Keep your sails open

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Dan Trink

Dan Trink


Fort Co-Founder






KT Tunstall is a Scottish-born singer-songwriter and I’m going to say there is a better than 50% chance that you don’t recognize her name.

Tunstall had a relative hit with her song “Black Horse and A Cherry Tree” exactly 20 years ago. The story of how this song even came to be, let alone be a hit, is a pretty intriguing one. KT was playing in experimental bands and adding things like distorted clarinet and percussion on songs that were going nowhere. But she also had a ‘second job” as a solo, coffee house troubadour and was successful enough at that to secure management and record an album. Nas is arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time (and I’d also argue that his album Illmatic is a top 5 greatest in the genre) and was in his prime in the early 2000s. He was set to appear on the weekly British music show “Later with Jools Holland” alongside major artists of the day such as The Cure and Anita Baker but when his father took ill he had to cancel the appearance with less than 24 hours before the taping.

Life is certainly filled with things that are outside of your control. ​ ​ And things such as opportunity, luck and circumstance play a role in every great success story.

Dan Trink

Fort Co-Founder

Scrambling to find a replacement, the producers of “Later” reached out to a producer who recommended a completely unknown Tunstall.

Two weeks earlier, while messing around with a loop pedal that was gifted to her by a friend who thought it would help KT add more dynamics to her solo shows, Tunstall wrote “Cherry Tree” simply as a way of learning how to use the pedal.

Loop pedals have become very popular in the last 20 years (they essentially allow an artist to accompany themselves by recording small parts that “loop” behind them, creating a self-made backing track) and if you’ve watched any Ed Sheeran performance you’ve most certainly seen them. But, back then, they were pretty rare.

When trying to decide what song to perform on Later, Tunstall’s management recommended that she perform “Cherry Tree”.

“But it’s not even on the album,” she resisted.

Without many options she decided to give the brand new song a try while building a backing track with her loop pedal live on stage in front of an audience and other legendary music acts.

Here it is if you want to give it a watch.

KT Tunstall - Black horse and the cherry tree

I have to imagine that, for any artist, performing for the first time on television has to be nerve wracking. Adding all these unknowns and complexities to a brand new song had to be terrifying.

KT absolutely stole the show that night and won the audience poll for act of the week. Over Anita Baker. Over The Cure.

Her label rushed to record a version of “Cherry Tree” for the album and, when it caught the ear of American Idol contestant Katherine McPhee who performed it on the show, the single ended up in the top 20 on the US charts.

Life is certainly filled with things that are outside of your control.

And things such as opportunity, luck and circumstance play a role in every great success story.

But none of those things matter if you don’t raise your sails and keep them open. If you don't allow yourself to be open to opportunity, even when things aren’t going your way, and catch that strong breeze you need when it finally comes along.

KT Tunstall is still out touring to this day and she still sounds great. She made the most of her talent and her courage and her opportunity. She took three and a half minutes on international television and turned it into a career that's been going for over 20 years.

I'm sure it was tough. I'm certain it was scary. But she was open and ready when that perfect gust of wind blew her way.

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