INTERVIEW: KATIE DOHERTY & THE NAVIGATORS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Folk music’s strong songwriting traditions may have provided a base for Katie Doherty’s rich sound, but it’s the theatre world that has bolstered her tremendous talent. The Northumberland songwriter’s new album, released in January, comes over a decade after her debut, Bridges, caused her to be touted as one of the contemporary folk scene’s brightest up and coming stars. In the intervening years, she’s worked alongside such luminaries as Kathryn Tickell and composer and producer Nitin Sawhney, not to mention becoming musical director for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It.

It was while working with North East theatre makers November Club, composing the score for the award-winning rural touring musical Beyond The End Of The Road, where she met her current bandmates The Navigators (aka Dave Gray and Shona Mooney), and where she rediscovered her own sound. “It’s been a long time since I have felt comfortable and confident enough in myself as a performer, to be able to put myself out there. Working with Shona and Dave has really helped that.” She explains. The lessons she’s learned while working in the theatre world have helped to cement her songwriting skills even further. “You learn a lot about effective story-telling and the emotional arc of a song in that discipline. I think that has really informed the material on this album. I am still very influenced by the folk tradition, again for its story-telling and authenticity. I hope it’s a lot more dynamically varied and a bit grittier now!”

The new record, somewhat tellingly entitled And Then, delivers the next chapter of Katie’s creative career. “The album is a lot about change. Changing seasons, the passage of time, moving somewhere new, becoming a parent and the weight of new responsibility, getting older, dealing with the pressures of modern living and being a woman in 2018.” The opening wheeze of melodeon on I’ll Go Out strikes a melancholy tone, which is countered by Navigator’s wavering melody which twists around plucked strings, lush harmonies and uplifting backing vocals making for a euphoric track. The magnificent Angry Daughter shares more in common with contemporary pop than rural folk; you could almost imagine Beyonce strutting around a stage and belting out its chorus of empowerment and positive action.

The contemporary comparison is hardly surprising given Katie’s wide-ranging influences, from Elbow and Blue Rose Code to Regina Spektor, while the North East’s coastal landscape, the hills of the North Pennines and dark skies of Northumberland all provide rich inspiration. Katie explains that the skills needed to write for theatre and, as a contemporary folk musician, for herself, are remarkably similar. “I think all songs need to have something of the personal within them to make them meaningful, the trick is then to find enough space for interpretation and enough of the familiar that people can relate to them. Some songs I have written for myself have become songs for theatre projects and vice versa…which is helpful!”

folk music reflects the world it comes from and the world these days is so much more diverse in the music we are exposed to, so it’d be a shame not to reflect this in producing new music

One can only imagine the weight of responsibility when it comes to scoring for theatre productions, particular for organisations like the RSC when the established text and story has essentially already been told, and Katie agrees that there’s a comparative weight when it comes to working in the folk tradition. “With the RSC I was working with a score by Howard Goodall, mixed with a couple of my own compositions and I felt a huge responsibility to represent his work well. The folk world is generally very friendly and accepting but I think perhaps there has to be a respect for the tradition, the songwriters and composers which have led us to where we are. But by the same token, we can’t be confined by this…folk music reflects the world it comes from and the world these days is so much more diverse in the music we are exposed to, so it’d be a shame not to reflect this in producing new music.”

Having been one of the first alumni of Newcastle University’s celebrated folk degree, Katie’s emphatic about how important it is that musicians have access to such expertise to learn their craft. “I think it is vital. Not only to keep this music and our history alive, but the folk degree has a reputation for developing top class folk and Traditional musicians, performers and educators who will continue to pass on the music and skills to generations to come.”

Katie and her fellow Navigators will officially launch their album at Sage Gateshead’s New Year New Artists showcase on Thursday 17th January, where the record will take centre stage, but she can’t help but hint at a little razzmatazz… “We’re really proud of the sound that we make as a trio, so in that sense we will keep [the live performance] as true to the album as possible but there will be some surprises…there has to be some theatre involved, doesn’t there?!”


Katie Doherty – Yours (Official Live Video) from Ian Stephenson on Vimeo.

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