Cate Le Bon: “the Welsh Nico”. Well, yes – you can see how that might get tiring pretty quickly. “I don’t think I’ll ever hear the end of it,” she sighed to Tom Lamont in The Guardian back in 2013. While the vocal comparison seems fairly unavoidable (both sing in dark, pure tones, like the shadows between the shafts of light cascading across a monochrome photograph), the quote from which it originates describes her music far better. “Bobbie Gentry and Nico fight over a Casio keyboard,” enthused Gruff Rhys. “Melody wins!”
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to most of what Cate Le Bon does – anyone fighting over a Casio keyboard and putting the results on general release gets my vote. However, while most people will probably arrive at her doorstep courtesy of ‘Are You With Me Now?’ (a stone cold indie classic – see the video above), it was a song snuggled onto the first side of her first album (Me Oh My) that welcomed me in.
‘Sad Sad Feet’ is probably as Nico as Cate le Bon is ever going to get. Either way, it is – to me – the perfect encapsulation of her way with a quirky but heartbreaking melody, coupled with a lyrical ability that pulls you directly into her mood. “I like the fields but I just can’t go,” she sings in a matter-of-fact manner, and when you choose to sing along with her, you can feel the urban relentlessness that drags at those sad, sad feet. In these earlier songs (she released her first solo material in 2007, so it’s entirely appropriate to separate what she’s done into stages of a relatively long career – she’s already outlived The Beatles, after all) the sense of inertia while trying to buck against the expected is palpable. “You come to my room to tell me I’m so cruel,” she sings on ‘What is Worse‘, “’cause I have no plans to settle down.” It feels as though she’s giving voice to a thousand similar conversations that have taken place, not just in the Welsh provincial towns she grew up in, but anywhere where dreams have been threatened by conformity.
The musical attraction of ‘Sad Sad Feet’, for me, was the obvious influence of late ’60s psych folk. You can certainly picture Nico and members of the Velvets sitting around playing this in a smoke-filled den, but equally I can hear Bert Jansch and Anne Briggs taking turns with it during a long weekend session at Les Cousins.
Naturally, when you’re approaching a cover song, you look to put an alternative stamp on it – you look to make it your own. Sat in the waning light on a later summer’s evening, I closed my eyes and started fingerpicking, trying feel my way to a point where the song flowed without thought. It came easily, as many of my favourite songs do, and it has never been difficult to find my way back to that liminal state. It has been one of my favourite songs to perform in live sets this year, mainly because it seems to pull the audience in. You shut your eyes, the background chatter stops and all ears are on Sad Sad Feet.