By Max Modell
While it is complex to sum up my feelings about my evening watching Catherine McGrath perform the first night of her first ever headline tour at The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth every trail of thought leads me to one word, cute. From the set design with fairy lights and paper lanterns, to McGrath’s unbelievably cute Irish accent and stories of night terrors while jet-lagged the whole show seems to be encompassed in this one word. But some subconscious part of my brain is telling me describing the show as cute is somehow underselling it. I am going to try and present a well thought out version of my opinion on the show, but I apologise if it’s all too cute for your liking.
If you are unfamiliar with Catherine McGrath she is a country-pop singer hailing from Northern Ireland. She has somewhat become the face of the burgeoning UK country scene and is the UK’s answer to early Taylor Swift. While an easy comparison to make, it is not unjustified. McGrath will freely admit Swift is one of her major influences and her voice has similar characteristics to Swift’s, although McGrath’s has more finesse. Furthermore, Taylor Swift is the most common reference point in country music for British audiences. This is something record label Warner Bros are seemingly very aware of with regards to shaping McGrath’s imagine, hiring Justin Nolan Key who has previously directed lyric videos for Swift to direct the music video for her single ‘Wild’. Yet despite the weight of this comparison, McGrath lives up to it. While her lyrics are often cheesy they have emotional weight and her stories of love and heartache resonate. This prevents her songs from feeling cheap like some country pop acts.
This set my expectations going into the gig. I imagined the night would be light fun, putting a smile on my face and a reminding me never to date a country singer who would inevitably write a break-up album about me one day. It was exactly that, just with some added sickly-sweet details which made the whole thing even cuter. The first of these details was McGrath’s first support act who was in fact her 17-year-old sister Mary McGrath. While clearly on a different stage of her musical journey to her sister, I couldn’t help but smile as she sang her heart out to the crowd all of whom were willing her on. The cuteness meter then went off the scale later in the main set as Mary came on stage to perform a Shania Twain duet with her sister.
Catherine McGrath’s set itself was a sure-fire hit, containing her new album and some older tracks. While her voice would occasionally get lost in the mix this didn’t dampen the experience. McGrath was clearly ecstatic to be on stage and that enthusiasm was contagious. Her band were tight, and her voice sounded as perfect live as it did on the record. The blended elements of pop production and synthetic drums were superbly balanced with the traditional country sound adding an extra dimension to McGrath’s sound. Yet, McGrath’s songwriting and performance could stand on its own with anthemic highs like ‘Lost in the Middle’ and ‘Wild’ with its clever Coldplay references and infectious mandolin riff contrasted with quieter moments like the ballad “Enough for You”.
If this appeals to you The Wedgewood Rooms is just the first date on McGrath tour, which includes dates in Brighton, Bristol, London and Manchester. For further tour information and ticket details visit http://www.catherinemcgrathmusic.com.