Interview: Cathy Davey

"My blue skin appreciates the thick clothing of winter."

A quick catch-up with Cathy Davey ahead of Cork Jazz '16...

The jazz is upon us but the format of the long-running Cork festival has become more inclusive and embracing of other genres in recent times, opening the city even further as regards touring artists and the various venues involved. Live at St. Luke's will feature a full line-up of Irish bands, spearheaded by none other than Cathy Davey. Fortunately, Cathy was about for an online chinwag ahead of Friday night's show.

The G-Man: Where in the world are you right now and how are you feeling?
Cathy Davey: I'm in Kilkenny right now about to play the first gig of the tour. Feeling good, I have a beautiful big band and the new songs are sounding big so I'm looking forward to showing them off. *Update, I started my reply last night, but now I'm post-gig in bed, telly on, cup of tea and REALLY enjoying this morning all to myself!

Are you an autumnal person?
Definitely an autumn gal. I'm not great in the heat and when that crispness comes in with the colder light I get excited about wrapping up and cosying down. My blue skin appreciates the thick clothing of winter. Also. Mulled cider. Mmmmm.

Congratulations on the new album. If listeners had to take one message away from the new record, what would you like that to be?
Be kind to animals, be happy in your own madness.

Armadillo sounds like a 50’s schooldance number. Such a sense of fun comes across on the record. How fun was it both to record and to experiment with different styles and sounds?
It was a natural playfulness that happened due to coming out the other side of a dark spell. The unconscious aim was to return to making music that's innate and instinctive without overthinking. "Killing the White" as it were, you know, it's meant to be an escape so I lived that literally and metaphorically.

That same track comes loaded with a spike: “you’re an asshole, don’t come near me or I’ll kill you”. How cathartic - or thrilling - is it to mix anger and grime into an aesthetically pretty song? Any rules/thoughts as regards swearing in songs?
Ah, I get more from music when things are juxtaposed. It adds layers of countering emotions and longevity for my own listening pleasure. But to be clear, I don't sing "you're an asshole" I sing "when I tell you you're an asshole" which of course demonstrates that the narrator is in fact the unreasonable a-hole. It's all good.

I’m in love with the image whipped up in “You’re a tall tree that I used to hug down the garden to be safe”. 
I'm quite proud that I captured a fair few important memories in this. My life as an odd human child uncomfortable in the modern world makes sense to me now that I'm so absorbed in life with animals, so I don't feel like I did with the other albums, as if I'm faking it to make it. It's the first time there's cohesion between life and how I represent myself. And when I was a kid there was a really good tree I used to hug when I felt at odds with the world!

Would you describe yourself as a visual person?
I did the artwork on the last album, The Nameless. It was a huge fold out poster of all the artwork from my notebooks I kept when I was writing it. So I'd say so. I was io my way to art school when I discovered the joys of multi tracking and I miss hands-on crafts like printing and working with clay. But there's always retirement when I can crack out the paints. Just need to get me some more time.

You’ve managed to make a socially/environmentally aware album with lows and highs, which can twinge the heart and also break into big pop moments (such as on The Pattern). Do you agree there is room for chart pop music to actually say something as well as get folks on the dancefloor?
Music can be whatever you want it to be. If you do away with most rules you're left with expression and fun, and in turn, hopefully, it will resonate with enough people to make some kind of difference. I'm not trying to convey a message, all I do is write what I know and try to figure things out with a process that satisfies my old confused bones. When you're honest though I really believe it's a win win. And that's an uplifting feeling that frees you to open up your sound and relish pop sensibilities in moderation.

The video for The Pattern is beautifully bleak, the dark greens, browns and greys setting an instant tone. How much of a creative role did you play in the storyboard/production?
I had a clear idea of the journey the character takes, it's a continuation of the video for New Forest. The character is the keeper of the forest, she's giver and taker of life and I've being trying to make friends with her for the past few years. In this video she's searching for little souls to bring home and bring back to life. I love her, she's madness and sanity incarnate. The director, Elijah Egan spent a lot of time getting these videos right and finding locations and I love him too!

How did you find the filming process?
Great, everything to do with the album is easy because I mostly work with people I know, and those I don't know I try to make some connection quickly. Being vulnerable in front of strangers is sometimes paralysing, so I make sure to befriend all them beings around me before showing my stuff.

Does film interest you as a medium? What role would you most be interested in working at in film if an opportunity presented itself?
Not as an actor as my memory is DIABOLICAL! Cinematography seems a natural choice as I'm a serious 'framer' of all things. Every inch of my yard and garden is positioned to deliver the ultimate aesthetic experience as naturally and realistically possible. A lot of repositioning and standing-back-and-observing goes on. In silence. Very seriously. I'm sad.... And yet it's still messy!

Describe the last crazy dream you had?
I've actually been going through a really bad stint of nightmares the last few weeks. So I'm sorry for this, but the last one was about being in a slaughter yard and my pigs were there, I don't want to relive the details, I wish my brain didn't do this to me, it's a bit of a problem what goes on in my sleep, so I try my best to enjoy the days make all my gang as peaceful and comfortable as possible.

Your living space is burning...what do you take with you?
Dogs and a sandwich.

What would make your life easier?
A personal assistant. I had an incredibly bad memory before I got concussed last year and now it's even worse. I turn up to gigs without guitars. Forget everyone's names and faces and have zero sense of time and dates. A disaster. I don't know how I exist really!

How are your two little pigs? What are they like as house mates?
There are 5 pigs now! They don't live in the house, although if I had my way they would. The two healthy, well handled pigs roam free around the farm, the others have tailor made houses and areas of their own with customised bedding for sore joints etc. I can not describe to you the love I have for them. But I will say this, I would love for everyone to spend time with these funny and kind animals us Irish treat so abominably.

What are the biggest challenges facing My Lovely Horse Rescue currently?
The problems with welfare are peppered with red tape, misinformation, archaic notions and the chain of abuse from parents to children to animals. Also, where there's profit to be made from others suffering there will always be abuse. This is including human abuse too of course. Empathy seems to be at the root of all change and I'm bewildered how it's not on the primary school curriculum as a weekly class where children learn how to recognise empathy and nurture it. We'd have a much better world in 30 years if we replaced some of the outdated classes for something more forward thinking and conscientious.

I’m sure you’ve faced some terrible sights/situations working with the centre. Staying positive, what have been the most rewarding/encouraging aspects of your work and experience with the centre?
Oh there are loads. One of the greatest aspects is how much there is to learn and keep your mind active and interested. All of the veterinary elements are fascinating, meeting and working with experts in different fields of healthcare, from physiotherapists to bio energy practitioners and from equine dentists to eye surgeons. The learning never stops, this is something to look forward to, filling the brain in like a colouring book.

There are so many struggles faced by all currently that it’s difficult to know where to start. How can folks best help MLHR?
Well, the best thing anyone could do is not be part of the demand for supplying of extensive and indiscriminate breeding of animals. Ireland is a disgrace with its "I want a dog/I buy a dog/I don't like this dog anymore" attitude. It revolts me, the amount of people who buy an animal instead of rescuing one and then a year later they dispense of it in a local pound, only a sociopath can walk into a pound and not feel the panic and horror. We're talking thousands a year so just a tiny fraction can be saved.

Are you looking forward to playing the Cork Jazz Festival? 
Of course, I've heard great things about the venue and the set is an interesting one for me now that I can choose from four albums. I'm hoping to be able to get to see a few things while there too.

What role does/has jazz played in your life so far?
Ella Fitzgerald and several of her albums have helped shape my melodic sensibilities. The disjunctive yet drunkly-smooth flow she delivers is enough to close my mind off from everything else and quiet down a fragmented mind. This is what she does for me. She's like a warm head-embrace. A bosomy ear-hug.

Will you get a chance to stick around for the weekend? 
Afraid not, I'm off to Belfast the next day, but if there was anything secret and spectacular on late after my gig I'm open to suggestions.

It also being Halloween soon, what have been your best/worst fancy dress costumes over the years?
I like doing anti-"sexy cat/fairy/French maid" and bringing the unsexy back to Halloween. Uni-browed polygamy wife complete with dowdy dress and greasy hair.

For more on Cathy Davey visit:
- Cathy Davey plays St. Luke's Church on Friday 28th October as part of Cork's Jazz Festival
- Tickets available from
- Cathy also plays De Barra's (Clonakilty) Thursday 27th October

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