Katharine Philippa is an artist who has been turning heads since bursting onto the local scene at the end of 2011. Her debut EP has received rave reviews and a lot of radio play. From this success she was chosen as one of ten local acts to take part of in a unique showcase with the Ulster Orchestra called the ‘Great Northern Songbook’. We were able to catch up with Katharine after she lit up the Ulster Hall with her performance.
► How did you end up being a part of the Great Northern Songbook show?
I logged into my email account and sifted through some mail; a lovely email from a great man (Paul McClean) greeted me. The process for my brain went as such: read the email; a strange feeling passed through me; I decided it perhaps didn’t really happen; I returned to my email in question an hour later; it was still there; I replied: yes please and cannot describe how it all felt…
►You mentioned during the show that growing up you were a big fan of the Ulster Orchestra, how did it feel as a fan to be playing with them in such a historic venue?
It was funny! It felt a bit like I (and some others backstage) had rehearsed that this was an ‘act’ that was to take place. Essentially that is the truth, but it was actually ‘me’ and I wasn’t ‘acting’. It was very strange. Like I mentioned though, I had sat many times in the choir stalls at the back, which gave the vantage point of a performer or the orchestra. I was familiar with the walls of the Ulster Hall. It is a beautiful venue. I did feel quite at home and I hope it asks me back one day!
► How did you choose which of your own songs to play with the Ulster Orchestra? Were you recommended to pick a certain one or was there a song in particular that you really wanted to play?
A very good question Mr Cinnamond! I suppose I chose ‘Wake Up O Sleeper’ for a number of reasons: ‘Whiter than I’ is probably the piece by which I am best known, and much as I would have loved to do that with an orchestra, I thought it would be good to try something different. ‘Wake Up’ is so incredibly personal to me. The words for this particular song are actually a poem by my sister, Jasmine. I obviously composed music around it – so it is a collaboration with someone very special to me. Also, the solo piano coda at the end of ‘Wake Up’, I feel, wanted to be played in the Ulster Hall! I suppose the final reason was that the words actually are very relevant to me. This song was one of the things that helped (and continues to) help me through difficulty.
► Your cover was “Days of Pearly Spencer” by David McWilliams. Were you nervous about playing such a famous song, yet still trying to give it your own twist?
I think with any cover there is a great deal of responsibility to do the original ‘composer’s creation’ justice. I just sat down by the piano with the lyrics and chords and played my way through it; I did this continually and quite quickly and naturally a musical character of the piece seemed to be spun out. I read about what the song truly was about: a homeless man named Pearly Spencer. The homeless are very close to my heart. I wanted to do Pearly’s name justice too.
► Do you have a particular personal highlight from the show?
It was all incredible, but there was a particular moment, actually in “Wake up O Sleeper”, where I felt overcome – I felt a warmth that gave me strength. I think that warmth was born of a culmination of things. I was appreciative of the response too; I will always make music, but to know that people liked it too brings me joy. I am just so grateful to each individual who brought that concert to its fruition and similarly, anyone who supports me in any way. There is a lot of good in this world, and most definitely in Northern Ireland.
► Moving towards your own material, you released your first EP “Fallen” at the end of last year to rave reviews and a considerable amount of local radio play. Has this experience changed the way you look at your music and possibly write in the future?
I would probably be lying if I said that the concept of what has happened with ‘Fallen’ didn’t make me question some of my decisions. But it only questions, it does not dictate. I am conscious of wanting to continue to record the music I am happy with. Never have I sat down at the piano and moulded my song as such. My song writing of the past year is a bit raw emotionally; it can be harder to consider the prospect of people listening to that. From a musical perspective, I don’t want to choose riffs, or instruments based on standards. I listen to what I feel each song wants. I think it’s important to take each motion or wave of song writing as a document of a time and thought. “Wake Up…” is over seven minutes in duration – so not conventional time limits for radio! I obviously wouldn’t want all of my songs to be too long for probably the majority of stations, but ultimately, that will not at all stop me putting out something that is a deep expression of thoughts.
► Is it true you wrote some of the songs from the EP a few years ago when you were just 17?
Yes. I think it is quite obvious though? “Wake Up O Sleeper” was one of the last ones to have been written, at 18; I think it shows more maturity. The ‘recording’ process occurred when I was 19, with good friend and fellow musician Matt Duke of 10Man Productions.
► Finally what have you got planned next, could there be new music coming soon?
Indeed! Songs are constantly being brewed in my head; it’s exhilarating, tiring and frustrating, in slightly different phases. I am a perfectionist and I often strive for that indescribable feeling in writing a song that dictates when the song’s bones have reached completion. That moment is wonderful.
Twitter ► @kphilippa Facebook ► /katharinephilippa