Ceberano is putting the finishing touches on a frock she’s embroidering. Sitting in a Melbourne sunroom, the singer is in the middle of her own cultural renaissance.
Kate’s first post-Covid album Sweet Inspiration put her back in the Top 10. She returned there again this year with the most autobiographical album of her career, the ARIA nominated, My Life Is a Symphony, which is also the title of her concert at QPAC on December 2.
At Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre in late September Ceberano was awarded a lifetime achievement gong at the Australian Women in Music Awards. To top it off she has just released a best-selling memoir, Unsung.
It’s been a hard-fought battle for Ceberano. At one point in her career, she felt she was becoming invisible in a landscape dominated by the search for the next big thing. What the industry needed reminding of was something her audience had never taken for granted: Ceberano is an incredible singer and a helluva songwriter.
In recent times she has formed a two-man band, of sorts, with her husband – film maker, Lee Rogers. When Melbournians were locked down at length during Covid, Ceberano and Rogers were determined to tough it out creatively and form a new partnership where Rogers looked after Kate’s management and Ceberano played as many gigs as she could. She admits it’s tougher now than when she first lit up our TV screens in the mid-80’s as part of I’m Talking.
“When I started out, we’d be playing with bands like The Saints and Australian Crawl and there was so much support for Australian music. Every second radio ad supported Australian gigs,” Ceberano says. “The amount of money an international act might have spent on them now for promotion is so much greater than what local artists receive. The name of the game now is, fill the houses or you die.”
Filling houses, thankfully, is again becoming commonplace for Ceberano. The reception to My Life Is a Symphony and the subsequent tour with an orchestra has been astonishing.
“I’m speechless at how the album has been received,” Ceberano continues. “The album was in the can the week before Covid. I felt really good about it. The occupation of doing the record was exciting enough. I didn’t think about where it was going to end up or what significance it would have for me. I was just creating.
“I didn’t put the vocal on the album until three years later and the whole context, for me, had changed. I’d had a really bad bout of bronchitis and Covid and my voice had altered. I couldn’t lift up into the arrangements with the same feelings I had before covid.
“So, I enlisted some mates to help. Roscoe James Irwin (arranger and musical director) was in the studio with me and Justin Stanley was in town and offered himself as sonic counsellor. Justin gave me encouragement. He’d say things like ‘hold a pencil like a cigarette’. He’d stand next to me and say ‘sing for me’. And I did. I sang my tits off. I didn’t hold back. I felt like my heroes, Piaf and Billie Holiday. Singing without amplification. It hits people differently. I was quite emotional during the sessions.”
“When we started to play live with seventy talented people on stage, we had a conductor in Ben Northey – who is a virtuoso … well, the orchestra started playing and I fell to my knees. It was like I always wanted to sound like this my whole life. Before that, I overcompensated and wanted to be the whole bloody orchestra myself.”
The concert series has seen Ceberano touring Australia and selling out venues as prestigious as Hamer Hall, Sydney Opera House and soon, QPAC.
“The arrangements are hard,” she explains of a set list that runs the gamut of her career. “The orchestra aren’t texting on the side and thinking they’re whoring out three chords. These are real symphonic arrangements and we are all in there when the songs are being performed.”
Before My Life Is a Symphony’s release, when Covid made it almost impossible to visit a recording studio, Ceberano found solace in painting. Apart from work on paper, she started painting guitar cases and guitars. Admirers snapped them up. The output, which was documented on social media, led to the publication of the book, Unsung, (Simon & Schuster Australia) a memoir and in some ways a manual to help readers unlock their own creativity.
“The book is an addendum to the album,” Ceberano continues. “Every song is a chapter in the book. What prompted it is, without having an audience … a song isn’t a song until it’s sung to people. So, during Covid I started painting. Fans jumped on those. I made forty or fifty pictures. A mate of mine at Simon and Schuster suggested I meet Julie Gibbs who does coffee table books with the likes of Collette Dinnigan. She has a strong sense of how music, fashion and culture are intertwined, and she let me go for it. I’m thrilled with it. It’s a sexy hardcover.”
And her Brisbane visit will include an event promoting the book.
Kate Ceberano – My Life Is a Symphony, December 2, 8pm, Concert Hall, QPAC
Kate Ceberano in conversation with Sean Sennett at Avid Reader Bookshop, December 5 at 6pm.
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