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Award-winning singer-songwriter Kathryn Joseph: ‘Dundee still feels like my spiritual home’

The acclaimed singer has left the City of Discovery behind her - but she makes sure to return every birthday.

Musician Kathryn Joseph.
Musician Kathryn Joseph. Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Moving to Dundee seemed like the right thing for Kathryn Joseph to do at the time.

That’s how the singer-songwriter looks back now on the lockdown flit that was the catalyst for her compassionate yet disturbing 2022 third album For You Who Are Wronged.

Being able to count the acclaimed alt-folkster among its citizens was something of a feather in the cap for Dundee and its burgeoning artistic community, but it wasn’t to last.

The Aberdeen-raised performer made the short trip from Broughty Ferry to play at the city’s Assai Records in April 2022 at a time when proper in-person concerts were only just becoming a thing again post-pandemic.

Kathryn Joseph remembers the time fondly as she prepares for her latest tour.

Hanging out with Deacon Blue in Dundee

However, Joseph was soon to find the practicalities of trying to meet her commitments to both family and craft by clocking up thousands of miles on the road too tricky.

“I’m actually back in Glasgow again now, but I still like to pretend I live in Dundee so that I’m allowed back in,” she tells me with a chortle.

“I did a beautiful fundraiser with Deacon Blue last year. I think I got invited to it because they thought I still lived there and I was like, I’m just going to keep it quiet that I’ve moved out.

Kathryn Joseph with musicians Sion Parkinson, Su Shaw and Andrew Wasylyk in Dundee.

“Dundee still feels like my spiritual home and I go back every year for my birthday. When I got to Broughty Ferry, I was like, this is nice, but my child and dog are in Glasgow so it just ended up being much easier to move back there.

“My partner lives in Aberdeen so the plan was I’ll just live in between them and I thought that would work, but it doesn’t. Because of lockdown I’d felt like if I ever got to go and live anywhere again, I’d go and live beside some water.

“Dundee’s got this amazing atmosphere and I think it gets a bad press. It seems to be ahead of everyone else now, but I love the energy of Glasgow and the feeling everything is allowed – and my kid’s really happy living there too.”

Singing career took off at 40

Life changed overnight for Joseph when she won the Scottish Album of the Year Award in 2015 for her harrowingly truthful debut album Bones You Have Thrown Me And Blood I’ve Spilled.

As someone who’d only ever felt bad vibes when faced with the machinations of most record labels and promoters, she admits that until that pivotal moment she had no real expectation of a viable music career. “I didn’t really go looking for it,” the pianist explains.

Kathryn Joseph playing in Dundee in 2021. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

The star was playing occasional gigs: “But I really hadn’t even thought about it as a possibility. I was waitressing and I had a wee baby and so it just didn’t feel like an option to me.

“I’d just turned 40 as well so it was a really strange time suddenly getting to do music as a job – all of my paranoias before that had kind of stopped me – and I don’t think I’d be doing this if the award hadn’t happened.

“That allowed me to suddenly be able to pay my rent and live and work in Glasgow.”

‘How can acts survive on £50 support slots?’

“But even then I’d be looking around me, thinking I don’t understand how anyone is able to do this at any other level.

“Whereas I came into it being very lucky that I was getting good fees and headlining gigs – the fact that support slots just offered 50 quid, that absolutely horrified me.

“How does anyone work up to being able to do it? I definitely had a weird kind of imposter syndrome, the whole sort of earning it, and it’s definitely starting to feel harder to maintain this as a job now.

“This last year I’ve found it’s been difficult because you’re not so likely to get gigs happening and I write very slowly, but I still feel very lucky to be able to do it.”

From folk-inspired introspection to ‘electro bangers’

With the writer’s block that followed the release of her 2018 second album From When I Wake The Want Is resurfacing in recent times, a welcome diversion for Kathryn and her fans is an EP showcasing four remixes of songs from For You Who Are Wronged, plus one previously unreleased track.

Known for her stark and introspective offerings, putting out a batch of electro bangers forged by her long-time collaborator, Highland-based musician and producer Lomond Campbell, represents a startling shift in gear.

Joseph, 49, says the idea first arose shortly after completing work on the last album. “I maybe went into the record not even knowing how it would be and wanting Lomond to do whatever he wanted, and he was so restrained on that,” she says.

“I love how he produced it and I knew he had all these other ideas. It’s just so nice to have these songs that I feel are really quite sad and angry and small, for them to be turned into something that feels quite hopeful and stronger.

“Lomond basically used each song as it was. I expected them to be cut up in some way and have to be put together, and he just worked round it.

“We’ve done a couple of gigs with the remix ones as well and it’s very strange for me. It’s a completely different feeling to sing without playing but I’ve really enjoyed being able to perform them in that way.

“Somewhere in the back of my mind when I’m writing I must be banging my foot on the floor like a bass drum, and I feel very lucky that they can exist in both ways.”

Kathryn Joseph tour kicks off in Stirling before heading to Perth

Kathryn starts a one-woman Scottish tour in Stirling on Tuesday, which will see her play back catalogue highlights. “It’ll just be back to the bones of all the songs,” she promises.

“I’ve recently spewed out on Spotify some B-sides that I’d forgotten but which I quite like and thought I’d relearn, so at the moment it’s very much like enjoying what I’ve already written and hoping that no one minds.

.Kathryn Joseph playing in Glasgow.

“What worries me is how slow I feel – I don’t write often and a lot. When I’m not writing I honestly can’t believe I’ve ever written anything – it’s such an odd black and white.

“I find it strange but I don’t really understand how to write a song, even though I’ve done it. So I’m hoping that nothing bad has to happen for me to start again.”

‘I’m not very famous’

The empathetic quality that shines through her work means Joseph is seen as a beacon for people who’ve suffered abuse in all forms.

She describes hearing from fans who’ve been helped by listening to her music as “the ultimate compliment”, but insists her low-key approach means she’s still able to live relatively anonymously. “I’m not very famous,” she insists.

“I definitely get to go about my life normally, but occasionally people do come up to me and it’s always really nice if it’s in front of my kid because she’s always mortified – she thinks it’s very funny.

She was really worried that people would write or say unkind things about her before she started doing this.

“But I’ve really escaped any of the downside of this job. I think the more famous you are the more unkind people get, so I’m happy to not ever be that famous.

“I definitely get recognised more in Glasgow than in Dundee or Aberdeen, although someone did actually stop me on the Balmedie beach (near Aberdeen) one time. That was funny because I was wearing my own T-shirt.

“It was a bit embarrassing. I shouldn’t expect anyone to notice me getting away with that.”

Kathryn Joseph plays Perth Theatre on April 3.