Katie Doherty and the Navigators

Sage, Gateshead

13 May 2022

She starts with a new song, and it's a typical Katie-style song: voice, piano, violin, melodeon, nice tune, interesting words ... and then half way through the song the taped drums start, and the choir stands up behind the stage, and the amps are turned up to, if not eleven then at least ten and a half, and "folk singer" Katie sounds like a rock singer, and ...

I will admit to being slightly bamboozled.

But it's awesome.

Katie Doherty has been warning us for the last couple of years that her new album will be "different". If tonight's live arrangements are representative of the album sound, it certainly will be. The new songs all feature electronic percussion or bass lines, and synth sounds creep in where there would normally be only piano, and the violin does unexpected things with the melodies. You can sort of see why folk radio would refuse to play her new single, but I think she should take that as a compliment—her music is too good to be squeezed into a single arbitrary genre.

But though the song arrangements are surprising, there's one thing that never changes about Katie's songs: at their heart, they're just beautiful songs. She can layer all the synths and percussion on them, but she's still writing the most beautiful melodies and heartfelt words. Nobody else writes songs as beautiful as this.

I may have mentioned before that Sage 2 is my favourite hall in the entire world, and tonight Katie takes full advantage of it, with a proper light show, perfect levels of amplification, room for a 16-person choir, and a grand piano on stage. And despite all the rock-star excess, she comes across as close and friendly as she does in a tiny club venue.

So I have to also mention the "Navigators": Grace Smith (who I saw in this hall in May 2015—where do the years go?) on fiddle and backing vocals, playing her first gig with the band, and Dave Grey as always on melodeon and backing vocals. Dave is worryingly quiet during the first half, but somebody had a word during the interval and he's back to his old job of heckling Katie during the second half, so all is well with the world again.

And ... I don't know what else I can tell you. I need to live with the new songs a while before I can make sensible comments about them, so all I can say is that this was maybe not the concert I was expecting, but was definitely the best concert I have ever seen.