Katy Carr on singing about Highgate highwayman Dick Turpin and World War Two freedom fighters

Katy Carr. Picture: Ben Wright

Katy Carr. Picture: Ben Wright - Credit: Archant

From singing about highwayman Dick Turpin at The Spaniards Inn, to the Enigma codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Baker Street-based multi-instrumentalist Katy Carr talks to Roger Aitken about her music.

Q: You recently recorded your fifth studio album ‘Polonia’, which MOJO magazine commended. What inspired you to write it?

A: The Latin name for Poland, Polonia is inspired by the forgotten freedom fighters during World War II with songs like ‘My Beloved General’, which pays tribute to tank commander General Maczek who liberated France and The Netherlands.

A snubbed war hero, he ended up working as a barman in Edinburgh after the war to support himself.

My songs honour all Poles who were betrayed by the ‘Big Three’ - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill - at the Yalta Conference which gave Poland to the Soviet Union and left millions displaced and in exile.

The album was also inspired by Elgar’s prelude Polonia (1915) written for his friend Ignacy Paderewski, who became president of Poland. Elgar felt inspired to write about when the country was erased from the map of Europe and speaking Polish forbidden.

Q: You’ve recently appeared on national TV in Poland singing about the diaspora how was that received?

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A: It was amazing to receive such a huge response when I performed with the Passionart Orchestra in Krakow and at a Freedom Fighter TV concert in Warsaw, which the Polish Prime Minister attended.

This March I was honoured to be awarded the ‘Pro Patria’ Medal by the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression in Lublin, for helping to share untold stories on Polish heritage through my album Paszport (2012) and now Polonia.

The song ‘Bomba’ was in recognition of Polish mathematician Marian Rejewski, who in 1938 cracked German Enigma machine ciphers for the first time.

Q: On your album ‘Passion Play’ the song ‘Turpin’ refers to The Spaniards Inn with poet and comic John Hegley as Turpin, but how did you come to collaborate?

A: I met John after a piano performance at an October Gallery event with renowned Hampstead poet Jeremy Reed. A friend suggested John would make an excellent Turpin and I agreed.

My ‘Turpin’ is the more romantic and loveable vision of the highwayman rather than the real cruel and dangerous murderer.

I imagined him wooing the ladies with his jet-black horse Bess. I’ve probably never giggled so much in the studio as when I recorded with John.

Q: Sometimes you perform as Katy Carr & The Aviators. Why aviator?

A: It’s partly because my line-up has changed over the years and almost like an airplane my group has rolled, yawed and looped in many directions.

The name also bears special meaning for me as throughout my teenage years I wanted to be a fighter pilot and gained a pilot’s licence. My heroes are the Spitfire pilots, female pilots from the Air Transport Auxiliary as well as Amy Johnson and Amelia Earhart.

Q: What was it like performing this April as a special guest with Cerys Matthews for the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rebellion?

A: It was extremely moving and emotive to sing Padraic Colum’s traditional Irish folk song ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ at this ‘Poet’s Rebellion’ event at the Luton Irish Centre, which commemorated the centenary of the uprising in Dublin - a pivotal point Irish history. The event resonated with me as many of the songs I’ve written are around loss of country, rebellion and refugees.

Q: What’s your favourite place in London?

A: I cannot single out one area. London is my favourite place and has been my inspiration. But pushed to choose a favourite place it would be Hampstead as it was the first area I moved to in the capital. It has such a romantic and poetic presence that can soothe the creative soul. The Heath is a mystery of delight for all of us to share.

Katy Carr & The Aviators perform at the Leyton Midsummer Festival, Jubilee Park on June 19 2016.