Catherine went to the United States on Saturday 15th March for a few months to do some promotion and also songwriting.
Catherine is off to Nashville on Monday. She has a meeting with head of RCA/BMG Joe Galante on Tuesday and will perform on the Grand Ole Opry on Friday 26th July!! As you can imagine this is a dream come true for Catherine. Look out for photos when we get back first week in August on her website.
Kurt Bailey said it is a real buzz to be asked by Catherine to play the Drums in her band at The Gympie Muster.
Looks like Britney. Sounds like country. Backed by Kasey. Catherine Britt takes her first steps towards stardom.
Snuffling a bit, hoarse a lot and squinting into the afternoon sun, Catherine Britt has been patient. More than patient for a 17-year-old, particularly one who had been flaked out on the sofa, coughing up a lung and "playing wan and pale", according to her mother, before we arrived.
It's Britt's first major photo shoot for her record company (ABC and Universal Music) and there's a make-up chap dabbing here, a photographer pointing there and a record company rep wanting more, more, more. Britt better get used to it. When serious judges are saying you're the next Kasey Chambers; when you're a songwriter about to sign your first international publishing deal; when your first album - the one you recorded when you were 16 and put out last year pretty much from your parents' living room - is about to be re-released by a multinational record company, there are going to be many more days like this.
Earlier, the tall and mercifully not wafer-thin Britt had confessed that all this business was "a little bit weird, a little scary. People fussing over you is scary". But apart from revealing a severe dislike of being touched on the neck - something of a hindrance to being made-up, one would think - she hasn't complained. Until now, that is, when she is asked to lie down in a patch of wildly overgrown grass and flowers.
"There's prickly stuff here," she protests. Tamara, from the record company, joshes her, "It's alright, you're a country girl." But even as she obediently lies down, Britt demurs: "Not that country."
Actually, if you've heard her sing it's hard to imagine Catherine Britt being any more country. Sure she was born and bred in Newcastle, raised by two professionals and more likely to go barefoot than in Blunnies. But her voice has something of Loretta Lynn and some of the same hillbilly crack as Kasey Chambers, mixed with the fullness of a young Tammy Wynette. Then there are her self-composed songs that owe more to Hank Williams, the God-fearing, heavenly sounding Louvin Brothers and the folk tunes of the Kentucky hills than any Faith Hill-style Nashville formula or cattle dog-on-a-ute Australiana.
But no 17-year-old has any right to be this enamoured of songs written, recorded and released before her parents were born. Let alone be so good at singing them. You could blame the parents; she does, beginning with her father's record collection.
"Maybe I was meant to love this country music," Britt says. "My [three older] brothers were brought up on it, too, but they never grabbed it. I used to love to sing in my pram and that's what I sang, besides Disney songs. My mum used to play only country music in the car. She'd play Dolly Parton and I was obsessed with Dolly Parton: I would dress up and I had all these videos of me singing the songs, soppy songs, dressed up."
Her 49-year-old father, Steve Britt, would like to point out that it's not just country music in his CD collection. A school counsellor, he also has a sideline in amateur radio, like his father before him, and the walls of the modest house in the Newcastle suburb of Kahibah are dotted with autographed posters and photos of heroes such as Ray Davies. However, he does confess that in 1972, while his contemporaries were ingesting Led Zeppelin, prog rock and glam, he was going through a Hank Williams phase.
"That's what you were into when I met you," his wife Anne, 48, says. "It used to drive me batty. It's all he played."
The Britts have been managing their daughter's career for the past few years, acting as her chauffers, minders and roadies at every gig, as well. Given neither of them claim any musical ability, at this point you may be thinking you're looking at the musical equivalent of the tennis prodigy family - mum and dad living their dreams through a soon-to-be-damaged child they mould, direct and drive. But the rueful acknowledgement from both that they haven't controlled anything Catherine has done musically since she was 11 (including leaving school last year at the beginning of Year 11 to concentrate on recording and touring), suggests otherwise.
"We did notice her voice was good and that's when we started taking her to country music clubs to sing because that's where she wanted to sing," Anne says. "She had had music lessons before that and shown a talent for music. She tried playing the flute for a while, she played the piano for a while, but singing was the only thing she wanted to do."
Steve: "She didn't like being directed."
And that's an understatement, as their daughter confirms. "I got singing lessons for a while and hated it," she all but spits out. "I hate people telling me what to do with my music and stuff. They used to tell me to sing all this Natalie Imbruglia stuff so I quit them. I had guitar lessons from the same guy and he taught me the basic chords and I gave that up once I knew all the basic chords, thinking that will do me."
The songwriting started fairly early, too. Her first song ("It was called Guardian Angel; it was pretty bad," she laughs) was written when she was 11. Several of the songs on her album, Dusty Smiles &Heartbreak Cures, were written when she was 14. They may have an element of naivety about them but there are many worse songs being released by bigger names than hers. They compare pretty favourably and, in the end, are always capable of being saved by that voice.
For all that, nobody back then was talking about a career for the teenager. Not even when her parents financed the recording of a four-track CD featuring three originals and the traditional In The Pines. As Steve Britt says: "We thought, well, no matter what happens she's got that to look back on and can play to people and say I recorded this when I was a kid."
What had begun to turn that attitude around was the day, a year earlier, when Steve took her to see Bill Chambers, father of Kasey and head of the Chambers family band The Dead Ringer Band, at a loose musical gathering known as The Hillbilly Jam.
Thirteen-year-old Catherine asked Bill if she could join him on a 70-year-old Jimmie Rodgers song TB Blues.
Bill Chambers still laughs about it now. "When she started singing I thought, 'My God', and I nearly dropped my guitar," he says. "I was expecting a little girl voice but her voice knocked me out. She's the real deal. There's not any many people, particularly in Australia, who have that authentic country voice. It's pretty special."
Bill Chambers not only produced that four-track but went on to play on and produce the album ("The country-est thing I've ever done," is how he describes it) while Kasey has co-written several songs with her and took Catherine on tour last year. Bill has little doubt the Chambers family are backing a stayer and a winner.
"She's very sure of what she wants to be," he says. "A lot of kids want to be stars; Catherine wants to be a country singer."
That much is true for the girl who must be near wearing out her videotape of the Loretta Lynn bio-pic Coal Miner's Daughter.
"All I've wanted to do is be a singer and sing to a few people who are there to see me, and sing every word," she says. "I don't think it hit me until I got a bit older and I thought I've got to start thinking about this because it's not easy. When I met Bill and Kasey and they told me I had a chance, that I would make it somewhere, they gave me heaps of confidence.
I still don't think I'll ever be anything huge but that's alright."
And yet, and yet. Some time in the next month Catherine Britt will sign a publishing deal that will not only earn her her first decent income but also send her to the United States to meet and possibly write with experienced American songwriters.
A manager, taking over from her parents, isn't far behind and soon, too, there will be the American record deal. There's a mix of confidence and wide-eyed innocence here. Can it last? Can it survive the machinations of an industry known for chewing up and spitting out its youngest and most innocent or turning them into carbon copies?
"That really scares me," Britt whispers. "People say that to me and I don't know what I would do. Normally I'm really strong about what I want but when that arises I don't know what I'll do. I was really strong when I went into ABC and said this is my music and this is what I'm going to be doing and I want to be country-er on my next album. They liked that. That's why they like me: I'm different."
She seems to take strength from this memory and says more assertively: "Most of the people around me are supportive of what I do: they get what I'm trying to do. I think when [compromises] come up I'll speak up. That's me."
In late 1999, Catherine recorded her first 4 track with Bill Chambers producing ,thus beginning an ongoing creative musical relationship. "That Don't Bother Me", written with Kasey Chambers, became a Top 5 hit at the beginning of 2001.
During 2001, Catherine followed up with her first album - "Dusty Smiles And Heartbreak Cures". Again it was produced by Bill Chambers and included the cream of Australia's musicians. Most of the songs were written by Catherine. The album received rave reviews around the world. Five of the songs have reached the Top 5 in the Country Charts - "That Don't Bother Me", "Easy Living", "46 Miles From Alice", "Hillbilly Pickin' Ramblin' Girl" and "Help Me I'm Falling".
* being approached by 3 prominent U.S. country music industry figures - Tony Brown (Universal South), James Stroud (Dreamworks) and Joe Galante (RCA Labels Group);
* reaching the Top 10 in every category she was eligible for in the Toyota Country Music Awards, including a Top 5 in the New Talent Section;
* winning, with Bill Chambers, Duo of the Year in the Victorian Country Music Awards;
* being feted by Superstar Elton John as "incredible" in concert and on national television;
* becoming the youngest Australian performer to ever appear on the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville;
* writing songs with some of the top Nashville songwriters;
* signing a publishing deal with EMI;
* touring nationally with US singer Chris Isaak;
At the beginning of 2003, Catherine was signed to the RCA Labels Group in the U.S. - the biggest and most successful country label in the world. Her albums will appear on the RCA label with labelmates such as Alabama, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Tracy Byrd across the rest of the world while remaining on ABC Music in Australia.
During 2003, Catherine has been living in Nashville preparing to record her next album with again Bill Chambers co-producing with legendary U.S. producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, George Jones). A new single should appear in April 2004, with the new album expected later in the year.