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MLF Chapter & VerseMLF Chapter & Verse

The Manchester Literature Festival Blog

Review: Kathryn Williams

After discovering singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams at this year’s Festival, MLF Blogger Fran Slater is a fan. Here he reports on her performance of Hypoxia, an album inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, at Hallé St Peters.

I’ve been attending the Manchester Literature Festival for six years now. Each year it grows, the line-up becomes more impressive and eclectic, and you wonder just how they’re going to make it even better when the following October comes around. But even as the festival evolves, there are couple of things that always seem to stay the same. You will, if you attend enough events, always be introduced to some impressive talents you had never heard of before. And if you want to get to know the many fantastic and beautiful venues that Manchester has to offer, then there is really no better way to do so.

Hopping over to Hallé St Peters in Ancoats on Saturday gave me the opportunity to do both of these things. Drawn in by the intriguing blurb, which introduced Kathryn Williams as someone with an ‘extraordinary voice and artistic talent’, I was comforted by the fact that even if I didn’t quite get on with the music, it would be a chance to revisit one of the best locations from previous years of the festival. I needn’t have worried. What took place on the stage was haunting and mesmerising.

But what, I hear you ask, does any of this have to do with literature? Well, Williams’s latest album Hypoxia, which she performed here in full, was written to mark the 50th anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. After being commissioned by New Writing North to write just a few songs inspired by the book, Williams became so taken in by the subject that she found a whole album pouring out onto the page. And we’re very lucky that it did. This is an extremely affecting collection of songs, packed full of Plath’s usual mix of wit and sadness.

It was clear that this was a strange event for Williams in some ways. As she told us during the closing Q&A with Rachel Cooke, she has a loyal fan base that often pack out her shows, singing every lyric back to her and making a lot of noise. Here, the crowd’s noise levels were appropriate to the place of worship in which we were sitting. But it wasn’t indifference that kept the decibels to minimum. Instead, it was awe and intrigue.


Fran Slater is a Manchester-based writer and editor who is currently taking far too long to finish his first novel. Read his fiction, reviews, and poor attempts at blogging here.

Image: Jon Parker Lee