Kerry Andrew, composer, performer and writer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I always liked composing in a relatively small-scale sense as a teenager, but it was a particular teacher’s musicianship classes at my town’s weekend music centre that really fired me on: I remember him introducing us to John Cage’s 4’33 and me stroppily complaining that it wasn’t music before the lightbulb moment hit.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

At York University: my composition tutor Roger Marsh, the tenor and musicologist John Potter and the composer Bill Brooks, as well as countless fellow students who have gone onto have awesome careers, including Anna Meredith, Laura Moody, Emily Hall, and my Juice colleagues Sarah Dacey and Anna Snow. The producer/beatboxer/songwriter MaJiKer. My bandmates in You Are Wolf, Sam Hall and Peter Ashwell.

Elsewhere: Bjork, Meredith Monk, Brian Wilson, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Damon Albarn, Lisa Knapp. Traditional vocal musics from around the world.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Juggling all the different facets of my work. I often think that if I just concentrated on one thing, I’d be far more successful at it, but I know that wouldn’t satisfy me.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Being able to tailor something to specific players/singers – it’s actually what I mostly do, and am grateful for being able to work in that way. The challenge is hoping that you have created something that your commissioner is happy with (not always the case)…

Of which works are you most proud?

My community chamber opera ‘Woodwose’, which drew together many of my interests: folk music and lore, writing (I wrote the libretto), community music, improvisation, and music-theatre. My two ‘You Are Wolf’ albums, Hawk to the Hunting Gone and Keld.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Voices and words and stories. Loops and improv. Landscape. Focused on texture more than harmony. Far too modal, because folk songs have lodged themselves in me.

How do you work?

In my study in South London, for up to three hours, mostly in the morning. I use manuscript paper, a Nord Electro 2 keyboard, Logic Pro, and Sibelius.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Apart the influences above, Messaien, Britten, Stravinsky. Alasdair Roberts.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Making music for enough of a living is the main thing.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Say yes to most things, until you’re in a position to say no, and then recommend others for those things instead. Collaborate widely. Be hugely proactive. Put on your own gigs, start your own hubs/websites/record labels. Connect people and celebrate the success of others. Throw all the things you’re interested in into your work and don’t worry about trying to fit in a box.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

With five/six more novels under my belt, and maybe another big music-theatre work or two. In my dream cabin in Scotland.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Skimming stones on a Scottish loch with no midges and sunshine.

What is your most treasured possession?

A copy of my first novel, Swansong.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Swimming outside.

What is your present state of mind?

Full of all the things I need to do, but mostly trying to work out when next to go swimming.

Kerry Andrew is a London-based composer, performer and writer. She has a PhD in Composition from the University of York and has won four British Composer Awards. As a composer, she specialises in experimental vocal and choral music, music-theatre and community music. She performs with the award-winning Juice Vocal Ensemble and with her alt-folk band You Are Wolf. 

Kerry made her BBC Proms debut in 2017 with No Place Like, a new commission for the BBC Ten Pieces scheme. Her works have included a large-scale piece for 600 singers, orchestral/rock players and music-tech makers in the Royal Albert Hall’s Schools Prom; a concept drawing and vocal EP for Art on the Underground; a work simultaneously performed by 25 community ensembles around the UK for the Landmark Trust; an ‘open-source’ piece for audiences to complete for recorder quintet; a piece for the London Sinfonietta to fight for the NHS (including the recorded voices of 60 members of the public, and featuring actor/campaigner Michael Sheen); and a work for the national commemoration service one year on to commemorate the 7/7/05 London bombings. She was Handel House Composer in Residence 2010-12 and Visiting Professor at Leeds College of Music 2015-16.

In 2010, Kerry won her first British Composer Award for her choral work Fall in the Making Music category. In 2014, she won in the Stage Works category for her wild swimming opera Dart’s Love, and the Education and Community Category for her community chamber opera Woodwose, written for Wigmore Hall. In 2017, she won her fourth award for her vocal/body percussion work who we are for the 600 singers of the massed National Youth Choirs of Great Britain at the Royal Albert Hall.

Kerry was a British Council / PRS for Music Foundation Musician in Residence in China, spending five weeks in the Henan Province in 2016. She made collaborative new rock/traditional-inspired songs based on foxes in folklore.

She performs with the award-winning experimental post-a cappella trio juice vocal ensemble, who have released two albums on the Nonclassical label. She also performs alt-folk as You Are Wolf, exploring traditional songs and lore in unusual, electronica-tinged arrangements. She is a multi-instrumentalist with the rock/classical/jazz quintet DOLLYman.

Kerry has written for the Guardian, writes libretti and made her short story debut on BBC Radio 4 in 2014. Her debut novel Swansong was published by Jonathan Cape in January 2018.


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