Karl Culley is a fingerstyle guitarist, songwriter, singer, and poet from Yorkshire, England, now residing in Kraków, Poland. His live performances and sequence of 5 albums since 2007 have been highly praised. He has gigged extensively at venues and festivals up and down the UK, and Poland, supporting artists such as Robin Williamson (The Incredible String Band) Kris Drever (Lau), Jon Gomm, and Uriah Heep.
Above all Culley is a storyteller. He believes in the power of stories to unite, guide, and warn us, and his stunning fingerpicking, arresting vocals and heart-catching melodies are merely delivery devices – it’s words, tales, and spells with which Culley is most concerned.
Karl’s own story is one defined by obsession – the fervent, gone-to-the-crossroads, and unschooled approach to practice when gifted a guitar at age 18 yielding a set of totally unique fingerpicking styles; and a restless search for the right word, the right chord, the right image, mean the songs are exquisitely woven, but maintain a febrile and even manic quality.
Although Karl’s virtuoso playing, which has drawn comparison to British folk giants ('Dazzling fingerpicking reminiscent of John Martyn at his most fluid with a Bert Janch-like percussive snap.' – MOJO Magazine) and his vocals (compared to Tim Buckley by The Sunday Express and Rock ‘n Reel Magazine) are perhaps the first elements to entice listeners, it’s the powerfully evocative lyrics and deftly spun stories which invite a deeper investigation.
Bundle of Nerves – 2010 (Triumphant Sound Records
Culley recorded his debut album with the British musician and producer Giles Perring, Bundle of Nerves, in an old school classroom on the Scottish island of Jura. Incorporating Perring's multi-instrumental abilities and the bass playing of Simon Edwards (Beth Gibbons, David Gray, Billy Bragg) the album was released to critical acclaim in 2010, with MOJO Magazine referring to it as an 'impressive début' and awarding it four stars.
The Owl – 2011 (Triumphant Sound Records)
Karl’s second offering, produced by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Webster, was put together in York and his native Harrogate for release in 2011. It features the backing vocals of Adam Westerman and John Davey. The Sunday Express awarded The Owl four stars and compared Culley to both Tim Buckley and José González, Maverick Magazine heralded Culley as 'A genius in the making.', and the best-known music review site in Italy Ondarock.com exhorted listeners: 'Do not distract your attention from this musical genius.' Shortly after recording The Owl, Culley moved to Poland.
Phosphor – 2013 (Sound of Jura Records)
Culley recorded his third suite of songs, Phosphor, in Kraków, Poland, and at Perring's studio on Jura, Scotland once again. The album features the upright bass playing of Ash Johnson, and Perring on percussion, harmonium, and with backing vocals, alongside guest performances from Simon Edwards on psaltery, drummer Phillip Harper, and the singer Melanie Pappenheim.
It was released on 8 July 2013 and was highly praised. Paul Sexton of BBC Radio 2 said 'Phosphor is an excellent album with more than a hint of Kelly Joe Phelps about it.' Soundblab.com awarded Phosphor 10 out of 10, calling it 'one of the finest alternative albums so far this year.' The Italian website Ondarock.com also lauded Phosphor, saying 'Phosphor is a valuable antidote to the poverty of inspiration and courage of many so-called heroes of the indie singer-songwriter genre.' It received airplay on BBC Radio 2, Radio Krakòw, and Resonance FM, London, where he played a live session.
Stripling – 2015 (Sound of Jura Records)
Culley's fourth album, Stripling, was recorded solely in his adopted home city of Krakòw by engineer Jarosław Zawadzki, and consists of 12 songs of voice and guitar, with not an overdub used. It applies a stripped down ‘one-take’ approach with zero accompaniment, imbuing the idea that a flame can only be seen most clearly in the dark. With such disparate themes as: gemology, our biased selectivity of memory, mortality and seduction, this set is the quintessence of Culley's versatility as a songwriter and his inventiveness as a guitarist. Rock ‘n Reel Magazine awarded Stripling four out of five stars and once again Culley received comparisons to Tim Buckley and John Marytn.
Last! – 2018 (Last! Records)
Initially intended as his final offering before stepping away from music to pursue other creative outlets, Last! presents 21 songs recorded over a span of 3 tumultuous years. Culley’s first double album was recorded in Krakow, and engineered once again by Jarosław Zawadzki. Two standout tracks Nastassya and Listen, were produced by Daniel Webster, who also provided instrumentation.
Folk Radio UK commended Last! as 'an impressive and intimate collection of songs… throughout there is variety in themes and moods, his complex but melodic guitar playing keeps the music rich and a suitable complement to his rather humble but enriching vocals and honest songwriting.'
...and Ondarock.com (Italy) wrote 'Last is perhaps the author’s most linear and instinctive album. It’s like a testament, a legacy...his most outspoken and empathetic album. Those who have known the music of the boy from Harrogate will carry him in their hearts forever, honoring his intense lucidity and artistic sincerity.'
Redshift, EP – 2022 (Last! Records)
The 5 songs that comprise Redshift are as close as blood and as distant as the furthest galaxies. “These songs are part of me,” says Karl, “but the challenging times that inspired them are thankfully quickly receding into the past, moving away into the recesses of cosmic time. But these songs sure exist though, as cathartic imprints or afterimages.”
Redshift signifies a return to writing and performing for Karl after a 2 year hiatus, and which precedes a full-length album planned for release later this year. “You can take the man out of the music, but you can’t take the music out of the man,” admits Culley.
Redshift was recorded by engineer Jarosław Zawadski and produced by multi-instrumentalist Daniel Webster who coaxes the songs into their fullest expression; “Daniel’s a genius, full stop, and I’m lucky to be working with him again.”