When a teenage Catherine McGrath was contacted by someone claiming to be from Warner Brothers records who liked one of her YouTube videos, she was understandably sceptical.
The Northern Irish country singer-songwriter had been posting covers of her favourite songs on the site, really only for her own entertainment.
‘That wasn’t me trying to get discovered, it was just me wanting to see if people outside of my family thought I could sing,’ she says with a laugh.
‘I honestly didn’t think he was who he said he was, I thought it someone playing a prank, so I ignored him for months. My mum got worried that he was a stalker or something, so she called Warner Brothers and said: “There’s this guy who claims he works for you”, and they were like: “Oh yeah, that’s Conrad”, so that was how it started.’
She was persuaded to move from Rostrevor, where she grew up, to London to follow her musical dream. And at the start of the summer her debut album Talk Of This Town was released, hitting 13 in the album charts.
Speaking to Catherine, you get the impression that everything coming her way is still a bit of a blur.
‘The album was two-and-a-half years in the making without me really realising it,’ she explains. ‘It was really interesting to finally put it out there and hear what people thought.’
After a busy summer of playing festivals, she’s about to head out on her first ever headline tour – which kicks off here, at The Wedgewood Rooms.
‘Whenever I see numbers and hear about chart positions, none of it feels real. it’s when you see people face-to-face, and they’re singing your songs, or you hear them talk about it, that’s when you realise they must have been listening to it on repeat with their friends, or in their car, or wherever.
‘Just seeing numbers, it’s surreal, but it’s been very exciting, and my whole family are into music so they’ve been excited for me too.’
Her family have been instrumental in the running of the folk and roots Fiddler’s Green Festival in her hometown since before she was born. ‘They’ve always been on the festival committee and they play music seven nights a week in the pub – that’s what I grew up in and how I got my love of music.’
So was it somehow preordained she’d end up involved in music?
‘I think it was inevitable that I was always going to do something, whether it was writing songs in my bedroom for nobody or singing on a stage, but I never really expected the whole record deal and moving to London side of it. I didn’t think that happened in real life.’
Growing up though, her love of country music set her apart from most of her peers.
‘I heard Taylor Swift when she put out Love Story over here, and I just fell in love with her music. Then I saw her interviews she’d talk about these people like Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts, and they were all these country people in Nashville, so I looked them all up on YouTube.
‘That’s when I realised there was whole world of music I didn’t know about, and that world was country. So at 12 years old I fell in love with that. I was listening to all of the stuff on the radio here like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry, but at the same time I was researching all of that as well.’
So working on Talk of This Town in Nashville really was a dream come true for Catherine.
‘It’s been amazing – so many of my favourite songs came out of Nashville, so I’d always wanted to go there. The first time I went was just for a holiday, and it was suggested I try to write some songs while I was out there, and the first thing I was offered was a session with Liz Rose who wrote the first few Taylor Swift albums, she also wrote for Little Big Town, and I knew exactly who she was, so that was crazy. I’ve been there seven times since and got to work with so many of my favourite songwriters.’
Catherine describes country songs as being ‘all about honesty and storytelling set to music,’ and that’s why she thinks it struck a chord with her.
‘I loved that people were singing about their experiences and it put you in the place where they were, and even though I was 12 I’d never had my heart broken I felt like I knew what she [Taylor Swift] was talking about.
‘And that’s what I love most about my own music, is hearing people tell me how my songs got them through a situation, because that’s what that music meant to me when I was growing up, so if I can help them…’
Days after speaking to The Guide, Catherine was heading to Australia for a few dates, which is where she is now, before jetting back to start the UK tour.
After that she’s already looking to the future.
‘I want to keep writing as much as I can between the end of the tour and Christmas. I never want to get to a point where I run out of songs. For me it’s all about the songs, so if people still want to hear them, I can give them more.’
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Friday, September 14