Les Jardins d’Éole is a green oasis on the Rue d’Aubervilliers, a Parisian park surrounded by low-cost housing and hugging the railway lines ferrying people eastwards from the Gare de l’Est. A rare place with big skies.
It’s also the favourite park of British singer-songwriter Kate Stables, who migrated to Paris from Bristol 18 years ago in search of adventure with her partner and frequent musical collaborator Jesse D Vernon. On Careful of Your Keepers, the critically acclaimed new album by Stables’s band – she goes by the alias This Is The Kit – that has just been released by Rough Trade, she paints a vivid painting of life in the park – humanity at its most beautiful and heartbreaking.
The meditative track in question, This Is When The Sky Gets Big, reflects one of the many things she loves about Paris – being able to travel anywhere in Europe by train. No need to bother with airports or leaving the ground. People constantly coming and going. “And the lines will take you somewhere else,” she sings.
Stables’s lyrics recognise the hardships for those who live in the park because they have nowhere else to go. A place where people get on with their lives together and apart.
Her overriding memory is François Hollande’s 2012 election victory. She recalls people flinging windows wide and cheering. High-fiving each other in the street. She says it was an amazing moment of hope and optimism.
Admitting she took time to settle in, it’s clear how at ease she feels in Paris, where she and Vernon have raised their daughter. In one makeshift pandemic-era video, she strolled through the backstreets singing and strumming her guitar, exchanging smiles with passers-by. Chatting to me from her home in the 10th arrondissement, she says: “I love the sense of solidarity. I’ve been really blown away by the collective strength of Paris.”
Stables is a warm and engaging interviewee. She laughs often, but is also deeply thoughtful. At one point she breaks off from the new material to discuss the Gestalt paradoxical theory of change. Indeed, change is a constant theme throughout Careful Of Your Keepers. The writing started by exploring the nature of change through a global lens, before shrinking in to investigate personal politics and internal climate change. Emotional change. “Turns out Gestalt had it down years ago!” she laughs.
While her music carries overtones of the quintessentially British folk records that first shaped her musical ear and voice, she has embraced Parisian culture. When I ask about favourite French musicians, she emails detailed notes, enthusing over a range of artists, using adjectives like “brilliant”, “genius”, “insanely groovy” and “ninjas”.
This Is The Kit found an early champion in Guy Garvey of Elbow before acclaim from the cream of American indie artists, leading to support slots on big US tours and collaborations with the likes of The National and Sharon Van Etten. This time out, behind the mixing desk it’s Welsh magician Gruff Rhys, who draws out new textures in the band’s music. A long-time fan, Stables remarks on how tuned in the Super Furry Animal is to the sound of the drums.
It’s a perfect fit. Rhythm is the place where she has the most fun. She reveals a love of African Tuareg music and Bristolian trip-hop giants Massive Attack, as well as classic folk artists. Indeed, several of the French acts she recommends play with rhythmic drones, something that features often in her music.
After festival dates this summer, This Is The Kit embark on their biggest-ever headline tour of the UK and Europe (details here). As most of the band are based in Britain, Brexit has made European travel with equipment and merchandise far more complicated and expensive.
Stables counts herself lucky to have the management structure to deal with this added bureaucracy, but says it will inhibit small bands who don’t have the structure or the funds to do all that paperwork. “It’s going to stop this exchange of new music internationally. Before Brexit, I felt there were more European, foreign-language bands getting listened to and appreciated in the UK. I thought, finally! Now Brexit’s happened, it’s almost impossible for them to come and play [in the UK]. It’s a horrible mess.”