Katrina And The Waves were a successful, female-fronted, four piece rock band
during the 1980s and 90s, built around the infectiously melodic, sixties-influenced
songs of former Soft Boy guitarist Kimberley Rew and the distinctively powerful vocals
of Katrina Leskanich, and were best known for their evergreen, step-lightening 1985 hit
single Walking On Sunshine and their landslide 1997 Eurovision Song Contest
victory with the song Love Shine A Light.
The band's earliest incarnation was as the Waves, a group that played in and around
Cambridge, England from 1975-77 and featured guitarist Kimberley Rew and drummer Alex
Cooper. This line up of the Waves never issued any recordings, and broke up when Rew
left to join The Soft
Boys, who left their mark as a twin guitar-led psychedelic rock
quartet who in their short, commercially unsuccessful but influential existence
managed to create an idiosyncratic canon, essentially two albums, A Can of Bees
and Underwater Moonlight , based around the charmingly off-kilter songwriting
of frontman Robyn Hitchcock, a whimsical
Englishman in the Syd Barrett/Kevin Ayres mould, but out of step with the prevalent
pub rock and punk of the time. Hitchcock has gone on to enjoy a cult solo career of
steadily building success and now records and tours with the
Minus Three, featuring REM's Peter Buck.
The Waves folded when Cooper joined pop/soul cover band Mama's Cookin' in 1979. This
band featured American Katrina Leskanich on vocals and guitar; her then-boyfriend Vince
de la Cruz on guitar (both self-confessed "US airforce brats"), Cooper on drums and Bob
Jakins on bass. Mama's Cookin' gigged steadily across England over the next two years,
developing their chops on the US military bases circuit, where their trademark covers of
classic American Sixties R&B, Motown and Spector-helmed hits and Seventies rock went down
particularly well and served their arrangement skills well for the future. After the demise
of the Soft Boys in 1981, Rew renewed relations with Cooper, who convinced Rew to join
Mama's Cookin', which was shortly re-named the Waves after the pair's original combo.
The Waves were initially a five piece, fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Rew, who
brought a wealth of original material to the band. Leskanich was temporarily sidelined,
backing Rew's vocals and singing lead on only the Waves' repertoire of covers, but
gradually Rew recognised the power and quality of Leskanich's voice and began writing
songs specifically for her to sing and by the end of The Waves' first year, Leskanich was
the band's main vocalist. In 1982 The Waves released debut single Nightmare with
B-side Hey, War Pig! Both tracks were collected later that year on Rew's The
Bible Of Bop solo album; the latter cited by Velvet Crush's Ric Menc as "the greatest
protest song ever" followed by the Waves' debut Shock Horror EP. And then in a
crucial development Jakins quit, de la Cruz moved to bass guitar and the band renamed
themselves Katrina and the Waves.
In early 1983, the band pooled their meagre resources to fund the recording of an
album's worth of original material- all songs written by Rew and, bar two, sung by
Leskanich- intended to be sold at gigs. Numerous labels on both sides of theAtlantic were
approached, but only Ralph Alonso at Canadian indie Attic Records, which had previously
released recordings by the Soft Boys, responded with an offer. Consequently, Katrina And
The Waves' debut album Walking On Sunshine was released only in Canada, despite the
band being based in the UK. The resulting critical praise and, more importantly, radio
play, for the title track in particular, afforded a Canadian tour, and due to their
well-honed live skills, their fanbase grew steadily. 1984 saw a follow-up album,
Katrina And The Waves 2, again only in Canada, but de la Cruz's contribution
included the Canadian airplay hit Mexico, the excellent Do You Want Crying
and One Woman.
The band's reputation was growing, fuelled by months of travelling and gigging and the
added mystique of their releases being on import in the UK and USA, but, as is often
the case, it was the kind of lucky break that money can't buy which helped to put them on
the music industry map. Los Angeles-based female four-piece the
Bangles (nee the Supersonic Bangs) chose to cover one of Rew's songs on All Over
The Place, their second album, but first for new label Columbia Records. Their version
of Going Down To Liverpool, originally on K&TW's debut album, was released at the
end of 1984 and, with the help of an odd-ball video starring Leonard Nimoy, became a minor
MTV and radio playlist hit and, drawing the attention of a certain Prince Rogers Nelson
who wrote Manic Monday, the Bangles' next single and first hit. This pricked up the
ears of various labels (at last) and the band were quickly snapped up worldwide by Capitol
1985 saw the first fruits of this new relationship- single Walking on Sunshine,
re-worked with additional horns, was an instant radio-friendly smash, a Top 10 hit in the
UK, the USA, Canada and Australia among other places. More recently, the song was covered
by Aly & AJ for Walt Disney's 2005 movie Herbie: Fully Loaded, starring Lindsay
Lohan. It was followed a month later by their eponymous third album, comprising
re-recorded versions of the best songs from the previous two, which went Top 30 in both
the UK and US. Second single Do You Want Crying went Top 40 in America and the
band was nominated for a "Best New Artist" Grammy- the Waves had finally arrived!
Fourth album Waves failed to generate the same critical response nor massive commercial
success and many pointed to the fact that Rew composed only two of the ten songs on this
collection, although the Rew-penned Is That It received radio play and the de la
Cruz-written Sun Street was a UK Top 30 hit. Capitol Record didn't help matters
much by dropping the band.
The band re-grouped and by 1989 had a new deal with SBK Records, which released
the more rock-oriented Break Of Hearts album. Despite catchy singles Rock'n'Roll
Girl and That's The Way- the latter a US Top 20 Leskanich/Rew co-write- it was
their only album for the label. "That was our big hair period," Leskanich laughs now.
"SBK told us that they could see us as a stadium band, Bryan Adams style, and Kim was
coming up with this stuff that was perfect for rock radio." "We've never been successful
enough to be immune from the influences of producers and marketing men," concedes Rew.
"The more we fell for those 80s trademarks, the more we diluted the band."
The band re-focused east of the Atlantic, releasing three albums- 1991's Pet The Tiger
on Virgin Records (the title track a co-write with Liam Sternberg, composer of The
Bangles' hit Walk Like An Egyptian), 1993' Edge Of The Land (which featured
cracking compositions I'm In Deep and The Beauty Myth from producer Phil
Thornalley) and 1995's Turn Around, both on Polydor Records in the UK, mainland
Europe and Canada.
Unashamedly grabbing the chance to represent the UK in the 1997 Eurovision Song Contest
two days after Labour's general election triumph, Katrina And The Waves' stunning song
Love Shine A Light destroyed the kitsch competition, winning by a record points
margin and making them the most credible victors since ABBA's Waterloo.
A new deal with Warners saw Love Shine A Light also become their highest charting
UK single, reaching #3- mystifyingly, it was never released in the USA- and ninth album
Walk On Water followed quickly. On the back of this second bite of the cherry,
EMI Records issued Walking On Sunshine: The Best Of Katrina And The Waves, an
excellent compilation of their Capitol/EMI songs from 1985 to 1991.
Sadly, within a year, Leskanich quit the band. After playing several shows with Lynda
Hayes, one of the UK's top studio singers, Kimberley, Vince and Alex agreed to put the
band on hold, leaving themselves free to pursue other musical avenues. Meanwhile
followed a busy career as radio DJ, in the musical Leader of the Pack, and as a solo
singer. In 2003, Bongo Beat Records, an indie launched by the band's original A&R man
Ralph Alonso, released the album The Original Recordings 1983-1984, compiling the
songs from their two Attic Records albums, along with a bonus DVD containing promotional
concert footage from the early '80s, which has gone some way to making up for the lack of
a classic K&TW live collection. In 2007 Celine Dion, no less, interpreted of Rew's
That's Just The Woman In Me on her Taking Chances album, illustrating, once
again, the lasting quality and coverability of Rew's songs. From The Bangles to Celine
Dion- two very different sides of the multi-faceted musical spectrum inhabited by the
songs of Kimberley Rew.
What's surprising is that more of his songs haven't been re-worked by more artists!