2 Dec

Growing up in Surrey

Chart topping singer-songwriter Katie Melua tells Surrey Occasions about her teenage years spent in Redhill 

I do think that growing up in Surrey shaped me as an artist. After we lived in Sheen we spent about four or five years living in Redhill; that was where I lived with my mum, dad and little brother when my first album came out. I remember I wrote four songs for my first album, and two for Piece by Piece, all in Redhill. We had a house on Nutfield Road and it overlooked the Surrey Hills, it was a really inspiring, beautiful view.

I recently went back to Redhill on the way to Gatwick airport, to show my husband where we used to live. That was a really nice experience, it brought back lots of good memories.

As a teenager I used to go to the Searchlight Youth Centre in Norbiton. I went to Nonsuch High School in Cheam, and I never went out in Sutton because I was always just a little bit too young. I’ve never been a big going out kind of person (as you can probably guess!)

At home I grew up listening to Queen and Led Zeppelin, then I discovered Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Leonard Cohen. Now I’m mad about Bill Withers. The documentary about him blew my mind.

I had to go to the bathroom and have a conversation with myself during a meeting with my record label to get the courage to walk back in and say ‘I really want to have a go at producing this new record myself’. I had such a clear vision about this record that I had to try.

Producing is a very different experience; I’ve been in the studio making six albums as an artist, but it’s a whole different thing when you take on the responsibility of being the decision maker. The whole success of the project depends on the decisions you make.

I developed the whole idea of a winter album, then found the Gori Women’s Choir on Spotify and was so inspired by them. Their passion for this project made me feel like I was making my first record, reminded me how incredible it is to make music and to have a chance to put it out and be heard by the world. I had a great co-producer in Cecil Bartlett, he was brilliant on actually running the gear and mixing the choir. He’s also great at maintaining the atmosphere. Finally, I had a great choral composer in Bob Chilcott.

I’ve chosen the songs that I love and feel belong in this listening experience. I considered the album as if I was the listener and thought ‘what do I want to hear?’ That’s why I felt it wasn’t too crazy an idea to have a Rachmaninoff piece and an original piece and a Ukrainian winter carol all on one album, because I was looking at it like a listener.

One of my best friends is also a recording artist, so it’s interesting to go through the industry with her. We’ve experienced different sides of the business, but it’s great to have a friend I can chat to about things that some don’t understand. Even though it seems like in the record industry artists have a lot in common, it’s actually difficult to connect – the structure of the business seems to isolate people, the artists at least. I’m working with the Featured Artists Coalition, an organisation to try to have one voice for featured artists. We’re in the middle of restructuring things at the moment at the FAC. So watch this space.

There is a date on my forthcoming tour in Guildford, it is the only Surrey date, and I’m really looking forward to it. London is always intimidating and wonderful but Guildford will now always be my second home gig on any tour.

In Winter, the new album by Katie Melua, is available now