Cathy Davey: Neil's on a different level to me ... I listen to some of his songs and I'm just in awe
Cathy Davey is content to make music at her own pace. Living in rural Kildare with partner Neil Hannon, of The Divine Comedy, offers a less frantic life. John Meagher meets the musician and her menagerie
Cathy Davey is in the 19th-century Unitarian Church on Dublin's St Stephen's Green, ready to record her debut live album, but the circumstances are far from ideal. She is suffering with a cold, and a succession of hot drinks and lozenges are on hand to help get her through it.
After something of a shaky start, she hits her stride and, sick or not, offers a reminder of what a special talent she is when the mood takes her.
The live album, appropriately named Bare Bones in reference to the stripped-back performance featuring a handful of musicians, will only be released on vinyl, available to buy on Record Store Day next month.
A couple of days earlier, I met Davey at the fine old farmhouse in Co Kildare that she shares with her partner, The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon. His father, Rev Brian Hannon, is a retired Church of Ireland bishop. She'd been to the doctor that morning, hoping antibiotics would help her put an end to the illness she's had since Storm Emma's arrival.
But she's in unfailingly good form, especially when she's showing off the assortment of rescue animals kept in the adjoining fields and outhouses.
Since 2011, Davey and like-minded animal lovers have been running the My Lovely Horse Rescue charity - named in honour of Hannon's ditty, which is famous for its use on Father Ted.
Today, there are more pigs than horses on immediate view, and they're a sociable bunch as they follow Davey around like she's Little Bo Peep.
Four rescue dogs of various breeds join us in one of the front parlours, dozing off as our conversation begins.
It all looks idyllic, but Davey points out there's plenty of hard work to do, no matter what day of the week it is.
"People have this idea of a rural idyll, somewhere you can work on your music without interruption," she says, "but nothing could be further from the case.
"It's a bit like farming - you're with the animals for hours every day, irrespective of the weather.
"They need to be fed and watered and cared for, and then there's cleaning to do and vets to come in.
"This is the first time I've worn a dress in ages. I'm usually in tracksuit bottoms and attire a bit more suitable for being out and about."
One senses that Davey derives contentment from a life less frantic.
"I love being surrounded by all these animals and, of course, I'm thankful for those moments when I can focus on the music," she says.
The musician admits that months can go by without her working on any new material, but she doesn't seem unduly concerned about that.
Davey was signed to EMI in her mid-20s and experienced the usual record-tour-record demands. However she was dropped after her second album, Tales of Silversleeve, failed to sell as well as the record company had expected.
She now seems content to be able to pursue music at her own pace. Hannon, by contrast, is a productive soul, and his next album - which Davey says will be a double album on which she played the drums on certain tracks - will be his 12th.
A second front parlour serves as a makeshift studio and rehearsal room - it's full of instruments, set up to be played at any given moment.
While the pair tend to pursue their own creative endeavours, Davey has huge admiration for Hannon's work.
"He's at a different level to me," she says, kindly. "There are certain songs of his that when I listen to them, I'm just in awe."
But her own oeuvre - numbering four albums from 2004's Something Ilk to 2016's New Forest - is an impressive body of work.
The latter album, in particular, offers a good sense of where Davey is right now - it's essentially a paean to nature and a life rooted in the here and now.
In its own beguiling way, it encourages the listener to stop rushing about and to take stock of the magnificence of the natural world on their doorstep.
Her life now could hardly be more different to the one she had in her native Dublin.
Outside, in the front garden, there's the constant cawing of the rooks that live in the tall trees. It's a sound she loves, although she admits that there are aspects she misses about living in a city, not least being able to buy quality bread.
"I'd love if it if we could be more connected to nature and to animals," Davey says.
"There's something restorative for the soul to be in the company of these guys" - her hand sweeps the room to take in the sleeping dogs - "and it makes me sad when you take them for a walk and if they go up to say hello to children, you have these protective parents who keep them away and sort of glare at you for having the dogs."
Davey was born into a family steeped in the arts. Her father, Shaun Davey, is an acclaimed composer, admired for such albums as The Brendan Voyage, which featured uilleann pipe maestro Liam Og O Flynn, who died earlier this month. "Liam was a big part of our lives when I was growing up," she says.
Her mother, Agnes Conway, is a distinguished sculptor, and both Davey and Hannon composed a piece of music to accompany one of her recent exhibitions.
"A bohemian upbringing isn't always as rosy as you might believe," she says, "but what it does is to normalise the idea of being creative."
There are shelves of records in the room we are in - "they're mostly Neil's" - and Davey likes the single-mindedness of only releasing Bare Bones on vinyl.
"It's an antidote to streaming, isn't it?" she suggests "One of the things I most like about it is the fact that you go to the trouble of putting a record on and you tend to listen to it from start to finish. The songs that mightn't have appealed on first listen could be your favourites six or seven listens in.
"You don't get that with streaming - not when it comes to albums, anyway. And it's a pity that that's been lost."
Bare Bones will be a stop-gap until the next album - whenever that might be.
Davey is no longer on the treadmill common to so many musicians, and while there are a number of projects she's thinking about, one gets the sense that any new material will not be rushed.
Besides, there's the more pressing work of ensuring that the rescue animals have enough 'haylage' - a hay and silage hybrid - to tide them over until spring gets going properly and there's enough grass for them to munch.
It's a life uncommon to many musicians, but for Davey, who turns 40 later this year, she wouldn't have it any other way.
Bare Bones will be released on Record Store Day on April 21