CATHY DAVEY was born into a prominent musical and artistic family as her mother is a sculptor and her father is the Celtic/classical composer Shaun Davey.
Cathy only began her recording career in her mid 20s, initially as a backing vocalist for Ken McHugh’s Autamata, singing on the singles ‘Jellyman’ and ‘Cloud Seekers’.
“Working with Ken in the early days was interesting and it was really necessary for me to learn what I was capable off,” Cathy tells me.
In 2003 Davey went solo, signing to EMI Records after a batch of demos she made with McHugh caught the attention of the company’s A&R man. She released a four-track EP Come Over and began work on a debut album with Blur and Elbow producer Ben Hillier at Rockfield Studio in Wales.
“Signing to a label sort of suited me because there was so much financial support there that I needed,” she says. “I didn’t have a huge fanbase that could help to start the ball rolling and so I had to build that up over time.”
Something Ilk was released in August 2004 and Cathy was compared to everyone from PJ Harvey to Bjork. Hotpress wrote: “Davey’s music is unashamedly sexy, almost precocious in places, but still retains a stamp of class”.
However, the songstress was not entirely happy with her newly-acquired role as a ‘sassy rock chick’ and it began to take its toll. The rumour goes that Davey was due to appear on Later With Jools Holland but because of a bout of ill health her place on the show went to KT Tunstall. Shortly after Tunstall’s appearance her Eye to the Telescope album was re-released and shot up the British charts.
Davey dusted herself off and in late 2007 released her second album Tales of Silversleeve which contained hit singles such as ‘Reuben’, ‘Moving’, and ‘Sing for Your Supper’. Cathy received Choice Music Prize and Meteor Award nominations but despite all her successes she was dropped by EMI.
“The thing about being with a record label though is that they want to try to figure out what box they can slot you in to,” she says. “They want to try to mould you into a rock chick or whatever and I wasn’t always comfortable speaking up. That’s all in the past though now.”
It was time to go the independent route and today Cathy is revelling in her freedom as an independent artist and has been vindicated in this when her recently released third album The Nameless topped the Irish charts. The Irish Times declared that the album “establishes her as one of our finest musicians”.
“Working without a label has certainly suited me for this current album,” she says.
It’s been a memorable six year period in the music industry with lots of up and downs but ultimately Davey has learned a lot from her experiences.
The songs on The Nameless are full of soaring choruses and string arrangements. The subjects they deal with include love, loss, death and absence.
“When I started the first round of interviews I thought it sounded like an album all about grief and morbid thoughts,” the singer admits .“I thought nobody was going to want to listen to it and so I was more surprised than anyone when it did really well”
During the writing process Davey took on a number of different roles and expressed her emotions through ‘The Nameless’ character.
“It’s a great way of creating” she enthuses “It’s a way of being able to write about things that are important to you without feeling that you’re giving too much away. I felt I was more honest in the guise of someone else.”
In an endeavour to expand on her sound from Tales of Silversleeve, Cathy called upon a team of talented musicians such as her father Shaun, long-time collaborator Conor J O’Brien (aka Villagers ) and her current beau Neil Hannon.
O’Brien recently topped the charts with his own debut album Becoming a Jackal and Cathy is full of praise for him.
“When he came in playing guitar on the last album it was pretty clear that he was the best musician I’d ever worked with,” she says. “When somebody’s really, really, talented and they just get it there’s not really a lot you can do wrong.
“Conor seems to be someone who doesn’t interfere with the bigger picture of what’s going on. I think he’s always had that and maybe it’s because he’s a writer as well. I’d like to think that there’s an affinity there.”
When Davey takes to the stage in Galway this month O’Brien will be thousands of miles away preparing for a show in Portland, USA. I imagine this time next year Cathy will be making regular touring sojourns outside Ireland.
The Galway Arts Festival and the Róisín Dubh present Josh Ritter, Damien Dempsey, and Cathy Davey in the Festival Big Top, Fisheries Field, on Friday July 23 at 7pm. Tickets are €36.50 and are available from The festival box office, Galway Tourist Office, Forster Street, and www.galwayartsfestival.com