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Last Sunday night, I and about 300 others crammed into a stylishly-decorated basement somewhere in Leeds - and although at times I felt like I was being slowly fried by the sweltering heat in there, it proved to be a rewarding evening. It may come as a surprise to the casual music fan, but country music has a burgeoning fan base in the UK. British country music duos Ward Thomas and The Shires have enjoyed Top 3 albums in the last year, and the Country 2 Country music festival now runs over 3 nights in London, Dublin and Glasgow, attracting the biggest names in American country.
Catherine McGrath recently released her debut album 'Talk of this Town', and has received comparisons to Taylor Swift with her frank manner of storytelling and her clever lyricism. Not to mention that she's got an absolutely cracking voice. I personally struggle with the more twangy, cloying elements of country music, but even the evening's more upbeat numbers - which might typically irritate me - actually proved really good fun, like 'Just in Case' and 'Lost in the Middle'. But not one to hold back on showcasing her talent, the band would frequently drop back before the final chorus of these numbers, and Catherine's striking voice would cut through quite beautifully.
The show also proved to be something of a family affair. Not only did Catherine feature her sister Mary McGrath - a talented country singer herself, and one to definitely watch out for - as a supporting act, but she also brought her out for a duet on what is definitively Shania Twain's best song, "You're Still the One". Stripped back to just an acoustic guitar, their lovely harmonies had me in a daze - it's almost preposterous how one family can have so much talent! But that wasn't the only cover of the night - there was also a brief interlude of Coldplay's 'Fix You', once again demonstrating Catherine's excellent taste in music.
But for me, the moments that shone brightest on the night were Catherine's more heart-wrenching numbers. 'Thought It Was Gonna Be Me' was something of a generically ambiguous song - sounding almost indie-pop in parts, and demonstrating a cool melody and a palpable melancholy that quickly drew me in. But without a doubt the night's highlight was the penultimate number 'She'll Never Love You'. Performed with solely an acoustic guitar, Catherine demonstrated exactly why she deserves a chance to be the next big thing in country music. Not to mention that when I got to hang out with her before the show, she offered me some of her chips - and that's exactly the kind of generosity that we need from the stars of tomorrow. Both Catherine McGrath and her chips were, in a word, glorious.