KATIE Melua has revealed how her time growing up in Belfast has helped inspire her song writing and her new album.
The 36-year-old singer was born in the Georgian city of Kutaisi but emigrated with her family to Northern Ireland when she was nine years old in the aftermath of the Georgian Civil War.
Her father worked as a heart surgeon at Royal Victoria Hospital. The family lived in Belfast near the Falls Road until Katie was 14 - and she thinks our creativity rubbed off on her.
She told Sunday Life: "When I was a kid in Belfast one of the most transformative books I read was Under The Hawthorne Tree. It was one of those books that made me feel so at one with the Irish. It's extraordinary the literary works that have come out of the country.
"The talent that has come out of Northern Ireland is extraordinary. What can I add to it? I think it must be something to do with the Troubles that made people want to write and I think that's something that's happening now.
"I think people need a wake-up call and go 'Life can be so short and you have to be grateful for every single day' and it must give artists a kind of fuel to create. There is a sense of agency and urgency."
Katie was set to return here later this year as part of her autumn tour which sadly has been cancelled but she is desperate to get back to perform in her hometown.
"I went to St Katherine's primary school on the Falls Road then I went to Fortwilliam Dominican College. I would get the train to that before I would walk to Broadway where I lived. It was amazing.
"It has changed so much. It's a very cool place. I was really sad that my primary school has been torn down but the changes are incredible.
"I was due to play in Belfast for the first time in years for the tour that had to be cancelled because of Covid. I have a really soft spot for Belfast and Northern Ireland and the grit of the people there. It's incredible. It's a really special place in my heart," she revealed.
Katie has poured that grit into her eighth release, aptly titled Album No 8. It is her most personal yet as the album explores the themes of love including platonic love and family love as well as how to cope when a love that you thought was for ever doesn't last - something Katie knows about after her recent split from her husband of six years, James Toseland.
The singer and 40-year-old World Superbike racer and musician tied the knot in 2012 at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew before announcing their break-up in 2018.
"I have sung about love before, crazy love. There are so many different phases to love, even when romantic love ends. Even the nuances of that end are worth writing about.
"There is a story in everything. On this record it deals with all the elements of love, both falling in love and the frustrations of trying to make relationships last. I've tried to explore as much as can in my songs. Love changes. It's magical.
"There's also a big expectation about what love should be like. There's a term in a David Hockney book called Love Propaganda. He used it in terms of homophobia but I thought in my case, it's when love doesn't go the way you expect it to.
"There's this big pressure and that's a negative then. But it doesn't have to be. It's trying to honestly portray that with dignity. It's easy to feel victimised. Music is about exploring yourself and your life."
Many of the lyrics on the songs read more like poems than album tracks - something Katie intended to do, even doing a course on writing poetry to help with her lyrics.
"I am a huge fan of poetry. It's been about four years of majorly researching and looking into any art form that uses words as a creative form. I went through a book by Fiona Sampson on how to be a poet. I really liked a lot of what she said and I do all the exercises and I went to Faber Academy. I did a three-month short fiction course" she said.
"What is incredible about these countries is the literary output with Shakespeare, Charles Dickens through to JK Rowling, TS Eliott and I just think it's such a treasure.
"I am just this girl from Georgia who moved when I was eight and my love of reading has always been high.
"That fuel for reading has translated into record-making and what we can learn from the literature and what can we bring into record-making. This record is a view of this country and what I've seen and witnessed here
"It's been a case of really finding my voice and trying to find a way of doing things that really stands up to the magic of record-making and I just really believe in the art form. It's the most extraordinary field to be in and I want to be as honest as I can be in it. I want to explore my life through it. I am very lucky to be still doing it.
"This is the first time I've worked on the lyrics completely on my own. It's part of getting rid of that self-inhibition and part of not thinking of me as an individual but me as serving the world and I think of my life as part of the ingredients that goes into the world. Records deserve you at your most honest and your most raw. I'm trying to find a path through that."
÷ Katie Melua's album, No.8 is out now.