Kate Westbrook was born in Britain but spent much of her childhood in the USA and Canada. Educated at Dartington Hall School, in Devon. Kate went on to study Fine Art at Bath Academy of Art, Corsham, and at Reading University, before returning to live and work on the East and West coasts of America, and travelling in Mexico. The first solo show of her paintings was at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, California, in 1965.
On returning to the UK, she continued to exhibit her work and she taught at Leeds College of Art, a college at that time in the forefront of experimental theatre and performance art. Kate's musical career began in the mid '70s when she joined the Mike Westbrook Brass Band, and gave up teaching to concentrate on the dual career of painter and musician. Kate has toured widely throughout Europe, and as far afield as North America, Australia and the Far East. She has broadcast on radio and TV in many countries and has recorded more than 30 albums.
Kate’s vocal range embraces Contemporary Music, Opera, Music Hall and Cabaret as well as Jazz and Popular Song. She has appeared in many different contexts. She has sung the role of Anna in The Seven Deadly Sins by Brecht and Weill with the London Symphony Orchestra, arias by Rossini with the Mike Westbrook Orchestra in Big Band Rossini at the BBC Proms, and songs by the Beatles with the Westbrook Band in Off Abbey Road. With fellow vocalist Phil Minton, Kate sings the poetry of William Blake in Mike Westbrook’s settings. She multi- tracked most of the roles in the television opera Good Friday 1663 with libretto by Helen Simpson, which was commissioned by Channel Four. Kate sings in English, Italian, French and German. She worked with the NDR Band in Hamburg, and was guest soloist in a series of performances in the Christus Pavillon at the Expo 2000, Hannover, in a work by composer Heribert Leuchter KlangWeltReligion. In 2002 she collaborated with Heribert on a music-theatre piece Reich durch Arm, commissioned by WDR. With L’Ensemble Justiniana she toured France in the role of La Chanteuse in the opera Quichotte. In Milan recently she performed A Bigger Show with the Artchipel Orchestra. In her project Cuff Clout, a neoteric music-hall, performed and recorded by her group The Skirmishers, with fellow vocalist John Winfield, Kate's lyrics are set by eight composers from the worlds of pop, rock, jazz and classical music. On her solo album Goodbye Peter Lorre she is accompanied by pianists John Alley and Mike Westbrook and the vocal group Fine Trash. Other albums include Music For Other Occasions with Lindsay Cooper, and with Mike Westbrook the Duo album Love or Infatuation - the Hollywood Songs of Friedrich Hollaender. On her album The Nijinska Chamber a celebration of the life and work of the dancer and choreographer Bronislava Nijinska with music by Mike Westbrook, Kate is joined by accordionist Karen Street.
In the Contemporary Music field, Kate has performed Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together and premiered Phil Clark’s All The Rage. Kate was a featured soloist in the first performance of Michael Finnissy's The Transgressive Gospel in the 2009 Spitalfields Festival. Currently with the ensemble Lavolta she performs a work by William Walton Façade Two, Judith Weir’s Really with mezzo-soprano Sarah Owen, and Kurt Weill’s Surabaya Johnny arranged by Luciano Berio.
Kate’s work as a lyricist has encompassed everything from cabaret songs to opera. She wrote book and lyrics for the music-theatre piece Platterback, performed by Westbrook & Company, and the Westbrook Trio's 20th anniversary album L'ascenseur / The Lift. Also for Art Wolf, a piece based on the life and work of the Alpine painter Caspar Wolf (1735-83). She co-wrote two works for voice and brass sextet, which she performed with the Mike Westbrook Village Band, Waxeywork Show and English Soup, or the Battle of the Classic Trifle. Many of her recordings are produced by Jon Hiseman. These include Fine n’ Yellow, written in memory of friends, John and Margery Styles, and The Serpent Hit a fable for voice, saxophone quartet and percussion.
Kate wrote texts for Chanson Irresponsable (Enja Records) This is one of many collaborations with Mike Westbrook which include settings of European poetry, as in such concert works as The Cortege and London Bridge is Broken Down. She wrote the libretto for their opera Jago, and the oratorio Turner in Uri, a celebration of the painter Turner's travels in the Alps which was commissioned by the 2003 Alpentöne Festival. The Westbrooks' one-woman opera Cape Gloss, Mathilda's Story, written for soprano Marie Vassilliou and commissioned by NOC, was premiered in Plymouth in February 2007. A recent work for voice and piano Five Voyages, was commissioned for the 150th anniversary of the foundation of the University of Plymouth.
She appears regularly in The Westbrook Trio with Mike and saxophonist Chris Biscoe.
Currently touring with the contemporary music ensemble Lavolta, Kate is also involved in performances of The Westbrook Blake and, with Uncommon Orchestra, the Westbrook’s jazz/rock oratorio A Bigger Show. Her latest project, with the group Westbrook & Company, is the Jazz Cabaret Paintbox Jane, based around the work of the painter Raoul Dufy.
Kate continues to exhibit her paintings in Britain and abroad. A selection of Kate's work is on show on our gallery pages.
In December 2012 Kate Westbrook was approached by musician/composer Laura Cole who was contacting female artists to ask of their experiences working in the UK music industry. Her question and Kate's reply is reproduced here.
Michael Finnissy's 'TheTransgressive Gospel'
"The emotional heart of the piece is in the three settings of sacred poems by George Herbert, sung by Kate Westbrook with a combination of deep feeling and jazzy intimacy that was more moving than any impassioned outcry."
Ivan Hewitt - Daily Telgraph
CUFF CLOUT REVIEW
"British vocalist Kate Westbrook has a gift for music theater. Updating early 20th-century English music hall on Cuff Clout, Westbrook sets her witty and eccentric texts to bold and fascinating genre-crossing music composed by eight collaborators, including her bandleader husband Mike Westbrook and other Anglo jazz worthies Chris Biscoe, Lindsay Cooper and Barbara Thompson.
Maintaining a wicked edginess in her rich, limber voice, she skewers the memory of the millionaire inventor of barbed wire on "Glidden" and plumbs a gloomy, stately mood on the striking piano-and-voice ballad "My Lazy Goodheart," where her emotional timbre suggests blood ties to Marianne Faithfull. John Winfield is one hell of a lead singer, too, playing the part of a jailbird's confederate to the hilt in "Toad's Washerwoman" and wrenching cryptic meaning out of the words to "The Riddle."
Together, Westbrook and Winfield embark on a cosmic journey singing the terrifically daft "Oceans, Straits, Currents & Seas"- think Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron and private eye John Shaft sharing a pickle jar full of LSD.
Kate's Skirmishers band performs with a deft touch, whether sounding like an old strip joint combo on "Toad's Washerwoman" or enshrouding "One Cezanne Apple" with a Third Stream funereal air. Getting comfortable with Westbrook's "neoteric music hall" may take some work but it's worth it."
Frank-John Hadley - Downbeat
"Once again, one was struck by the unique talent and incisive charm of the singer. Singer? Hardly word enough to describe an entertainer musician who knows as no-one else how to change words into notes, an all-round comedienne who uses her voice infallibly with a poetic sense of the dramatic, a multi-lingual singer (she is equally at home singing in French, German and Italian as well as English) who takes the stage with a radiant ease, much grace, humour and sensuality in all aspects of song. The exquisite Kate..."
Pascai Anquetil Monde De La Musique