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Baker's Dozen

Choice Of An Angel: Charlotte Church's Favourite Albums
Simon Price , September 16th, 2013 08:40

Charlotte Church, former world-conquering child soprano turned alt-rock auteur, picks 13 albums that may entirely change your view of her. But, as the Quietus finds out, challenging preconceptions is something she's used to

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Charlotte Church is everything you think she's going to be. And nothing like it at all.

She is, just as you'd predict from her public persona, fantastic company and a riotously good laugh, blessed with an easy Cardiff charm which fools you into feeling that you've already known her for years (and has you affectionately calling her 'Charl' way before you've earned that kind of informal intimacy).

But even this down-to-earth normality is, when you take a step back and consider it, a massive surprise in itself. Never mind "Crazy Chick": after the life she's had so far, she couldn't be blamed for actually being stark, staring, pencils-up-the-nostrils insane.

Born Charlotte Maria Reed in 1986, Church didn't have long to enjoy a regular, anonymous life. Discovered at the age of just 11, the Llandaff Cathedral choirgirl became an international singing sensation when she signed to Sony and shifted millions of copies of her debut album Voice Of An Angel and its three successors, performing in front of the Queen, the Pope and the President of the USA.

Like generations of former child stars before her, from Elizabeth Taylor to Christina Ricci, Church then had to negotiate the transition from cherubic innocent to mature sexual being in the full glare of the spotlight, hindered and hounded all the way by a leering, lascivious tabloid press which depicted utterly average teenage behaviour as shocking evidence of a bad girl gone off the rails. There followed a brief but brilliant phase as a pop princess with the Tissues And Issues album. There was a further era of press overkill when she and her then-boyfriend, rugby player Gavin Henson (with whom she has two children), became anointed the Welsh Posh & Becks. There were three series' worth of a patchy but likeable Channel 4 chat show. There was another album, 2010's more downbeat, reflective and autumnal Back To Scratch. In 2011 she testified before the Leveson Inquiry, and later accepted £600,000 in damages from the News Of The World after claims that 33 stories about her had resulted from the hacking of her family's voicemail. Then she disappeared off the radar. Until now.

What Charlotte did next, no-one saw coming. She's undergone a complete stylistic change, daringly switching to inventive, often challenging, genre-mashing, borderline-experimental alternative rock with a succession of EPs on her own Alligator Wine label, recalling the questing spirit of Kate Bush circa The Dreaming. Charlotte's been touring tiny venues around the UK to showcase her new sound, and confronting the preconceptions of her audience isn't always proving easy.

"I think there's a small section who go along to take the piss," she accepts, sipping a lunchtime lemonade in a London private members' club bar. "Like 'Oh, come on, let's see what this is gonna be like'. Hopefully they go away pleasantly surprised. We get loads of metalheads, who love it 'cos it's pretty raucous live. There's two drummers, and Johnny (Powell, Church's boyfriend) makes horrific noises with his guitar. Then you get lots of older people who come along expecting Voice Of An Angel. In the early days, we had people literally turning up in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks and earplugs. A lot of them sat through it and enjoyed it, but we've had quite a few walkouts. And we get people expecting something poppy, like the 'Crazy Chick' era, but they seem to enjoy it as well. Because we've been so hardline about this - it is what it is, no covers, a whole new set you've never heard - it can be quite a difficult thing."

Being a mainstream pop star was never something Charlotte took to naturally.

"I was trying to write, for the first time. And the reason that I started wasn't that I was a naturally talented writer, or even wanted to write, just that that's what you did. It was 'good for publishing', or whatever. So Sony just said 'Right, we'll put you with this person, this person and this person'. And I was a baby! I was 16-17, and I'd had a really weird life experience that I couldn't really put into words and rhyme in a song that would move anyone. You can't help but draw on what you know, so it was teenage relationships, silly things. It was a great experience and I met some incredible characters."

These included the two Guys, Chambers ("mental but brilliant") and Sigsworth ("it didn't work out"). Then there was a certain R&B maestro...

"I went over to Atlanta and worked with Dallas Austin (TLC, Brandy & Monica, Pink, etc), which was ridiculous, 'cos he didn't start work till 9 in the evening and then he wanted to work through the night. I thought 'What?!' It made no sense at all. And he was absolutely stoned. I was there with my notebook and pen, ready to write, and said to the engineer, 'Is he... snoring?!' and he said 'Oh no, he just likes to rest his eyes. He'll wake up in a minute.' I was like, fuck this, I'm going home. I haven't come all the way out here for him to fall asleep.'"

Meanwhile, the papers were revelling in the supposed disparity between the squeaky-clean soprano who'd sung for royalty, and the real-life Cardiff teenager who liked to party hard.

"It was the perfect hypocrisy for them", she says. "And though it wasn't mine, personally, they love to victimise people over it, the stereotypical child-star-goes-bad kind of thing. It started in earnest when I was 14, after we had a court case with (former manager) Jonathan Shalit. We kept being told I had to move over to America and be done with it, 'cos that's where my career was, and get away from all that stuff. But I didn't want to leave. My life would have been totally fucked up. And through staying there in Wales, in my little safe hub, which it continues to be, I was free to be totally normal and do what my friends did. And the media just had a field day."

It was, in fact, the papers themselves who were guilty of hypocrisy. With a staggering absence of self-awareness, the Daily Star famously ran a creepy a photo item about 15-year-old Charlotte's cleavage, with the headline 'She's A Big Girl Now' and joking that she was "looking chest swell", right next to an article denouncing the Brass Eye paedophile special as 'sick'. It's an incident Church remembers well.

"The Chris Morris thing? Yeah, I know... but it's still present in most of the tabloids today. That blatant hypocrisy, where they'll really go after people like they're the true white knights of justice, but it's like, take at a look at your own product, now. Just reflect. Come on. What is this really giving the world apart from titillation and a bad taste?"

During her TV show, Charlotte was a first-hand witness when another star really did start to go off the rails. Her duet with Amy Winehouse on Michael Jackson's 'Beat It' was car-crash viewing.

"I was gutted. I loved Frank, and this was just before Back To Black was released, so she wasn't 'Amy Winehouse' yet. I had no idea about all the rest of it, I was just a fan. Even in rehearsal the day before, she was a bit all-over-the-shop, and I remember thinking 'Oh no! But you're incredible!' I was 21 and heavily pregnant, and I just didn't know how to deal with it. So we just sort of pushed through, and it was OK, but on the day of recording it was really difficult. People were shouting 'Sing it yourself, Charlotte!' We had to do it so many times, I literally had my hand behind her back, holding her up. I was thinking 'You shouldn't be here in front of the camera! You should go home and have a kip.'"

Even now, Charlotte isn't safe from the prying lenses. The Daily Mail recently papped her through the windscreen of her car, eating a burger on the way home from rehearsals. Hold the front page - a human being eating food!

"Haha, yeah, 'She's a size 12! How dare she have a McDonald's! Why isn't she at the gym? It's disgusting!'"

Charlotte's no stranger to the zoom lens of the body image-obsessed glossy magazines, publishing long-distance bikini shots from her holidays and criticising her shape with their too fat/too thin/can't win mentality.

"That's stopped now," she says, relieved. "And if it started again, I would play up with a vengeance, 'cos it's no way to live. Some people in the public eye want to live like that, and that's their selling point, and that's fine for them, everybody's gotta make a living, whatever. But I don't think it's a good thing for society. That whole thing sucks, and I'm so glad I'm no longer part of that. It's died off with me, because I got a bit more savvy, and hid away for a bit, and tried not to say anything controversial."

She'll be referring to past incidents such as calling Pope Benedict XVI a Nazi, calling the Queen "an old woman who has no idea what's going on", and some poorly-received comments in the wake of 9/11.

"I just kept my head down. And then I got a bit chunkier and a bit older, and they weren't so interested! But also, through Leveson, I think they thought, 'Leave her alone until we've got something really fucking awful.'"

The first time I saw Charlotte in person was at the aftershow party at the Manic Street Preachers' set at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium on Millennium Eve, an early sign that her musical tastes stretched beyond hymns and arias.

"Yeah, I would have been 14... but I've been into everything, for ever. When I was super-duper young, I'm talking 3 or 4, I loved Gloria Estefan. Apparently, in my nursery they had the radio on all the time and I just used to pick up the lyrics really easily, and that's how my mother first knew I was musical. As I got older I listened to a lot of classical and opera, obviously. A lot of Puccini, more from the romantic era, and as I grew up I got into all sorts of weird shit, and now I'm massively into Messiaen, and more instrumental stuff than vocal, like The Protecting Veil by John Tavener, which I was gonna put on my list. And then the Manics: I was gonna choose The Holy Bible. My tutor Richard, who used to travel round with us 'cos I couldn't always be at school, was a massive Manics fan. It was around the time of This Is My Truth, Tell Me Yours - which I loved - and he was like, 'It's not about this. It's about The Holy Bible.' Then I got into Silverchair, 'cos I was a teenager and I was into emo, and I was massively into R&B as well, like D'Angelo, India.Arie, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott... and Nikka Costa, this skinny white chick with blazing red hair and a badass voice. But pop passed me by, apart from the Sugababes. And then I listened to a load of old stuff, like Laura Nyro and Ricki Lee Jones, and lots of jazz. My bampy (Welsh slang for grandad) used to listen to a lot of old blues and soul and rock&roll. And my aunty, who's a cabaret singer, was always into Celine and Barbra, but I couldn't really stand that. And I feel bad saying that, because they're obviously incredible singers. But I suppose it was when I was pregnant with my eldest that I started massively delving into music. Before that, I'd been working so hard for such a long time, and I'd never got to go to gigs until then. Which is when these albums came into my life."

Which brings us to the Baker's Dozen. Whatever you expected from Charlotte Church, it's fair to say this probably wasn't it...

Click on the image below to begin scrolling through Charlotte's choices. Her UK tour begins in Wolverhampton on Thursday, September 19; head to her website to get hold of tickets and read our review of her latest EP, THREE, here


Sep 16, 2013 1:11pm

Good lord someone get this poor creature a bikini kill album stat! Code blue we're losing her... 10cc's of Free Kitten with some Babes In Toyland now!

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Sep 16, 2013 1:42pm

That 'Tissues & Issues' album may as well have been entitled 'Tampons & Crampons'

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Sep 16, 2013 2:21pm

Great seeing Van Pelt getting some love. A great lost album.

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Sep 16, 2013 2:37pm

Punched the air when I saw she liked Spirit Of Eden. I think I'm in love

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Sep 16, 2013 3:11pm

Charlotte Church just out indie'd 50% of your reader base.

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Rein Schommer
Sep 16, 2013 3:35pm

Great article and a surprising choice for Bakers Dozen. The cynical side of me thinks that she's picking 'hip' albums to prove she's indie-cool but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt as she appears to be passionate about her choices and have really good knowledge. Some real ace albums on that list.

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Sep 16, 2013 3:47pm

In reply to Rein Schommer:

I'm not sure that these albums are 'hip', per se, certainly not in terms of The Quietus' (which I'm sure dispenses with all notions of 'hip' and the nebulous set of values - real and imagined - that surround it) readership.

In a fit of mild coincidence, though, she seems to have picked a whole bunch of my favourite records ever. Which is nice.

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KIrby Boner
Sep 16, 2013 3:50pm

Charlotte Church is better than the Fall and Neutral Mile Hotel, she's always been great. Voice of an Angel is a fucken work of Art. WEll done to Simone Pryce for the rediscovering of a great

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Rahul Desai
Sep 16, 2013 4:02pm

Raised an eyebrow at Neutral Milk Hotel.
After The Van Pelt, jaw was on the floor.

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Sep 16, 2013 4:51pm

She is a total dude.

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Sep 16, 2013 5:26pm

Get rid of splitting articles across multiple pages - it's rubbish, shameless, and annoying.

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Sep 16, 2013 6:06pm

I wonder how many of her choices Gavin Henson sat through?

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A Clockwork Lozenge
Sep 16, 2013 6:30pm

How about changing The Quietus' logo to a picture of Charlotte 'Charl' Church?

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Lora Tadine
Sep 16, 2013 7:27pm

Best Björk analogy ever. :)

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Stavros P. Leibowitz
Sep 16, 2013 8:03pm

In reply to Jon:

Yeah! And magazines should get rid of, like, pages and stuff and just have scrolls instead. Have you listened to yourself Jon? Have you? Twat.

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Sep 16, 2013 8:51pm

No one REALLY likes Bon Iver right? girl needs some rage

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John Doran
Sep 16, 2013 9:15pm

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

I'm going to buy you lunch if I ever meet you.

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Blerga Blarga
Sep 16, 2013 9:26pm

Someone oughta tell her (and the article's fact checkers) that the Sufjan album's title is simply "Illinois".

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John Doran
Sep 16, 2013 11:08pm

In reply to Blerga Blarga:

Commonly accepted titles are fine. It's styled as 'Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise' on the cover which gives it more credibility than The Beatles' White Album for example. I mean, feel free to be an Alan Partridge-esque pub bore about it but it's fine as far as we're concerned. Calling it 'Illinoise' would have been fine as well.

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Sep 17, 2013 1:15am

Shudder to Think namedrop! I would legitimately love to hear her cover Hit Liquor or something.

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Sep 17, 2013 3:02am

In reply to Joseph:

Holy crap - I just did the exact same thing about 90 seconds ago!

I am not a fan of much of Charlotte's work, to be honest, but I cannot stop playing the Line Of Best Fit's "Nerve" performance, and now, after reading this Baker's Dozen, I am in love. By the time I got to her choice of Vespertine, I thought, "It wouldn't be so odd now if she chose Spirit of Eden or Laughing Stock, but it would be incredibly wonderful."


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Sep 17, 2013 11:34am

im sure i need to record a new king of luxembourg with jill jones band/

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Sep 17, 2013 11:36am

and jill scott

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Sep 17, 2013 11:36am

In reply to cp:

With the exception of Bon Iver and Jeff Buckley which are both stinkers that only girls like, this is a great list. Much better than a lot of what the Quietus tends to give its seal of approval to. I vote we sack Doran and replace him with Church.

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Sep 17, 2013 11:47am

In reply to Stavros P. Leibowitz:

Magazines don't just have one paragraph per page

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John Doran
Sep 17, 2013 11:53am

In reply to RJC:

I was about to delete this for sexism but then saw the comment about me. I'd be happy for Charlotte to take over the editorship for a time while I go on Mid Life Crisis sabbatical but I'm not sure if she'd like the pay cut. However if she's reading, I'd be up for discussing her taking over my job for sure.

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Sep 17, 2013 11:55am

In reply to John Doran:

You could do a job swap! That would be amazing.

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nick talbot
Sep 17, 2013 4:13pm

Wow! the Van Pelt! Now that's obscure US indie. Excellent album, was sad when they called it a day. I figured only about twelve people even knew about that record.

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nick talbot
Sep 17, 2013 4:14pm

In reply to John Doran:

Guest editorships is a great idea John.

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Sep 18, 2013 12:05am

In reply to nick talbot:

haha I bought your copy off you several years ago Nick. granted you probably don't remember this specific transaction

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French Muck
Sep 18, 2013 2:43pm

In reply to Rob:

"The Quietus (which I'm sure dispenses with all notions of 'hip' and the nebulous set of values - real and imagined - that surround it)" - funny man!

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Sep 21, 2013 9:26am

Went to see her at the Leadmill last night. Her voice and her band are bloody brilliant. Her voice is extraordingary and her on stage she it just totally endeering.
Shame about the attendance but folk need to just pluck up some courage and get listening.
It's exciting to see how much she's developed over just these three EPs.

The gig reminded me a little of when I first saw Bat For Lashes at the ULU - minus the theatrics.
Can't wait to see for her.

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Sep 26, 2013 5:38pm

In reply to Bartoli:

Agreed - that Van Pelt album is wonderful, and never gets mentioned anywhere.

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Oct 10, 2013 4:18am

To keep you company tonight

Waking up in a world surrounded by flames

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Oct 11, 2013 1:59pm

Ever since she raised a digit to the tabloids and the outraged middle-classes, I've been in love with Charl. That's she cites Laura Nyro and Talk Talk is no more than I hoped for. Now she's an angel! Great selection of musics!

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Oct 18, 2013 3:38pm

Given Ms Church' undoubted taste. Why is her own music so appalling?

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C Lo
Oct 23, 2013 10:14am

Good honest list. Eclectic and thoughtful. Had to laugh at a comment implying she doesn't know "good" music. Considering she can sing as easy as breathing and obviously ahs an open mind I'd imagine she's a better judge of "good" than most.

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Mar 22, 2014 2:13am

Props for the Talk Talk and John Grant picks, the rest is a bit shit.
But then she goes on to complain about 'shiny pop' at the end and how miserable it makes her feel.
Eh? you fucking make shit shiny pop love, what gives??
I get the impression someone may have picked these for you to get some 'cool' cred.

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Add B
Apr 24, 2016 3:22pm

In reply to Tone:

A few ill informed views on here about our Charl. She's not only politically spot on but has genuinely great taste. Saw her at a tiny Deerhoof gig in Bham a couple of years back. Thought they might make the list.

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