Bluesbreakers: Saint Agnes

Saint Agnes sitting in a room decorated with skulls, candles and swords.
Saint Agnes: loose canons. (Image credit: Ed Edwards)

Singer Kitty Austen and guitarist Jon Tufnell are under no illusions why they’ve named their band after the patron saint of girls, virginity and chastity, who was martyred at the age of 13 in AD 304.

“It’s those big words and concepts like chastity and martyrdom that seem to have a huge context for us,” she explains.

Tufnell adds: “It’s life and death in high contrasts. Those words about Saint Agnes embody all that’s big and dramatic, and instantly you know that this is heavy and not subtle. I like that lack of subtlety, it gives us a sense of drama and a framework to build things off of. We’ve only got a short time here, so let’s make a grand statement. It comes naturally to us and we always have to go one bigger.”

He’s not wrong. Over the course of two singles – A Beautiful Day For Murder and Old Bone Rattle – and a series of incendiary live performances, Saint Agnes’ sound has grown into an intoxicating blend of blues, psychedelia and western movie music that’s grand in both vision and delivery. Formed in east London as a vehicle for Tufnell and Austen, the pair made a shift in sound and scale with the addition of bassist Ben Chernett and drummer Andy Head.

“It’s something that we evolved into,” explains Austen. “It’s only now that we’ve got a grip on what our sound is. It takes time for these things to develop and it’s important for a band to get to know each other and to figure out not what you want to be, but what you actually are. And I feel that’s it now, we’ve finally figured it out.”

Adds Tufnell: “I’ve always dreamed of being in a band where you can jam a riff and everyone will get it, and I’m finally in that band. It’s like creating a fifth element.”

The sense of urgency that beats at the heart of Saint Agnes’ music is precisely what drives its creators in the first place.

“The band is everything,” states Austen. “It’s fun, but it’s the most important thing to us. It’s seriously good fun.”

Tufnell elaborates: “We live in a fake reality with ridiculous shit all the time. There’s a fundamental thing about being with people that you love, doing something that means this much to you, to an audience of people who are experiencing this intangible, spiritual moment with you. All of that stuff comes together to create something that feels more important than anything else.”

With this kind of drive and determination, that’s equally reflected in their attitude and music, it’s hardly surprising that they’ve tweaked the antennae of BBC 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq, while increasing their audience thanks to blistering live performances characterised by a sense of honesty.

“The moment I hit the stage I become who I really am,” says Austen. Amen to that.

Single Sister Electric is out now on Death Or Glory Gang.

Julian Marszalek is the former Reviews Editor of The Blues Magazine. He has written about music for Music365, Yahoo! Music, The Quietus, The Guardian, NME and Shindig! among many others. As the Deputy Online News Editor at Xfm he revealed exclusively that Nick Cave’s second novel was on the way. During his two-decade career, he’s interviewed the likes of Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne, and has been ranted at by John Lydon. He’s also in the select group of music journalists to have actually got on with Lou Reed. Marszalek taught music journalism at Middlesex University and co-ran the genre-fluid Stow Festival in Walthamstow for six years.