angel Hotel, Cardiff and also a few years in the Masonic hall for the Masons. When I didn’t have work I signed on and I was put on a YTS scheme that was for kids that had left school like me without qualifications. I happened to be sent to the Sherman Theatre , Cardiff and it changed everything for me.

The exterior of the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff in the 1980’s

I was in the finance and admin dept but loved being around the shows. Phil Clark who was Artistic Director at that time (Phil is the Director of a play I wrote ‘Peggy’s Song’ by National Theatre Wales which is about to go on tour) encouraged us all to go and see whatever was on. It was the late eighties, the time of Willy Russell and John Godber, perfect plays for someone like me who never went to theatre. I just loved it!

I worked at the Sherman for six years, I was always hanging around the production office and started volunteering to do stuff on the shows. So I chaperoned a bit and shadowed stage management and helped out on the Sherman Youth Theatre that sort of thing. When I was twenty-four I applied to Welsh College to do the Stage Management course, I didn’t have any qualifications so I really was surprised when I got on. I stage managed for a bit and then when I had kids I started writing. I had a very tough few years personally in my twenties and early thirties and it really changed the way I looked at life. I decided not to waste any more time, I wanted to be a writer and so that’s what I did.

I’ve never done any kind of writing course but I think just being around performance for all of those years gave me a sense of how to write for theatre. I believe that anyone can write a play, that’s what I love about script writing, I wish more people from backgrounds like mine would give it a go, it’s been a real joy for me to be able to do something that I love.

This chat is specifically about music and the role it has played in your personal and professional life. Firstly to start off what are you currently listening to? 

At the moment I’m listening to James Brown and Aretha Franklin. I have to choose some songs for Peggy’s Song All the music used in Peggy’s Song is by artists who have died. Ghosts that stay with us.

When I write I more often than not have music attached to the play, which the director may or may not choose to use. Before it Rains was The Super Furry Animals, Bird was Curtis Mayfield, Thick as Thieves was Nina Simone and Lose Yourself was The Commodores. Sometimes when the show has finished it takes a while before you can go back to those songs because you are transported back to the play.

Before It Rains, Bird, Thick as Thieves, Lose Yourself.

Peggy’s Song has lots of music in it because the main character Danny played by Christian Patterson is a hospital DJ.

Christian Patterson in the role of Danny, Peggy’s Song by National Theatre Wales

We are interviewing a range of people about their own musical inspiration, can you list 5 records/albums which have a personal resonance to you and why? 

Five is so difficult but I think it’s going to come down to memories for me.

  1. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder

It’s a masterpiece. Everything about it, the production, the lyrics, the groove, the voice.

I could have chosen a few of his albums because his work from the early seventies is genius, he’s up there with the Beatles for me but this is the album.

I don’t talk a lot about losing my sons but an interesting thing happened and this album leads me to that. In the period around and a few years after they died I really wasn’t able to listen to a lot of music. I think probably because you’re too raw and music gets into you. You put a hard shell around you, I think so you’re able to function and music was too manipulating. This was one of the only albums I listened to during that time. I remember playing it in the car a lot when my daughter was little, driving her around to different clubs and singing ‘Knocks Me off my Feet’ to her. It always makes me think of the kids being little and precious times with them and Guy. It’s a sunny day, windows open, album. Love and happiness.

2. Saturday Night Fever – The Motion Picture Soundtrack

Just because it takes me back to my childhood. Family parties, Christmases’, Discos, A Benidorm holiday in 1979, my Dad, my Uncle, my sister, my cousins. We’re a family that likes to have a good time. You could rent us for a disco or a wedding to fill your dance floor to this album.

I love Disco. Donna Summer, Earth Wind and Fire, Chic, Chaka Khan, Odyssey. I have most of our disco albums from the seventies that I still play. I also love the Bee Gees but ‘If I Can’t Have You’, Yvonne Elliman is the song for me from this album, her voice is so full of full of heartbreak and drama.

3. Setting Sons – The Jam

The Jam and Paul Weller could have taken three of the five albums for me. I love Dig the New Breed, Sound Effects and Wild Wood but I keep coming back to Setting Sons.

I used ‘Thick as Thieves’ as a title for a play; it’s one of my favourite songs. Paul Weller is a master lyricist. We really felt he was speaking for us as teenagers. I think there’s a wave of working class kids who are now in their forties and fifties that hold Paul Weller in the highest regard, it’s like a club we all belong to. This album takes me back to my early teens, there was a mini mod revival. All the boys were wearing stay press trousers and Harringtons and Fred Perrys and Y cardies. Our youth club did a Thursday night disco and it was all The Jam or The Specials, The Selector or The Beat. Me and my friends Cath, Sheenagh and Lisa would go to the Northern Soul disco in the Transport Club in Grangetown on a Saturday. My love for Motown and Soul comes from that time and it’s the music I still listen to the most.

4. I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin

I mean. If I wanted to lose myself this is where I’d go. Perfection. ‘Do Right Woman, Do Right Man’ is the song for me from this one. Such a sassy song. She’s not asking him to do right by her, she’s telling him. I love it.

5. An Eighties Hits Compilation

I can’t decide the final one so I’m going for an eighties compilation record that has New Order, Depeche Mode, Human League, Yazoo, The Police, Wham, Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, The Style Council, George Michael, Paul Young, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madonna, Bananarama, Scritti Polliti, The Cure, Aztec Camera, Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, REM, Luther Vandross, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Cyndi Lauper, Crowded House, Talking Heads, Tracey Chapman, Anita Baker and many, many more.

I wanted an eighties album. It was going to be Prince, Purple Rain or George Michael, Faith but then there’s Human League Dare and and and – so I’ve gone for a compilation. A big one with loads of songs on. Full of memories.

Just to put you on the spot could you choose one track from the five listed above and tell us why you have chosen this?

It has to be ‘Knocks Me Off My Feet’ Stevie Wonder. My kids and Guy are Love and happiness for me and that’s also what this song is.

Many thanks for your time 

Tickets for the tour of Peggy’s Song produced by National Theatre Wales are available to book below.

Riverfront Newport – 25 September, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

Pontardawe Arts Centre – 26 September, 7.30pm & 27 September, 1pm & 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Brycheiniog, Brecon – 1 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Grand Pavilion, Porthcawl – 2 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Hafren, Newtown – 3 October, 7.45pm BOOK NOW

Taliesin Arts Centre,  Swansea – 4 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Theatr Richard Burton, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff – 5 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Borough Theatre, Abergavenny – 7 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Blackwood Miners Institute – 8 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – 9 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Ffwrnes, Llanelli – 10 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

Lyric, Carmarthen – 11 October, 7.30pm BOOK NOW

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