What Katie did

KATIE MELUA WAS A BREATH OF FRESH AIR WHEN SHE AR­RIVED ON THE MU­SIC SCENE IN THE EARLY NOUGHTIES. SHE TALKS TO LUCY MAPSTONE ABOUT HER 15-YEAR CA­REER AND PUTTING TO­GETHER HER NEW UL­TI­MATE COL­LEC­TION AL­BUM

Hinckley Times - - THE GUIDE - Katie Melua plays Sym­phony Hall, Birm­ing­ham, on Novem­ber 30 and the Royal Con­cert Hall in Not­ting­ham Dec 3. Her al­bum, Katie Melua – Ul­ti­mate Col­lec­tion, left, is out now.

KATIE MELUA is in­ex­pli­ca­bly mod­est for some­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced so much suc­cess. Fif­teen years on from the re­lease of her chart­top­ping de­but Call Off The Search, the Geor­gian-British singer – who has sold 11 mil­lion al­bums – reck­ons she just got lucky.

“I think it’s a mix­ture of ex­traor­di­nary luck and just luck in meet­ing the peo­ple that I met,” she says, re­flect­ing on her ca­reer.

“My pro­ducer and col­lab­o­ra­tor at the time al­ways in­sisted on get­ting the most amaz­ing mu­si­cians and on pretty much ev­ery­one play­ing live.

“And I re­alise now that that’s re­ally rare, be­cause that kind of mu­sic didn’t al­ways have the guar­an­tee of be­ing su­per suc­cess­ful. It was al­ways pop and R&B and dance mu­sic. That’s why I feel re­ally lucky.”

Katie, 34, who has just re­leased a com­pi­la­tion of her great­est hits along with two new tracks to mark her past decade and a half, cer­tainly broke the mould when she ar­rived on the scene in 2003.

Her charm­ing jazz- and folk­in­flected voice was a breath of fresh air for the mu­sic scene.

De­but al­bum Call Off The Search, re­leased when Katie was just 19, was a num­ber one in the UK, spawn­ing hit sin­gles such as The Clos­est Thing To Crazy.

Her fol­low up, Piece By Piece in 2005, also hit the top spot and two years af­ter that, third ef­fort Pic­tures made it to num­ber two.

At one point, Katie was named one of the rich­est stars in Bri­tain un­der the age of 30. She was the best-sell­ing UK fe­male artist for a cou­ple of years and her al­bums went plat­inum across the world.

But the heady heights of fame and the stress of keep­ing up with it all took its toll and, in 2010, Katie spent six weeks in hos­pi­tal af­ter suf­fer­ing a ner­vous break­down.

Two years ago, Katie said it was the “best thing” that had ever hap­pened to her.

Now, she de­scribes it as her “crunch time”, but adds: “What has arisen out of all of that is a great col­lec­tion of work that I’m su­per proud of.

“All the crazy sched­ules, the crazy promo, the cre­ative pol­i­tics – which is al­ways there – and those things you strug­gle with, ac­tu­ally in amongst that I look back and go, ‘These are great songs, great record­ings I’m re­ally proud of, and I can’t wait for what’s to come next’.”

Per­haps Katie’s no-non­sense out­look on life, from her tri­umphs to her low mo­ments, is down to her up­bring­ing.

She was born in Ge­or­gia, where she lived for most of the first decade of her life, around the time of the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

Speak­ing of her child­hood in the coun­try, she re­mem­bers that times were dif­fi­cult, due to lack of elec­tric­ity and the po­lit­i­cal up­heaval.

But she also fondly rem­i­nisces about the fun times: of climb­ing to pick black­ber­ries, of swim­ming in the Black Sea and of liv­ing with a large crowd of fam­ily mem­bers.

“We lived with my dad’s fam­ily; my grand­par­ents, two un­cles on dad’s side, mum and dad, plus we had two friends of rel­a­tives stay­ing be­cause Ge­or­gia is very com­mu­nal,” she re­calls.

“This was in about 1991/1992, be­cause of the Soviet Union break­down. The in­fra­struc­ture of the coun­try had re­ally suf­fered, but be­cause of al­ways be­ing out­side, al­ways with na­ture even in the city, I loved it.

She is also glad to have then spent some of her for­ma­tive years in the UK – first in Belfast, to which she moved at the age of eight with her fam­ily, and then in Lon­don.

“I’m grate­ful I got to re­al­is­ti­cally live in Ge­or­gia, see the life and ex­pe­ri­ence it as a kid there, and also be raised in the UK,” she says.

“In Ge­or­gia dur­ing that pe­riod, you wouldn’t have had the op­por­tu­nity to do what I’ve been able to do in the mu­sic in­dus­try.

“I’m re­ally grate­ful to have had those two world views.

“When you looked ahead, about what you might do for a liv­ing in Ge­or­gia... I loved singing, I started to sing from a very young age. But didn’t seem to be much hope back then.”

Her birth­place is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to her, as Katie is to her com­pa­tri­ots.

“I find it re­mark­able to have done so well out here, but in Ge­or­gia it’s kind of mag­ni­fied.

“Ge­or­gians re­ally look up to artists from the west. Ev­ery­one in Ge­or­gia grew up on the Bea­tles, Led Zep­pelin, Queen, Black Sab­bath. It means a lot to them that one of theirs has kind of done al­right in the mu­sic in­dus­try.”

She’s def­i­nitely done al­right, as her back cat­a­logue proves.

Col­lat­ing her body of work for her Ul­ti­mate Col­lec­tion was, she says, “like look­ing at a photo al­bum”.

“You know, when you’re a teenager and you think, ‘I’ve got re­ally big thighs’, but then you look back and go, ‘Ac­tu­ally, I shouldn’t have wor­ried about it.’

“When you put to­gether a col­lec­tion like this and you’re look­ing back on some­thing you did five/10 years ago, there were quite a few mo­ments where I went, ‘Ac­tu­ally, this is re­ally good, and it seems to have lasted’, and it sur­prised me.”

For some artists, a great­est hits of­fer­ing might sig­nal the end of a ca­reer but not for Katie, some­thing her fans will be de­lighted to hear.

“I’m do­ing a lot of writ­ing at the mo­ment, we’ll see what ends up sur­viv­ing,” she re­veals.

“There is so much work to be done, as far as I’m con­cerned, on just mak­ing records. I’ve got a lot of stuff to keep work­ing on.

“I think I’ve only just be­gun, to be hon­est.”

Katie Melua may be re­leas­ing a great­est hits al­bum, but she is also look­ing to the fu­ture

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