Katherine Jenkins at Mayflower Theatre INTERVIEW: ‘The idea of the album was to be quite spiritual and emotional’
She’s sung for popes, presidents and royals on numerous occasions. Her list of achievements alone would run for pages, and last year she was named as the best-selling classical artist of the last 25 years.
But the Welsh mezzo-soprano is hardly resting on her laurels. Last November she released her 12th album, Guiding Light, which was made during the pregnancy of, and after the birth of her second child, Xander, now one.
And now she’s on tour with the London Concert Orchestra to promote it.
The day we speak she’s been up since 4am to appear on breakfast TV talking about a project she was doing for Comic Relief.
Among the album’s 15 tracks are old standards, as well as a cover of Stormzy’s Blinded By Your Grace and Never Enough from The Greatest Showman, alongside original material including Xander’s Song, written for her newborn son.
The latter was a key moment for her.
‘I’ve done a lot of arranging on the albums from day one, taking well known classical pieces and doing the arrangements. I have done some songwriting along the way as well, maybe one or two songs on each album, but this song wasn’t even meant to be on the album.
‘We’d nearly finished, Xander was very small when I went into the studio to record this – he was only about two-three months old,’ he can be heard burbling in the background as we chat on the phone, ‘and he was in my arms, he’d fallen asleep and I wrote this lullaby/prayer for his life.
‘I played it to my producer the next day and he said: “We have to get this on the album!” But I said: “We’ve finished it”. He was going: “No, we’ll squeeze it in somehow”, and I’m really happy we did, although I imagine he’s going to be mortified about it one day... He’ll hate me for it: “Mum, it’s so embarrassing!” she laughs.
Could this see her doing more songwriting in future?
‘I think what’s interesting about it for me, was how easy it comes when it’s personal, and so that’s sort of shown me that when I’m inspired to write, then it just flows naturally. Maybe it’s just a case of realising that opportunity and trying to write in that moment.’
There’s also a song called Jealous of The Angels, which is sung as a tender tribute to her father, Selwyn, who died of cancer when Katherine was just 15.
‘There have definitely been certain songs I’ve sung over the years that have made me think of him, or struck a chord with me because of the situation I was in with him, but one song in particular was Jealous of The Angels.
‘I was so, so moved because it was like it had been written for my father.
‘He actually passed away quite quickly so I didn’t get to say goodbye to him, and that’s basically the opening lines of the song, that I didn’t realise today was going to be the last time…
‘And I also think if you’ve lost someone dear to you, and this is why I thought it connected with me and why it would connect with others, you always hope that there’s a reason why they’ve gone – to think God must have made another angel, that’s something that’s quite comforting.
‘The feedback from that song alone has been incredible – on my Facebook page, the comments from people sharing their stories, I’ve sat there and cried at them – their stories of loss and being really brave and putting it out there.’
When I mention that a couple of songs remind me of things we used to sing at school, she laughs and agrees.
‘Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, Morning Has Broken, they were things that I often think of as songs that I sang in school assemblies, but I wanted to do different interpretations of them. Make Me A Channel came out of something quite meditative – very calm, very relaxed, very peaceful, and then Morning Has Broken is a duet with my fellow Welshman, Bryn Terfel.’
And they provide a nice contrast to the more modern Blinded By Your Grace.
‘But then to do the Stormzy track – you’ve got the traditional things like those tracks, so it’s really interesting to add a wildcard, something that people don’t expect. Because the idea of the album was quite spiritual and emotional, when I read the lyrics rather than just listening to them, I realised that Stormzy’s very spiritual, and that the words really loaned themselves to the idea of the album.
‘What’s great when you’re working on an album like this is that you can go and experiment, so I thought, ok, let’s try this grime track and if it doesn’t work out, then nobody ever has to hear it!
‘But it turned out to be very special song for me – the process of putting it together, creating the right sort of atmosphere for the album, then I had the idea of having children saying “blinded by your grace” in different languages throughout the song.’
She recorded her three-year-old daughter saying the line, and she’s the final voice on the song.
‘I always feel like a proud mummy at that point and get a bit teary when that comes on.
‘When I demoed the track I was still pregnant with Xander, and I had her say it in to my iPhone. She couldn’t say the sentence it all at once – we did it a word at a time and then they put it together, but by the time we got to recording it – it was the last track we recorded for the album – she could say the whole sentence. So for me it showed her progress and her growing up.’
Is she aware whether Stormzy has heard her version?
‘I don’t know if he has - I feel like I would know if he had heard it and didn’t like it!’
So any chance of a duet?
‘Well, never say never.’
It wouldn’t be a disgraceful addition to the list of people Katherine’s worked with – alongside the obvious classical heavy-hitters, she’s sung with everyone from Dame Vera Lynn to The Blue Man Group. Is there anyone she would still like to work with?
‘I think it’s always interesting when it’s someone not expected and it’s hard to pick out who those people will be. For example, one of the most fun things I’ve done in the last few years was when Kylie asked me to be her special guest at the Albert Hall for her show, and that’s not something I would have thought of us doing, but it was so much fun and it really worked.
‘We had met at the Queen’s 90th birthday and it came up as a bit of a joke, you know: “Maybe you’d like to sing with me at the Albert Hall?” And I said “Yeah!”
‘It’s maybe not about seeking out people, but more being open to the people that you meet.’
An Evening with Katherine Jenkins is at Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on Monday, May 13, 7.30pm. Tickets from £33-90. Go to mayflower.org.uk.???????