Katie Melua: The darling of easy listening

katie Melua is heading to York with members of The Gori Women's Choir. Lorraine Wylie talked to the singer-songwriter.

Katie Melua.
Katie Melua.

A combination of silky vocals and jazzy pop-instrumentation has made Katie Melua one of the highest selling female recording artists in the UK – ever.

In 2003, her debut album, Call off the Search sold a staggering 1.9 million copies, went platinum six times and held pole position in the charts for the same number of weeks.

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Fifteen years and seven albums later she has a new album – Ultimate Collection – and has recently embarked on a tour that arrives in York next week.

Taking time from a busy schedule, the singer, affectionately known as “the darling of easy listening” was in reminiscent mood as she told me about her childhood in Georgia, growing up in the UK and why Yorkshire is now among her favourite holiday destinations.

But first, I ask how she’s enjoying the tour. “Every I time I sing songs like Closest Thing to Crazy or Piece by Piece I can see the couples in the audience start to move toward each other. It’s just so lovely to see how, after all these years, those songs still stand up and really mean something to people.”

Her Ultimate Collection album is a nostalgic treat for her fans. The inclusion of Melua’s cover version of the Children In Need 2017 song, Fields of Gold plus recordings of Diamonds are Forever and Bridge Over Troubled Water is spellbinding. The latter, featuring The Gori Women’s Choir and the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra is particularly poignant for Katie, who in 2016, travelled to her native Georgia to meet the choir. It led to her creating In Winter – her seventh (and arguably best) album to date.

“You know, when I originally decided to go to Georgia, it was meant to be a little side project,” she recalls. “I’d done six albums already and thought it was time to do some personal exploration. That was the only vision I had for going. But, as it turned out, it exceeded all my expectations.

“When I met the choir, I was so impressed. The level of commitment, the standard of their work, the way they were so precise and the music so beautiful, I just loved working with them. The In Winter album was made with a different mindset and from a different perspective. I really loved making that album.”

Growing up in Georgia, (then part of the Soviet Union) at a time when a lack of infrastructure led to frequent power cuts, Katie, known to her family as ‘Ketino’, remembers having to carry buckets of water up four flights of stairs to her home. Yet, it was during those early days when the family’s home was plunged into darkness, that she first experienced the power of music.

“Even now, I can still remember how it felt to sit in the darkness and listen to my mum play piano. Mum wasn’t a professional but she’s a great pianist and as a very young child her music had an enormous effect on me. It was soothing and familiar but very powerful.

“It taught me to feel the energy of songs, to feel the drama of the stories within them. Now, I can appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into the making of a song. There’s the team work, the musicians who dedicate their lives to mastering their instruments and then to bring all that together and catch it in a record is just extraordinary. But as a child, it was simply about how it made me feel.”

In 1993, Katie and her family came to the UK. Her first impression of her new home in Northern Ireland was a mixture of disappointment and appreciation. “You have to remember that, living in Georgia, we knew nothing about life in the West,” she explains.

“Our impressions were formed by what we saw on television, usually Hollywood films. So when my dad got a job working as a heart specialist in a Belfast hospital, we had huge expectations. But then when we arrived to find row upon row of little houses, made from brown brick, all huddled together, well it was a little shocking!”

However, it wasn’t long before excitement kicked in. “The discovery that everything worked, was amazing. I mean, after living in a country where electricity was unreliable and we often had no water, it was wonderful to flick a switch and find the lights worked or water came out of the taps. I also remember going to school and finding the classroom lovely and warm.”

Six years later, the family moved to London and, with her GCSE’s complete, Katie enrolled in the BRIT School of Performing Arts to study music.

It was there she met composer and mentor Mike Batt and in 2003, at just 19, rocketed to fame. I wondered whether she found the sudden attention intrusive. “No, not at all,” she laughs. “I suppose, it does seem strange but honestly, my dad had always expected me to become a famous singer. I was the entertainer in our home so, pretty much from the start, I expected that to be my path.

“When we moved to the UK, I kind of thought, well this is where I can find the opportunities so, when it did come, it felt natural. Apart from that, I was never the sole focus of attention. Mike and I were a team so I guess I escaped much of the media’s scrutiny.”

Away from music she’s gained a reputation for being something of an adrenaline junkie. So is she? “No!” she chuckles. “Although, that title seems to be applied to me a lot.”

I remind her of the underwater stunt she performed in 2006 when she held a concert 303m below the North Sea and ended up in Guinness World Records. “Oh, yes!’ she sounds slightly shocked at the memory. “When I think of it now, I wonder how on earth I ever did something like that. But then, I suppose I was very young and up for anything then.

“It was an amazing experience to spend ten minutes at the bottom of an oil rig. I remember looking round at all the cables, pipes and electronic gear and thinking that the landscape looked like something from an alien film. But as for being an adrenaline junkie... well, have you met my husband?”

No doubt, marriage to former World Super Bike Champion, James Toseland, does tend to put the term ‘adrenaline junkie’ into perspective. Describing her husband as her “rock” she reveals that the couple have started a new tradition.

“Every Easter and Christmas James and I like to spend the holiday with his family in Sheffield. We have such a wonderful time there. James does this lovely thing at Easter time where he goes to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital to do an Easter egg run. You know, I really love Yorkshire. There’s such a great sense of community. People will call at your door just to see how you’re doing. The pace of life reminds me of Georgia. It’s very beautiful.”

Considering that Christmas is just around the corner, I ask what has been her best present to date. “Well, that’s a hard one,” she puzzles for a moment. “Oh I know what I’ll go with! For the past 18 months, my lovely husband has been helping build me a home. The work that he has put into it is incredible and the house is just beyond my wildest dreams. It’s got this beautiful garden with an olive tree and I’ve even planted my dahlias. It’s so cosy, everything I could wish for. You know, that’s my best present... It’s magical.”

Katie Melua with The Gori Women’s Choir,

York Barbican, December 12. Call 0844

854 275.

Nostalgic treat: The darling of easy listening, Kate Melua, is heading for York with members of The Gori Women’s Choir from her native Georgia. Picture: PIP.

Katie Melua: The darling of easy listening

Katie Melua is heading to York this month with members of The Gori Women’s Choir. Lorraine Wylie talked to the singer-songwriter.

A combination of silky vocals and jazzy pop-instrumentation has made Katie Melua one of the highest selling female recording artists in the UK – ever.

In 2003, her debut album, Call off the Search sold a staggering 1.9 million copies, went platinum six times and held pole position in the charts for the same number of weeks.

Fifteen years and seven albums later she has a new album – Ultimate Collection – and has recently embarked on a tour that arrives in York next week.

Taking time from a busy schedule, the singer, affectionately known as “the darling of easy listening” was in reminiscent mood as she told me about her childhood in Georgia, growing up in the UK and why Yorkshire is now among her favourite holiday destinations.

But first, I ask how she’s enjoying the tour. “Every I time I sing songs like Closest Thing to Crazy or Piece by Piece I can see the couples in the audience start to move toward each other. It’s just so lovely to see how, after all these years, those songs still stand up and really mean something to people.”

Her Ultimate Collection album is a nostalgic treat for her fans. The inclusion of Melua’s cover version of the Children In Need 2017 song, Fields of Gold plus recordings of Diamonds are Forever and Bridge Over Troubled Water is spellbinding. The latter, featuring The Gori Women’s Choir and the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra is particularly poignant for Katie, who in 2016, travelled to her native Georgia to meet the choir. It led to her creating In Winter – her seventh (and arguably best) album to date.

“You know, when I originally decided to go to Georgia, it was meant to be a little side project,” she recalls. “I’d done six albums already and thought it was time to do some personal exploration. That was the only vision I had for going. But, as it turned out, it exceeded all my expectations.

“When I met the choir, I was so impressed. The level of commitment, the standard of their work, the way they were so precise and the music so beautiful, I just loved working with them. The In Winter album was made with a different mindset and from a different perspective. I really loved making that album.”

Growing up in Georgia, (then part of the Soviet Union) at a time when a lack of infrastructure led to frequent power cuts, Katie, known to her family as ‘Ketino’, remembers having to carry buckets of water up four flights of stairs to her home. Yet, it was during those early days when the family’s home was plunged into darkness, that she first experienced the power of music.

“Even now, I can still remember how it felt to sit in the darkness and listen to my mum play piano. Mum wasn’t a professional but she’s a great pianist and as a very young child her music had an enormous effect on me. It was soothing and familiar but very powerful.

“It taught me to feel the energy of songs, to feel the drama of the stories within them. Now, I can appreciate the huge amount of work that goes into the making of a song. There’s the team work, the musicians who dedicate their lives to mastering their instruments and then to bring all that together and catch it in a record is just extraordinary. But as a child, it was simply about how it made me feel.”

In 1993, Katie and her family came to the UK. Her first impression of her new home in Northern Ireland was a mixture of disappointment and appreciation. “You have to remember that, living in Georgia, we knew nothing about life in the West,” she explains.

“Our impressions were formed by what we saw on television, usually Hollywood films. So when my dad got a job working as a heart specialist in a Belfast hospital, we had huge expectations. But then when we arrived to find row upon row of little houses, made from brown brick, all huddled together, well it was a little shocking!”

However, it wasn’t long before excitement kicked in. “The discovery that everything worked, was amazing. I mean, after living in a country where electricity was unreliable and we often had no water, it was wonderful to flick a switch and find the lights worked or water came out of the taps. I also remember going to school and finding the classroom lovely and warm.”

Six years later, the family moved to London and, with her GCSE’s complete, Katie enrolled in the BRIT School of Performing Arts to study music.

It was there she met composer and mentor Mike Batt and in 2003, at just 19, rocketed to fame. I wondered whether she found the sudden attention intrusive. “No, not at all,” she laughs. “I suppose, it does seem strange but honestly, my dad had always expected me to become a famous singer. I was the entertainer in our home so, pretty much from the start, I expected that to be my path.

“When we moved to the UK, I kind of thought, well this is where I can find the opportunities so, when it did come, it felt natural. Apart from that, I was never the sole focus of attention. Mike and I were a team so I guess I escaped much of the media’s scrutiny.”

Away from music she’s gained a reputation for being something of an adrenaline junkie. So is she? “No!” she chuckles. “Although, that title seems to be applied to me a lot.”

I remind her of the underwater stunt she performed in 2006 when she held a concert 303m below the North Sea and ended up in Guinness World Records. “Oh, yes!’ she sounds slightly shocked at the memory. “When I think of it now, I wonder how on earth I ever did something like that. But then, I suppose I was very young and up for anything then.

“It was an amazing experience to spend ten minutes at the bottom of an oil rig. I remember looking round at all the cables, pipes and electronic gear and thinking that the landscape looked like something from an alien film. But as for being an adrenaline junkie... well, have you met my husband?”

No doubt, marriage to former World Super Bike Champion, James Toseland, does tend to put the term ‘adrenaline junkie’ into perspective. Describing her husband as her “rock” she reveals that the couple have started a new tradition.

“Every Easter and Christmas James and I like to spend the holiday with his family in Sheffield. We have such a wonderful time there. James does this lovely thing at Easter time where he goes to the Sheffield Children’s Hospital to do an Easter egg run. You know, I really love Yorkshire. There’s such a great sense of community. People will call at your door just to see how you’re doing. The pace of life reminds me of Georgia. It’s very beautiful.”

Considering that Christmas is just around the corner, I ask what has been her best present to date. “Well, that’s a hard one,” she puzzles for a moment. “Oh I know what I’ll go with! For the past 18 months, my lovely husband has been helping build me a home. The work that he has put into it is incredible and the house is just beyond my wildest dreams. It’s got this beautiful garden with an olive tree and I’ve even planted my dahlias. It’s so cosy, everything I could wish for. You know, that’s my best present... It’s magical.”

Katie Melua with The Gori Women’s Choir, York Barbican, December 12. Call 0844 854 275.