Keeley Forsyth

Born and raised in Oldham in the north-west of England, Forsyth first made her name as an actor, and while the creation of music has been a constant feature in her life, she’s taken the long road to its release. A deeply intuitive and singular musician, she began writing several years ago, accompanying herself on harmonium and accordion, but reveals that “I never really acknowledged that I was making music. It was just something I did that was a bit more private.”

Despite this, following an introduction by mutual friend Maxine Peake, Forsyth began working with Sheffield’s Eccentronic Research Council, who were seduced by a voice they describe as “the bastard love child of Peggy Lee and Nico.” While the fruits of those sessions havenot yet seen the light of day, they inspired in the hitherto reclusive artist an intensely creative burst, with songs equal parts fragile and monolithic, ghostly and corporeal, tender and potent, cathartic and stirring. “I came up with lots in a very short space of time,” Forsyth recalls. “Most songs were written in the time it took to sing them. But I held them close, and often thought I needed to do something with them. It never felt right to go out and look for it. I felt like I needed to wait and move when I felt inspired.”

That inspiration struck one evening while listening to the radio, where she first encountered pianist and composer Matthew Bourne’swork. “I heard his music and suddenly I could hear them both together,” she says of her songs and his compositions. “I felt compelled to write to him. He got straight back and said he loved what I was doing.” What followed were quick and instinctive collaborationswith Bourne and producer and musician Sam Hobbs, with the initial burst of momentum Forsyth felt when writing carried through into the studio, preserving the intricacies and accidents that make an album human.

For Forsyth, the true revelation of collaboration has been in at last finding her voice, an act which takes on a deeply symbolic significance given the events leading up to Debris’ sessions. In particular, the gut-wrenching ‘Lost’–its chilling opening lines asking “Is this what madness feels like? / The smooth space after all boundaries have been dissolved” –was recorded soon after a time when, she confesses, “I recognised no-one and nothing about my life. I lost any ability to speak. I lost my tongue. When I started to get it back, singing became something different.” And what a voice she discovered.

Growling on the title track from beyond a brooding fug of harmonium and piano, she almost swallows her words as her register rises –“Stay here baby / Holding hands / Underneath the apple tree”–while within the eerie spiritual folk of ‘It’s Raining’, which places her mysteriously between late era Scott Walker and Nick Drake, she aches to be “Like a piece of gold / Never knowing its place”. On the tense, ritualistic ‘Butterfly’, her protagonist confesses how “She built a house of thorns /Started the roof but left it / Garden of snakes to protect it,” before she concludes with the sublime, subdued electronics of ‘Start Again’, her weary voice defiant as she finally confronts “the remarkable point of no return”.

Indeed, Forsyth’s enigmatic voice is so indelible even she is sometimes provoked to refer to it as a third person, like the characters she’s inhabited as an actor, this time populating songs sharing tales of the high and low tides, of freedom and entrapment, andof hard-won triumphs. “They’ve been in my mind for a while,” she concludes. “I have sung them to my children, and at home alone, and making this album has been an opportunity for me to discover the voice and being who sings these songs. It has changed me, and will continue to. I recognise my life again.”