The Isle of Man is a tiny place. It’s only 33 x 13miles in size and there are roughly 85,000 people living here. It was from this modest Isle that singer songwriter Katherine Crowe’s ‘Smile’ really started to grow and from which, within a week of a personal Facebook campaign being launched, she found herself with international media clawing for her story, her page being shared 70,000 times around the globe and tweets in support of her campaign being posted by everyone from Gary Barlow to Lord Alan Sugar to Olympic superstars and NASA Astronauts…
So, why is everybody talking about Katherine Crowe? Who is this lone individual was who had captured the hearts of so many?
Isle of Man based singer songwriter Katherine Crowe is one of life’s amazing individuals. She’s funny, charming, bighearted, adventurous, extremely talented. Her music has earned praise from Joan Armatrading, Damien Rice and – just a few months ago – led to her performing with her idol Beverly Craven, duetting on hit single ‘Promise Me’ in front of a packed theatre.
She has a wonderful husband who she’s been with since they were in high school, two gorgeous young children of 7 and 9, and a brand new puppy who’s slightly mad.
And, aged just 37, she has aggressive terminal cancer that was supposed to have taken her from us before Christmas.
Due to an incredible tenacity and passion for life, she is currently – if only just -still with us. But Katherine is allergic to all conventional treatments (she has had to be resuscitated 4 times during administration of the drugs), so the prognosis is ﬁnal, and devastating. Not having conventional treatments means that on the outside she appears perfectly healthy, because it’s the harsh & highly toxic drugs that do most of the visible damage to the human body; as she puts it “chemo drugs are trying to kill the cancer before they kill you”. But in reality, the cancer has very much taken hold and it’s progressing at an alarming rate.
Despite all of this, her vibrant spirit and extraordinarily positive attitude continue to light up the lives of everyone she meets. “The way I see it, you have two choices in this situation: you can either choose to curl up on the ﬂoor and be a teary, lolling mess, or you can grab life, love life and have a quality of life that is as good as it can be for as long as possible”
Her attitude is infectious. Friends and fellow musicians with some contacts in the industry, picked up on Katherine’s enthusiasm and adventurous nature. Being aware of her life long dream to record one of her favourite songs with an orchestra, they discussed an idea and, after a few phonecalls to conﬁrm it would be possible, a text was sent out:
“Kath? Do you want to go to Abbey Road Studios and record ‘Smile’ with the London Metropolitan Orchestra? ’cause if you want to, they want to…”
Within seconds came the reply “What the…?! How can we do that???!!! Ha ha ha! That would be awesome!!!”
Less than a month after that conversation and with the help of some very generous Island supporters, Katherine found herself in the iconic studios, recording with the LMO. Conducted by Orchestra Manager Andy Brown, she recorded two numbers – ﬁrst was her own interpretation of Charlie Chaplin’s classic song “Smile”, with a brand new score written especially for her by Julian Kershaw (‘Stardust’, ‘Harry Potter’), then a specially scored version of her own song ‘Next To Me’, arranged by Martin Radford. The latter is a song Katherine wrote as a very personal message to her family and friends when she was ﬁrst diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t ﬁnd the words to tell them in person what she was feeling.
‘Smile’ is a song Katherine sings at the end of all of her shows, partly because the sentiment of it totally ﬁts her outlook on life, and partly because her Dad used to call her “Smiler” as a child. Both her parents were at Abbey Road while she recorded the song, and could be seen in the control room singing along to every word.
Katherine took to the environment like she’d been waiting to sing there – with that orchestra – all of her life. “I was nervous at ﬁrst, all those people and all those brilliant musicians, but when I stepped into that little (vocal) booth, I felt like I’d come home”.
She went to music college when she was 20 and, although she’s been a singer songwriter for years and has several highly praised albums under her belt, her career didn’t quite go the way she’d hoped. Excellent debut album ‘Missionary Girl’, for instance, was recorded by Positive Records and was destined for big things, but with a lack of funds for promo, like so many other great albums it never took off the way it should.
Moving to the Isle of Man to start a family with her childhood sweetheart shortly thereafter, Katherine continued to write and release music, but on her own terms. Her albums – heartfelt, beautiful songs with a satisfyingly dark edge and a stunning voice to lead them – continue to have a dedicated and modestly growing fanbase.
Due to her own hard work and determination, she has enjoyed glimpses of mainstream success, such as her haunting version of ‘Another Day In Paradise’ being used as the closing track on the BBC’s coverage of Sport Aid last year, or having the chance to sing with songwriter hero Richard Walters and homegrown Manx talent Christine Collister; and a cover she recorded of “I Dreamed a Dream” charted at 21 in America in the iTunes Easy Listening chart and in the top 40 all over the world on iTunes – although it never achieved a UK chart position. With young children and without label or ﬁnancial support, she has never been able to realise her dreams to their full potential.
But looking back at all this, perhaps it is no surprise that the recordings at Abbey Road turned out so well? It seems she was always destined for bigger things and, in fact, it was Dave Armstrong and Christy DeHaven at DAM Productions Isle of Man – who worked with her in the studio when she moved to the Isle – who later orchestrated her adventure at Abbey Road. Had she not moved to the Island, they would never have met.
Now armed with what she knows is a truly magical record (“I have never been more excited about a recording I’ve been involved with”) Katherine has decided to make one last bid for professional success: with just one week to go, she is aiming to get the song to Christmas No.1. And it seems the public want the same thing…
When she set up a Facebook page on December 10th, she could never have known that friends and family would go to such lengths of determination for her success that 10,000 people would be invited to the group on a daily basis; or that the Isle of Man Government would agree to refer to the Island on marketing pages as ‘Smile of Man’ for the period at a friend’s suggestion; or that by Wednesday, she would be appearing on BBC News Channels.
When the single went on sale 4 days later, Katherine Crowe – mother of two, with no record label and no big promotions and marketing team behind her – had sold more than 2,500 copies in 24 hours and peaked at number 17 in the iTunes download chart and number 5 on Amazon music. The single had surpassed Mariah Carey, Robbie Williams and Adele and within 24hrs, she received a personal email from iTunes congratulating her, saying they had never, ever seen anyone achieve so much without the backing of a huge label. This tiny Island and this one woman had started something very big indeed…
Katherine is hoping the release will raise some money for her surviving family’s future, along with helping to fund research into ‘less toxic’ cancer treatments than chemotherapy.
“All I know is this – I would dream and wish that no one would ever have to go through gruelling cancer treatments ever again. There are better ways, there are new drugs, there is research that is proving that there are new treatments that are far less toxic and help maintain quality of life whilst still getting treatment. Christmas no 1 is what we are aiming for because it may be the only way to achieve another dream of making these cancer treatments that are so underfunded have a chance at coming to market. As long as I am alive this is my wish and passion and my promise is this: that I will do my very very best to try and ensure that families out there who have to go through this have much much better options for the future – I will try as hard as I can to make this happen – that is the best I can do”
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