What Katie did next...her great­est hits

Chart-top­ping singer thinks that, 15 years af­ter her de­but al­bum, she’s only just be­gin­ning

The Herald Magazine - - Arts MUSIC - LUCY MAPSTONE

KATIE Melua is in­ex­pli­ca­bly too mod­est for some­one with as much suc­cess as she’s had. Fif­teen years on from the re­lease of her chart-top­ping de­but Call

Off the Search, the Ge­or­gian-Bri­tish singer – who has sold 11 mil­lion al­bums and topped the chart with two re­leases, among many other ac­co­lades – 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 im­pres­sive 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.”

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

Her charm­ing sing-song voice and raw yet sub­tle jazz and folksy-blues tal­ent was an an­ti­dote to the R&B, pop-punk and dance mu­sic-laden era of the early Noughties.

Call Off the Search, re­leased when Melua was 19, hit num­ber one in the UK, spawn­ing clas­sic sin­gles such as The Clos­est Thing to Crazy.

Her sec­ond al­bum Piece by Piece in 2005 also topped the chart and, two years af­ter that, third ef­fort Pic­tures made it to num­ber two.

At one point, she was one of the rich­est stars in Bri­tain un­der the age of 30. She was the best­selling UK fe­male artist for a cou­ple of years and her al­bums went plat­inum around the world. But the heady heights of fame and the stress of keep­ing up with it all took its toll and, in 2010, Melua spent six weeks in hospi­tal af­ter suf­fer­ing a ner­vous break­down.

Two years ago, Melua 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 among that I look back and go, ‘Ac­tu­ally these are great songs, great record­ings I’m re­ally proud of and I can’t wait for what’s to come next’.”

Per­haps her can-do, no-non­sense at­ti­tude and hum­ble out­look on life, from her tri­umphs to her low mo­ments, is down to her up­bring­ing. Melua was born in Ge­or­gia, where she lived for nearly the first decade of her life, around the time of the col­lapse of the Soviet Union.

Speak­ing of her child­hood, she re­mem­bers that times were dif­fi­cult, due to lack of elec­tric­ity and the po­lit­i­cal up­heaval. But she also fondly rem­i­nisces about the fun times: climb­ing black­berry trees to pick the fruit, swim­ming in the Black Sea and liv­ing with a big fam­ily.

“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 the out­door liv­ing, al­ways be­ing out­side, al­ways with na­ture even in the city, I just loved it. I ab­so­lutely loved it.”

She is also ad­mit­tedly glad to have then spent her for­ma­tive years in the UK, first in Belfast, where she moved at the age of eight with her fam­ily, then in Lon­don. “I am very grate­ful that 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.

“Be­cause 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 here. 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 there didn’t seem to be much hope back then.” She adds: “Now things are re­ally dif­fer­ent. The coun­try is chang­ing.”

Her birth­place is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to her, as Melua is to her com­pa­tri­ots. “I find it re­mark­able to have done so well out here, but in Ge­or­gia it’s kind of mag­ni­fied. And that beau­ti­ful kind of love that artists get is off the scale out there be­cause it’s a rel­a­tively small coun­try on the out­skirts of east­ern Europe.”

At the very least, she’s glad to have given Ge­or­gians an­other fa­mous name

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