Katie Melua is set to release her new album In Winter ahead of her Manchester date at the Bridgewater Hall.
The new album, due for release on 14 October, appropriately opens in Ukranian, quite apt since it features the Gori Women’s Choir.
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 2 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.”
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.
In Winter is released on 14 October 2016.
Katie Melue performs at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall on 2 December 2016.
image of Katie Melua courtesy Josh Shinner