First Published June 2013
AN AFFAIR OF THE HEART
If your only impression of Katherine Lynch to date has been formed on the basis of what you’ve seen or heard from her alter-ego ‘ Bernie ‘, then one listen to her debut album will change your opinion of her forever. Settling Dust is a fascinating body of work and would rank as a superb achievement for any first-time recording artist. But given that Katherine has accomplished this in spite of what many may have perceived to be the hindrance of already being a household name in a completely different sector of the entertainment spectrum, her performance on every track here is all the more praiseworthy.
And it’s a praise well-earned and well deserved, and here’s another thing: not only will this album define your opinion of Katherine, but there’s every chance that in years to come people will look back on its release as a moment that brought a brand new star to the sky of the Irish music scene. Such a statement may, to some, seem like quite a stretch of the imagination on my part, but I trust my instinct with music that touches my heart.
Katherine and her manager, Keith O’ Connor, dropped by to say hello to us in TRAX, Tullamore a couple of weeks back and while there Katherine spent over an hour meeting and greeting fans, posing for photos and even taking the time to speak on the phone to a few people who couldn’t make it in to see her in person! From the moment she arrived smiling and five minutes ahead of schedule until her final big wave goodbye, Katherine’s professionalism and easy-going nature were both clear to see and clearly natural.
In between autographs, photographs and phone-calls, I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Katherine about her Settling Dust journey. What, I wondered, had been peoples’ general reaction to the album? Are most people being fair and listening to it before commenting or has there been a tendency among some to jump to conclusions and pre-judge somewhat based on her reputation and work as a comedian?
“No, I’m really surprised actually, Anthony, that people have separated it very nicely. And ‘Hot Press’ even gave me a glowing review and compared me to Dolores Keane. And I was like, ‘ Are you sure, guys?! ‘ I’m not used to all the good reviews cos’ normally when you’re a woman and a comedian and you upset the status quo, you don’t always get good reviews! Or good responses. But yeah, there has been a good response to it. ‘Irish Music’ magazine said that my writing was great on it and everything, so I’m really delighted with it actually. I was a bit scared that people were going to go, ‘ What the hell are ya at now?! ‘ But lots of female comedians sing. When you think of Bette Midler or someone like that, you know, she can go from the A to Z of emotion. I think it’s easier to see female comedians sing because you have the likes of Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand, top notch women and they all sing.”
One of the tracks on the album is a simply haunting version of Raglan Road, that also features the voice of Katherine’s grand uncle, perhaps the greatest of the many great Irish poets, Patrick Kavanagh. How aware was Katherine growing up that she had a relative who was so famous? And did it influence or inspire Katherine’s own creative side?
“Yeah, it did actually, and it was like being related to God! Because he really was like the Bible in our house. My father always sat at the range reading Kavanagh and I think he actually married my mother because she was a niece of Kavanagh and he wanted to have grand-nieces of Kavanagh, and nephews! Yeah, Kavanagh was basically our connection to God nearly. I do think he was a mystic and he had a huge influence on me, both spiritually and creatively. Spiritually, I just thought he had such a devine connection to God, like in the pagan fashion, before religion in the secular fashion. He was a mystic, I think. When he could find the truth and the beauty in the most simple of things, I think that’s where you find God, too.”
With much of the material on Settling Dust written by Katherine, her link to Kavanagh is obviously more than just blood. Is there any connection, though, between how she writes her songs and poetry and how she works on her comedy material?
“No, they’re both completely different things. And with comedy I write with a bunch of people. I write with Warren Myler and Marion Cullen, and we’re writing a new show called ‘ The Centre ‘ soon. That’s more of a collective thing, comedy. There’s always lots of people involved. But with the songs on this album, it’s just me. Well, me and my musicians! The words are mine and the melodies are mine, and I bring them to the lads and they tailor them for me. It’s more of an insular thing [the music]. It’s introvert/extrovert. The writing is introvert, but the comedy is extrovert. And it balances me, that’s why I’m not mad!”
In the album notes Katherine talks about her mum Maureen’s dream of her father, Tom, after he had passed away, and how the memory of her mother sharing that dream is the basis of the song Twilight Romance. Would Katherine be a believer in a world beyond this one apart from in the way generated by her mum’s dream and the memory of it?
“Yeah, it’s a deep question, Anthony, but I’m enjoying the deep questions that have arisen from the album because I suppose you can hide behind the characters all your life, you know. But you have to be real as well. And when something as heart-wrenching as your father passing or some other grief comes along, you need to know how to handle that as well. And as much as you need to know how to deal with being funny. But yeah, I do believe that there is an after-life. I don’t believe that God is out there with a beard giving out to us or in the images that we’ve been given, but I do believe there’s something bigger there. And it’s mysticism, I think, is what I believe in. It’s always been with me, that I have a belief in something. It can’t be just this. Please God, Anthony, don’t let it be just this!”
And as another copy of her album was held out for her signature, I asked Katherine a final question: has she given any thought yet to recording another album somewhere down the line? Or was this something to try once, get it out of her system, then leave it be?
“Ya know, Anthony, I’m going to be doing a gig in the Sugar Club and I’m already so excited and it’s not even ’til October 5th! So I believe that I’ll continue to do this, just because I’m just really enjoying it. It’s a far more relaxed journey than the comedy. That’s very difficult sometimes because people either like ya or they don’t like ya. And when they don’t like ya, they really don’t like ya! And when they like ya, they really do like ya, too! So it’s a lot of pressure on both sides. Whereas with this, it’s no pressure, it’s something that’s an affair of the heart. And I like doing it. It keeps in balance the yin and the yang of the inner soul. The start of this journey, that was scary, yeah. But just for stupid vanity reasons. I’d be like, ‘ Oh, better lose a few pounds! ‘ Whereas with my characters, I’m like, ‘ Yeah, whatever! ‘ Bernie can eat burgers, but Katherine the singer can’t. She has to eat organic lentils!”
Life may well be a stage and over the course of our lifetimes most of us will end up playing a few different parts. The funny thing about it, however, is that the parts we first become known for aren’t always the parts we become best remembered for. Katherine Lynch will always be an incredibly funny lady with a gift for making people laugh and smile. But my bet is that there’ll come a day when most people no longer remark, ‘Your woman from Wagon’s Den, singing?!’, and instead are far more likely to exclaim, ‘Katherine Lynch, she used to be a comedian?!’
The booklet accompanying the album contains lovely and revealing insights into the stories behind each song and with seven originals penned or co-written by Katherine, and the covers treated with a beautiful sensitivity, Settling Dust is simply a debut without a weak spot. Except for maybe one, and that only being that it ends. But the end left me wanting more and that’s the way to do it. So please God as far as Katherine’s recording career is concerned, Settling Dust is merely the end of the beginning.
It was an affair of the heart for her, and it will become so for listeners, too.