KATH Reade is a special woman. For years she put her all in to a career at the frontline of social care working with families in some of the most deprived parts of East Lancashire.
But now Kath, who was the first woman leader of Burnley Council and is a former chair of East Lancashire NHS Primary Care Trust, says she is fulfilling her dream, working as a folk singer and sound healer.
After a life devoted to helping and enriching others’ lives, Kath is now devoting herself to the songs and music she loves.
The full-time singer-songwriter’s latest album, Devotion to Song, has received fantastic reviews on the folk scene.
“Although I am not actually working in social care anymore, I always think about the people I worked with and a lot of my songs are about those times. That’s why people can connect to the material that I write: they are songs for the people,” says Kath who lives in Towneley, Burnley.
Growing up, Kath’s childhood was tarnished by domestic abuse, which then inspired her to help build the first purpose-built women’s refuge in Burnley, in her late mother’s memory.
At 16, Kath got her first guitar, teaching herself to play the blues and rock ’n’roll and at 17 she performed it at the legendary Herga Folk Club in Harrow in front of The Young Tradition and Al Stewart, which led to a record deal with Polydor, which she turned down.
“My father insisted that I got an education instead and a profession, that was probably the right decision. My dad always said the more education that you have, the more freedom you gain,” says Kath, who has a degree in social sciences and a MA in women’s studies.
As a student, she travelled Europe, busking nightly in a bar in Rimini, Italy. There she met a group of radical young Italians who awoke her passion for justice, equality, and peace, and on her return to England she began her lifelong vow to make a difference, tackling poverty and deprivation.
As a mother-of-one, she became a social worker in Moss Side, one of the toughest areas of Manchester, and proceeded to a postgraduate teaching qualification.
She lectured on child development and social policy, and taught ‘Women and History’ at university.
“I worked with troubled teenagers and there’s one song in particular, I Am On A Journey, that I wrote about a girl who was troubled. She was prosecuted for stealing and for other things, but, when I did the report on her she was suffering at the hands of her sexually-abusive father. I have never forgotten her and her story in particular is mentioned.
“I will never forget the people that I have worked with and I wish them all well in life.”
Kath and her former colleagues were also responsible for the demolition of Burnley’s run-down Trafalgar flats.
“I will never forget those people either – they still come into my songs. They were living in such depressing circumstances. We wanted them to have proper houses with gardens.
“But it’s not all doom and gloom. These people had a good sense of humour. We had lots of happy times as well,” says Kath who, in her career has spoken internationally on poverty and public health.
But she’s still singing and smiling, and Kath says she is happy running a monthly folk club with her husband Paul, as well as delivering her deepsong sound healing sessions.
Using instruments such as Tibetan singing bowls and Burmese spinning gong, she aims to help people de-stress using the benefits of sound.
“After a career in social care and politics, it has been pretty hard. I have finally learned to look at the sky and take walks in the woods,” laughs Kath, “I think I am now at the happiest I have ever been, following my heart and doing the things that I really love.”