Cathi Unsworth photograph by Etienne Gilfillan

“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest is a 90s music journalist who I used to enjoy reading back when Melody Maker was a thing, and is now a well loved hard-boiled crime fiction writer whose work has been compared to Derek Raymond – another connection to Velvet Sheep, as it’s through the “I Was Dora Suarez” record based on Raymond’s work that got me writing about James Johnston’s Gallon Drunk & Terry Edwards for the zine (people who I still count as friends).

Turns out it was this same record and her friendship with those musicians that got our guest today into writing noir novels, and she’s totally made this murky world her own, ranging from 2005’s “The Not Knowing” (incidentally one of my favourite Tindersticks songs from one of my all time favourite records) to “punk noir” book “The Singer”, plus “Bad Penny Blues” based on the notorious “Jack The Stripper” killings of the sixties, through to 2015’s “Without The Moon” based on two true crimes that took place in February 1942, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Gordon Burn prize and was the Times’ crime book of the month.

I am chuffed to have on the site one of my favourite music journalists and a writer of impeccable taste, it’s the truly top notch Cathi Unsworth!

Cathi has appeared on TV a fair bit including on The Culture Show, but although I’ve been a BBC man on and off for a while, our paths have unfortunately never crossed. I intend to put that right! I mentioned that I mostly did kids TV to which Cathi joked “Shame you can’t adapt any of my novels for kids TV – The Singer is really a public information film for them… I jest of course”.

Cathi was pleased to join the ranks of “song for ewe” choices among many bands and musicians that she loved back from the MM days. I mentioned that most of my favourite new music was by old bands who are still around, and Cathi agreed “Yes, we were lucky to have been young at the time when music was such a highly valued (and skilled) thing. And that we were into it and not computer games… Which I find really sad.”

Who needs computer games when you have story-telling music with a tale from the likes of Gallon Drunk, Tindersticks or The Bad Seeds, or with such vivid writing as Cathi’s which she has graced me with even with her ace song choice, so without further ado, here’s Cathi’s “song for ewe”…

“It’s The Castleford Ladies Magic Circle by Jake Thackray.

I got into Jake a few years back, when there was a fantastic, in-depth BBC documentary about him called “Jake on the Box”, followed by a compilation of him playing his songs live. He had been on the telly a lot when I was a child, but I was too young to have taken him in in those far off days before I had teeth. In middle age, this dark, brooding Yorkshireman appeared as a revelation.

He was possessed of very Gallic looks, and was very keen on the guitar style of Django Reinhardt and the satirical songs of Georges Brassens, which inspired him to adapt his extremely droll wit and spectacular worldplay to writing his own canon of songs about surreal goings-on in Northern towns.

All of them are wonderful but this strikes a particular chord with me at the moment, as I have been writing a lot about magical circles and little old ladies who may not be quite what they appear for my next novel, which is based on two true, witchcraft-related cases during World War II and will be called “That Old Black Magic”. Jake’s devillish damsels could easily have been among their number, though as hard as I have tried, I have not come up with lines anywhere near as superb as Jake’s here:

“But they don’t waste time with a ouija board or a seance now and again, no/ None of your wittering, twittering, petty poltergeists for them/No, Elizabeth Jones and Lily O’Grady/ And three or four more married ladies/Prefer to be tickled by the whiskery chins of bogey men.”

Now imagine singing that in a droll Yorkshire way while playing guitar as good as Django and looking as cool as Alain Delon in Le Samourai. That’s my definition of a genius.”