KATIE MELUA – Live at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster

Katie Melua and choirs
Photographs by Tony Birch

Westminster Central Hall is an impressive venue in an impressive building.  Built in 1912 the Great Central Hall has a capacity of 2,300 who sit beneath the largest self-supporting domed ceiling of its kind in Europe.  It’s a big venue that needs a big artist to fill it and Katie Melua did exactly that on December 8th  in a show that confirms she is one of the best popular singers around.  I had to check exactly how long she’s been in the public eye and was quite amazed to see that her début album Call Off The Search was released in late 2003 and there have been six more albums since.

Despite that, and the obvious loyal following she has, Katie remains a very down-to-earth performer.  There’s no big build up, no MC encouraging the audience.  Instead, as I’ve seen her do before, she quietly enters a darkened stage and starts on the first song with just her and a guitar. The audience were immediately captured, “their Katie” was back on home territory and they loved it.

Katie lets her music do the talking so there are no long stories or introductions, we didn’t get an “Hello” until after song three.  Instead we had twenty songs over two sets, and then the encores.  The show was beautifully paced with plenty of movement on the stage to break the evening up.  As well as her sole songs she had her band consisting of Tim Harries (bass),  Mark Edwards (keys), Nicky Hustinx (drums) and little brother Zurab Melua (guitar) being used in different combinations.  In addition we were also introduced to the Gori Women’s Choir from Katie’s home country of Georgia and who featured on her 2016 album In WinterThe choir consisted of fifteen members plus conductor Shalva Mosidze.  They made a wonderful contribution to the evening.

Katie MeluaWith that many people the staging had to provide a backdrop rather than completion and this was done through animations by Karni & Saul which were muted and restful.  It took me a while to get in to them but they did complement the music which was, of course, of the highest standard.  Although, as mentioned, the songs weren’t introduced most were familiar to the audience and several were greeted with applause including ‘Belfast’ from that very first album and ‘Nine Million Bicycles’.  Of course ‘Closest Thing To Crazy” made an appearance and I was half expecting a sing-a-long, but it wasn’t that kind of evening although it got a huge cheer at the end.  The audience were quite quiet, they’d come to listen, and even the one shout out was noted by Katie as being “very polite”!  Only ‘The Flood’ encouraged a slight clapping along, and that was rewarded with a smile.

In an evening of such lovely music there were some stand-outs away from the big hits.  ‘The Carol Of The Bells’ (Shchedryk) was beautifully presented with just Katie and the choir but I think it was ‘Diamonds Are Forever’; was the one that really caught me by surprise.  We’re all used to Shirley Bassey’s belting anthem to avarice but Katie turns it into a rather bittersweet song of somebody who has probably learnt the hard way that men are not to be trusted so only diamonds give the permanence she seeks.  The evening ended with a well deserved call for an encore and ‘What A Wonderful World’ was a suitable choice, greeted with a standing ovation.  It was a wonderful evening that left a very satisfied audience who will no doubt be back for more in the future.

Before finishing, there are several mentions to be made.  Support came from London based Keeva, who impressed me with her soulful voice and good presentation of her songs.  She’s somebody who is now on my watch list to see again.   Bryony October did an excellent job on sound balancing, at times, sixteen voices and five instruments none of which ever dominated.  Thanks are also due to Sue Harris at Republicmedia for her help and chasing down the photo pass, and to the staff at Central Hall who were unfailingly helpful throughout.

Tony Birch

 Artist website: http://katiemelua.com/

Katie Melua and The Gori Womens Choir – ‘Carol Of The Bells’:

Katie Melua releases her Ultimate Collection on vinyl

As Katie Melua embarks on her European tour, BMG announce the release of Ultimate Collection on vinyl. Compiled by Katie, this vinyl edition features 23 songs from Katie’s 7 studio albums from 2003’s Call Off The Search to 2016’s In Winter. Katie’s cover of ‘Fields Of Gold’ (the Children In Need 2017 single) and 2 brand new recordings – ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ – complete the set.

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ was recorded earlier this year with The Gori Women’s Choir and the Georgian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nikoloz Rachveli, and was produced by Katie and Adam ‘Cecil’ Bartlett.

‘Diamonds Are Forever’, which Katie first performed live at the Don Black Songbook concert at London’s The Royal Festival Hall, is produced by legendary American record producer and musician, T Bone Burnett. Katie is the sole performer on the track – on vocals and acoustic guitar – which was recorded at T Bone’s home studio in Los Angeles, on vintage gear and to tape.

It is Katie’s extraordinary voice, and the ability to truly inhabit a song, that has been the constant since the young 19 year-old first appeared in 2003 with her debut single ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’. One of the UK’s highest-selling female recording artists of all time, Katie has released 7 top-10 studio albums: ‘Call Off The Search’, ‘Piece By Piece’, ‘Pictures’, ‘The House’, ‘Secret Symphony’, ‘Ketevan’ and, most recently, 2016’s self-produced and hugely acclaimed ‘In Winter’.

Ultimate Collection celebrates the singer, the songwriter, the musician and the collaborator while paying tribute to the musicians, arrangers, producers and songwriters with whom Katie has worked. The songs are musical landmarks – in both Katie’s life and those of her fans; classic songs that stand the test of time, chosen for this collection for their musicianship, the quality of the writing and the pure emotions they elicit.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to all of those that I’ve had the great pleasure of working with, even the ones I don’t see very often. You have coloured and filled these recordings with brilliance. May our work together last for many years in the hearts of anyone needing to hear a classic song.”

Katie is now on an extensive autumn/winter European tour 2018, including 13 UK dates, in which she will be joined by a cast of stellar musicians, as well as members of The Gori Women’s Choir. The show will open with a set from up-and-coming Irish-Jordanian artist Keeva.

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‘Fields Of Gold’ – official video:

Katie Melua to release double-CD version of In Winter

Katie Melua

In late 2016, Katie Melua and the Gori Women’s Choir released the now silver certified In Winter, an album (and associated live show), which received universal acclaim from music critics and audiences alike.  That artistic and touring journey resulted in many incredible experiences for them all, and this revised edition of the album, which includes an additional seventeen live recordings, further amplifies their statement of intent.

Recorded at Admiralspalast, Berlin, the second disc of previously unreleased recordings includes live renditions of the entire In Winter album, as well as new arrangements of hits such as ‘Closest Thing To Crazy’, ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ and ‘I Cried For You’ performed with the Gori Women’s Choir.

“I hope, through these live recordings in Berlin, you’ll hear and experience the journey that the choir and I took as though you were right there with us on that winter’s night in Berlin. It was from these treasured recordings that I have selected our proudest moments which appear on the second disc of this updated version of ‘In Winter’.” Katie Melua

Originally released in 2016 In Winter drew some of the finest reviews of Katie’s career with the Sunday Times describing it as “bewitching…ravishing…spellbinding” and the Independent as “exquisite…remarkable.”

“If you are looking for a winter listen, looking for a Christmas album…look no further really… beautiful choral moments….really beautiful Lauren Laverne, BBC 6 Music

A seasonal winter-themed record on which Katie sings in English, Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian, In Winter was recorded in a DIY studio in the town of Gori in her native Georgia where she was joined by the extraordinary polyphonic voices of Gori Women’s Choir. The album reflects Katie’s dual culture with original works inspired by her childhood in Georgia, as well as new interpretations of traditional carols, choral works and folk songs.

‘All Night Vigil–Nunc Dimittis’ (Rachmaninov) – sung in honour of her grandfather, an escapee from a Siberian labour camp – and the stunningly beautiful Ukrainian ‘The Little Swallow’ sit alongside an intimate cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ and the delicate beauty of the original song ‘Perfect World’. Warming and sparkling, yet haunting and ethereal, this remarkable record was co-produced by Katie with stunning vocal arrangements by Bob Chilcott. Released on October 14th 2016 the album broke into the UK Top 10 Album Chart landing Katie her 7th consecutive top 10 studio album.

Following the release of the album Katie and the Gori Women’s Choir embarked on an extensive European tour. The challenges that Katie had faced in the studio (what she now calls “one hell of an adventure”) were superseded by the complexities of bringing this record to life on stage as she explains:

“I discovered how intricately you have to work to design twenty five voices singing together on stage in different acoustics each night. There were technical challenges as well as the language barrier between the choir and crew, and then how to bring the style of In Winter and that of the songs from my previous albums together into one show. When I first heard the choir sing Bob Chilcott’s arrangement of ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’ we were rehearsing in the August heat in Gori, Georgia. It sounded both chilling and beautiful, and the tenderness of their voices suggested that they were as grateful to be singing that song with me, as I was with them.”

This special edition of In Winter contains: a bonus disc of live recordings; a greeting card designed by the albums illustrator Niroot Puttapipat; as well as a 28 page booklet containing lyrics and never-before-seen photographs.

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Artist’s website: www.katiemelua.com

Video Wall 3

As we look back on the summer musicians are looking forward and sending us videos heralding new albums due for release in the coming months. Here is the pick of them and, as it turns out, all are by female artists.

First we have Gitta De Ridder and her new single ‘Even If’ which is taken from her album, Feathers. Both are available now.

Next up is Irish singer-songwriter Maria Kelly with her single, ‘Stitches’.

Katie Melua returns to her Georgian roots with her new album In Winter. ‘Dreams On Fire’ is the first video release.

Anne Elizabeth Laube covers Beyoncé’s song ‘XO’ from her third album, Tree, which is released next month.

Last but far from least comes ‘The Year That I Was Born’ from Heidi Talbot’s new album Here We Go 1, 2, 3 out now.

Katie Melua evokes Georgian winter on new album

Katie Melua

From the opening notes, sung in Ukrainian, it is clear that there is something different and unexpected about Katie Melua’s new album In Winter. Twenty-five female voices blend to create a sound that is both powerful and delicate, that, in its apparent simplicity, is so beautiful it glows. Known as a singer, song-writer and guitarist, with six studio albums to her name, on In Winter Katie Melua takes the role of co-producer for the first time. The discovery in 2014 of a recording by Gori Women’s Choir was the spark for the record.

“I was mesmerised by their tone and sonic richness. They are essentially a vocal orchestra,” says Katie.

With a vision to create a winter-themed record, one that was centred around the Georgian choir’s unique polyphonic sound, Katie enlisted world-renowned choral composer Bob Chilcott to arrange the vocal parts.

“I learnt the importance of restraint and space from Bob.  There was simply no one else I could think of who would be more perfectly suited to this particular challenge.”

“I’ve been asked a fair few times now why I chose to write around the theme of winter for this album, and, truthfully, the idea came from a conversation I was having with a friend of mine a few winters’ ago.  We were both lamenting the fact that there didn’t seem to be a go-to album out there for us to listen to during the winter months – an album that would fill the house with wonderful, warm, poignant sounds rather than the usual jingle-bells pop songs that tend to hit the airwaves during that time of year. Something we could listen to from start-to-finish rather than on a song-by-song basis.  So, that’s how the album was born – out of necessity!”

With a very clear idea on how this record needed to sound, in late 2015 Katie and Adam ‘Cecil’ Bartlett (whose engineering credits include the likes of PJ Harvey and Marianne Faithfull) flew to Georgia with twelve boxes of equipment and built a DIY studio in the small town of Gori’s cultural community centre. “There were many unknowns: we weren’t established producers; we were building a studio; the choir had never recorded with headphones; Cecil didn’t speak a word of Georgian and could I effectively communicate to the choir how I wanted this record to sound?” With the studio built, the choir, their conductor Teona Tsiramua, and their vocal professor (former opera singer Anzori Shomakhia) on hand, recording began.

One of the first songs recorded was the album’s opening track ‘The Little Swallow (Shchedryk)’, a traditional Ukrainian carol first arranged by Mykola Leontovych in 1916 and subsequently adapted for the West as ‘Carol Of The Bells’. “It felt right to sing the piece in its original language. Ukrainian belongs to the eastern Slavic language and is close to Russian which is widely spoken throughout Georgia,” Katie explains.  On Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’, Katie’s acoustic guitar provides a minimalist backdrop for the swell of stunning voices. ‘Perfect World’, the first new song written by Katie since the release of her last studio album, was brought to life with the addition of the choir. ‘Nunc Dimittis’ from Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil, written two years before the Russian Revolution in 1917, was a challenge to record but was a piece that was central to Katie’s vision for the record. “I had to have it on the album; it took me close to the mythical notion I have from my youth of the Russian forest, frozen and covered in snow, and of my Granddad’s tales of escaping from a Siberian labour camp.”

With the four songs recorded, Katie returned to London and spent the next six months continuing her research into the album’s remaining songs, while continuing to write new material, the abiding theme being winter and the deeply personal feelings elicited by this particular season. In April 2016 Katie and Cecil returned to Gori, rebuilt the studio, and for the next four weeks immersed themselves in the recording. “Cecil was a fantastic partner during the whole process. He learned a Georgian word each day and was totally egoless as far as being open to trying various methods out in the studio.  He was also very patient with my endless note-taking during the sessions.”

The album reflects Katie’s dual culture – born in the ex-Soviet country of Georgia, she moved with her parents and younger brother to Belfast aged nine, and became a British citizen in 2005. Since then she has achieved immense global success as a recording artist, selling in excess of 10 million albums. The beautiful melody of the Romanian carol ‘Leganelul Lui Lisus (Cradle Song)’ led Katie to write ‘Plane Song’ on which she recalls playing with her brother in old, rusty Soviet aircraft littered across various fields in Georgia after the civil war. ‘A Time To Buy’ is both literal – the commercialism of Christmas, overwhelming (particularly to a young Katie arriving in the West) yet joyful – and allegorical – the self-judgement, anxiety and fears of the ‘have-it-all’ woman.

‘Tu Ase Turpa’ or ‘If You Are So Beautiful’ is a modern folk song, and the only Georgian song on the album. ‘Dreams On Fire’ continues the theme of love, and is co-written with one of England’s songwriting greats, Don Black. “I feel the stillness of the winter season really causes us to reflect on our lives and relationships, wondering if our loved ones share the same feelings when it comes to growth and the fear of change. I consider Don Black a master of lyric writing, and the words in this song sit right at the heart of a lover’s insecurity.” The album closes with a delicate and restrained performance of ‘O Holy Night’, a carol that Katie performed at her first school carol concert in Belfast.

In WInterWith the recording complete, Katie wanted the artwork to represent that magical, winter wonderland in her imagination. On a trip to her local bookshop she discovered the work of London-based Thai illustrator Niroot Puttapipat who has illustrated such notable book titles as The Nutcracker, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khattám, and Jane Austen’s Emma. Puttapipat works only by hand, and is responsible for the album’s cover art, as well as the illustrations held within the physical albums, through which he brings words to life in such stunning fashion.

This winter Katie Melua, her band, and the 24-piece Gori Women’s Choir will be embarking on a European tour performing the album in its entirety as well as a selection of classic songs from Katie’s catalogue.

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Katie Melua – The Love I’m Frightened Of – New Video and tour details…

‘The Love I’m Frightened Of’ is the 2nd single from Katie Melua’s new album ‘Ketevan’, her 6th studio album in 10 years. Performed at Katie’s 10th Anniversary concert at London’s Roundhouse recently and premiered on BBC Breakfast, ‘The Love I’m Frightened Of’ sees Katie on top form with this haunting and poignant song.

‘Ketevan’ was released on September 16th 2013 (Katie’s 29th birthday) and entered the UK charts at number 6 – Katie joins a very small group of female artists, which includes Madonna and Kate Bush, who have scored 6 consecutive UK top 10 studio albums. ‘Ketevan’ also entered the top 10 in France, Poland, Denmark, Germany, Holland and Switzerland in its first week of release.

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Katie signed to independent label Dramatico when she was still studying at the Brit School and released her first album ‘Call Off The Search’ in 2003. The first single, ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’, launched the 18 year old to a British audience and the album went to number 1. Her following album ‘Piece By Piece’ entered the UK charts at number 1 and its lead track ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ introduced Katie to a global audience and she became the best-selling British female artist throughout the world. Katie’s subsequent albums, ‘Pictures’, ‘The House’ and 2012’s ‘Secret Symphony’ entered the UK charts at numbers 2, 4 and 8 respectively. Katie is now one of Britain’s most successful recording artists of the millennium.

Katie Melua ‘The Love I’m Frightened Of’ UK Single was released on October 28th 2013 via Dramatico Entertainment. Katie European tour starts this month and runs until December.

See – www.katiemelua.com for more info..