I wasn’t quite blown away by the wind and rain of Storm Bronagh on the way to Manchester. But I was blown away by the performance of one Catherine McGrath when I arrived. The Irish singer-songwriter stopped off at Gorilla as part of her first headline tour. And she was every bit as good as I was expecting her to be.
The severe weather caused a minor delay on the way, so when I arrived, the first support act was already on stage. I had to do a double take as I walked in. It sounded like Catherine. The person on stage even looked a little bit like her. But it was, in fact, her little sister Mary. With just an acoustic guitar for company, the younger McGrath gave us some beautiful cover versions, most notably of Ed Sheeran hit Castle on the Hill. It seems like the McGrath family have been blessed with musical talent. Mary McGrath is certainly one to watch out for.
The second support act was also a female artist whom I expect will go on to bigger things. Starling was in the unfortunate position that her band had been struck down with illness. But thanks to the wonders of technology, she took to the stage solo, performing her original material with a little help from the internet. Cut from the same mould as Florence + The Machine, I would describe her music as expressionist in style. It is incredibly vivid, strongly influenced, one suspects, by the visual arts. It is both captivating and immersive. I would be surprised if she isn’t headlining her own tour in the next couple of years.
So, already treated to two fine upcoming singer-songwriters, I was suitably excited for the arrival of Catherine McGrath on stage. The intimate venue had been slowly filling up with people and was now close to full capacity. It was my first visit to Gorilla, and I found the place to be friendly and easily accessible. With a decently-priced diet coke in hand (a normal coke being 70p extra due to the sugar tax, the bar staff informed me), I placed myself towards the back of the room, with ample space around me and a decent view of the stage. When Catherine came out, the crowd let out an enthusiastic scream. She wasted no time getting stuck into her set, opening with ‘Good Goodbyes’ before sliding seamlessly into ‘The Edges’ and hit single ‘Lost in the Middle’. Despite a couple of feedback issues during the opening songs, McGrath kept her composure and continued to play through them. Her trust in the sound guys to fix it was typical of her warm and laid-back personality.
The hour-long set whizzed by, with McGrath introducing some of the songs with personal stories and poignant antidotes. She was true to her words in the song ‘Good at Love’ when she was both “brave” and “fragile” in sharing some of her journey over the past couple of years. In particular, her introduction to ‘Bulletproof’ was an inspiring and refreshing tale towards accepting herself as a person, without the need for another to define her. Singleness is ok. In fact, it’s a brilliant thing. For all the romantic love that features in her songs, she does not hold it up as an idol. Now that’s role model material.
Along the way, she also did a beautiful duet with her sister Mary, the two combining their harmonic vocals to perform a Shania Twain song. There was a little bit of Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ before aptly entering into the amazing ‘Wild’. And, of course, the crowd gave a stirring rendition of ‘Talk of This Town’, the title track off her debut album, to cap a fabulous night. For this, her first headline tour, Catherine McGrath appeared to be a seasoned professional. The queue of people afterwards wanting to meet her took over an hour to go down. Despite this, she remained fresh as a daisy, greeting those of us at the back of the queue with the same level of enthusiasm that we’d witnessed on stage. She commented on my Shires t-shirt with genuine delight. I was overwhelmed by her personable response. It was the perfect end to a fantastic night. Not even the severe weather could dampen this one.
Originally written for country music blog Building Our Own Nashville.