Katie Melua chats about her latest tour, what she’s learnt in her fifteen-year career, and why her Grandad is still her biggest fan.
In a vast warehouse on the outskirts of the market town of Bedford, Katie Melua puts the finishing touches to her European autumn and winter tour. As I watch one of the final production rehearsals I wonder what’s next for someone who has already achieved so much in such little time.
“Well I’ve been writing loads and I’m really excited about seeing what else is possible with records,” says Melua, wrapped in a golden Georgian robe, her chosen costume for this particular rehearsal. Behind her, as she performs, are beautiful projected animations of flora and fauna. This is as much an arts exhibition as it is a concert.
“I’m in an interesting place where my music’s not really pop and it doesn’t belong in R&B and those lanes – but it’s not really classical, jazz, blues or folk either. So it’s sort of in this space that gets inspired by lots of different genres.”
Katie’s ability to so freely and adeptly move from genre to genre is clear to see in the live show as she skips between classical Georgian pieces, the tempo shifting alt-classical piece ‘The Flood’, and now iconic jazz/folk standards like ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ and ‘The Closest Thing To Crazy’ her first ever single. But in the fifteen years since that single’s release, which positioned Katie as one of the biggest female stars of her generation, what has she learnt?
“When things took off at the start in such a big way, it did floor me a little bit! I didn’t expect it to be that big.” (You can tell by the tone of Katie’s voice, that there’s a tiny part of her that still is awed by the massive success of her career. Her debut record has, at the time of writing, sold close to 2 million records in the UK alone and she’s one of two female artists to have seven consecutive top ten albums in the UK, the other being Kate Bush.)
Katie tells me she’s been increasingly involved in the behind the scenes elements of this tour. Once again she will be joined on tour by The Gori Women’s Choir and her band, but for this tour she has also teamed up with the BAFTA nominated directing duo Karni and Saul who animated the award-winning music video for last year’s single ‘Perfect World’.
“Karni and Saul are brilliant visionaries,” she says. “They did such a beautiful job on the video. I can share my ideas and thoughts with them and then leave them to create their beautiful animations. After months of work we’re seeing what they have created and it’s even better than I thought it would be.”
Speaking about the process, Karni and Saul said that they “loved working with Katie on her last album, creating the magic world of sugar and ice in the music video for ‘Perfect World’. So when she approached us to help create a world and visual story for her brand new winter tour we jumped at the opportunity. Katie is a talented songwriter and performer and, though she knows what she wants, she also lets us have a lot of creative freedom…which we thrive off.”
Joining Katie on stage will be a “more traditional four-piece band” as well as The Gori Women’s Choir. Katie’s voice rises in excitement when talking about the new tour. “It’s going to be a winter show but then it’s going to transition into spring. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited and happy about a tour before.”
‘In Winter’, Katie’s last album was a critical and commercial success, and a departure sonically from her previous records, with Katie getting back in touch with her Georgian routes (she was born there before moving to the UK in 1993). The record was also co-produced and co-mixed by Katie herself, and marks a new era for her as a creative force in her own work.
Since ‘In Winter’s’ release, Katie has become something of a national treasure, even receiving the key to the city of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital.
“Oh my god, it was a bit bizarre and brilliant! They put on a gig for me, it was a birthday concert, and they said they had 10,000 people there. I had been told there would be a pause and the mayor would come up and there would be a surprise but I didn’t know what it would be. And then he made this really lovely speech and gave me a big golden key!”
“In Georgia, they are so positive when a single one of theirs does well, it just pumps you up with so much energy you literally feel like you’re floating. I think that’s what I’m happiest and proudest about, to be a Georgian.”
Do you ever think you’d make it onto a bank note, I jokingly ask?
“That seems like it’s a bit extreme! I don’t know. My grandad would be happy about that because he loves all that, when he goes to the market he’s always showing off about the fact he’s my grandad! In Georgia there isn’t that subtlety about success, if you’ve made it, it’s brilliant! You’ve got to be proud.
It seems to be quite a British thing, to shy away from one’s success I suggest to her.
“Yeah and I’m more British in that way, so it really throws me over when [Georgians] are like that, but it does a great thing to your self-confidence. I still appreciate there’s still a lot to be done!”
With a stunning and engaging new tour and an exciting future, Katie should embrace her Georgian confidence, because this is an artist in her creative and musical stride. Katie Melua: The Ultimate Collection is out now. Katie tours the UK this winter, tickets from https://www.gigsandtours.com/tour/katie-melua