Music runs in the blood of siblings Kitty, Daisy, and Lewis Durham. It was inescapable, permeating all areas of home and family life. Even on their local streets of Kentish Town in Camden, where they grew up and still live, it was the air they breathed and the sound they heard from every corner.
The siblings, known as the critically acclaimed and much admired rock'n'roll/rockabilly trio Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, were in town recently and took some time to talk to me about music, their new album, building a studio in an old restaurant, and driving around in a hearse!
"Kentish Town is a place where there's a lot of music and musicians, and there used to be a lot of buskers," Kitty tells me. "You're surrounded by music," Kitty tells me. "Kentish Town is a place where there's a lot of music and musicians, and there used to be a lot of buskers."
"The first time we got up on stage was in a pub in Camden, the Golden Lion," adds Daisy. "We'd go down there every Sunday to an evening called 'Come and Meet the Folks'. We got to know everybody, all the musicians. It was the first pub we played, that was a major thing for us."
The Durhams' parents were both musicians. Their mother Ingrid Weiss was drummer in post-punk band The Raincoats, while their father worked in a studio as a sound engineer. However, their children insist this was not the deciding factor in their becoming a band. They say it has more to do with the atmosphere of the family home, the records on the turntable, and three children curious about the instruments their parents owned. "It just all happened naturally," says Daisy. "It wasn't like mum played us The Raincoats record. I never heard her play drums until I eventually heard the CD, but Dad and Mum used to sing with us in family sing-songs, and we'd listen to their record collection. We grew up listening to all kinds of music. Dad has a lot of obscure sixties and seventies stuff - and we always had instruments as well. Dad would also sing standard three chord sing-alongs associated with the forties and fifties. When we recorded our first album we were just playing the songs we knew."
The Third times a charm
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis released that eponymous debut album in 2008 through Sunday Best Records while still in their mid-teens. The album took music fans and critics by surprise with its energetic interpretations of songs by Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and most notably, in Canned Heat's 'Goin' Up The Country'. Recorded on vintage equipment, it sounded - deliberately - like it was recorded somewhere between 1948 and 1955, and presaged the rock'n'roll/rockabillly revival by at least a year.
Smoking In Heaven followed in 2010, featuring original material by the siblings, while earlier this year saw the release of their finest album to date - The Third, produced by The Clash's Mick Jones. Confident, assured, and brimming with energy, it revealed how the trio had grown as songwriters, and were stretching out, incorporating funk-soul ('Feeling Of Wonder' ) and jazz ('Never Get Back' ) into their sound, without compromising their commitment to blues, rock'n'roll ('It Always Your Business' ), and ska (Turkish Delight' ).
"The music takes influences from the past, we love jazz and blues, but the songwriting is more contemporary, as it's being written now, about what's happening in our lives, it's about how we feel," says Kitty. "We've upped our game," says Daisy of The Third. "It's about us progressing rather than trying to go in a particular direction."
Yet two of the most surprising songs on The Third are the pop-soul of 'No Action' and uncharacteristic folk-rock of 'Whiskey'. "Ever since I was a kid, playing piano, I always wrote pop songs," says Daisy of 'No Action'. "It's always what I wanted to do. That kind of song has always been in me."
"'Whiskey' is a song I wrote," says Kitty. "When it started it had a Bollywood feel. It's always interesting to hear people describe it. Everybody says something different. Some say it sounds like Stax soul, others The Velvet Underground. It's a bit of all of those. The original was also faster. We messed around with it in rehearsal. Then dad started playing it really slow, gave it a real Memphis soul vibe, and there's tablas on there, a bit of everything, and we liked the vibe of it."
The old restaurant is now a studio
An abandoned, derelict, Indian restaurant is the last place you would expect Kitty, Daisy & Lewis to have recorded The Third in, but they did, converting the former Camden based eatery into a fully equipped recording studio. However it took a good deal of work to achieve such a transformation.
"We had our eyes on it for a while, it was derelict for 15 years," says Kitty ("Dad used to eat there," Daisy interjects ). "When it closed down everything got left behind. It was infested with pigeons, there was pigeon shit everywhere. There were eighties porn mags stuffed up the chimney. It took a while to chuck stuff out. There were loads of plates as well ("We're not short of plates!" Daisy laughs ). Three years was spent making into a studio, sound proofing the rooms, but it was great to finally move into that space."
Despite their youth, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis have firmly set themselves against the modern digitial recording process, preferring the older technology of analogue equipment. "It really captures a pure sound," Lewis explains, "and you get a pure sound using that equipment. It also depends on the room you are in and the sound you get from it. You can use that equipment to capture it. Our first album was recorded in our room. That's why it sounds so different."
When I interview Kitty, Daisy, and Lewis, it is a Thursday afternoon, just ahead of the band's soundcheck in the Róisín Dubh. Later that night they play one of the Galway gigs of the year, an extraordinary and exhilarating display of musicianship, stage presence, and sheer love and enjoyment of what they do. All three sing and play drums. Daisy and Lewis play keyboards; both Kitty and Lewis are on guitar. An epic 'Smoking in Heaven' closes the show, with Lewis showing himself to be a mean blues guitarist, Kitty a superb harmonica player, and Daisy one hell of a percussionist. Accompanying them on stage were their mother on bass and dad on rhythm guitar. What is it like to have their parents on tour?
"It's normal for us and we're used to it," says Kitty. "There are all the usual ups and down arguments, but you're family, and you have that connection, you know what each other is going to do next." Daisy adds: "We wanted them to be in the band. There was no point searching out other musicians. We were always jamming together and always worked well together."
While Lewis donned a suit and tie, Kitty and Daisy's image has changed from 1950s' glamour to these days sporting figure hugging cat suits - made for them by their mum - much to the delight of many males in Thursday's audience. "We started getting the idea from pictures I saw of Suzi Quatro and from The Runaways," says Daisy. "That made me want to have a jumpsuit. I got addicted. I wanted to have more and more in different colours."
Lewis, however, does happen to own a fur coat which once belonged to Rod Stewart. "A friend of mine was a tech guy at Olympic Studios where Rod recorded a number of his albums," he explains. "He got the coat from a guy who it was given to who swapped it for a motorcycle. I had something he wanted, a tape machine I think, and he asked how much do you want for it. I asked for the coat as a joke!"
There is also a story that in the early part of their career, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis used a hearse to transport themselves and their equipment to gigs. "We needed a car big enough to take two double basses, and the hearse was the right size" says Kitty. "We should've got a van," adds Daisy. "Sometimes," says Kitty, "when we were passing by people would bless themselves, and then they'd see three kids with loads of guitars!"