When Scottish harpist Chloe Matharu takes the stage at this week’s Showing Your Roots Festival in Ireland, she will – literally – be showcasing her diverse heritage.
What are your roots?
I’m of mixed heritage: Scottish, Welsh and Indian, raised in Edinburgh. I joke to my parents that I didn’t have much hope in terms of controlling my temper – my parents being a Welsh Dragon and the other a Punjabi Lion. It can get fiery in our house!
Where do you currently reside?
My Gran is from Inverclyde, just outside of Glasgow and her stories about the area and growing up here in the War drew me back. I live in a town called Wemyss Bay on the banks of the Clyde with my wee family, our alpacas, pygmy goats, and a Cocker Spaniel from Omagh called Danny.
When and why did you become interested in music?
I’m not from a musical family but was exposed to lots of live music and sessions growing up in Edinburgh. I saw a beautiful harpist and singer, now based in New Zealand, called Katie Targett Adams. She was playing in Edinburgh Castle at a Christmas event when I was a child. I fell in love with the Clarsach and had to learn it. Naturally I was always singing and started performing Scottish ballads acapella at floor spots around Scotland before moving onto support slots for legends such as Michael Marra, Dick Gaughan and Anais Mitchell in my early teens. I started performing with more established musicians such as Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl. But I ran away to sea as a Navigational Officer in the Merchant Navy and intended to turn my back on music as found there wasn’t enough stability.
Are they the same reasons you do it today?
Music has always somehow been in my blood and I guess this is what keeps pulling me back to it. There’s a Welsh saying “To be born Welsh is to be born privileged. Not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your heart and poetry in your soul”. I spent my first couple of years as a Deck Cadet sailing on Coastal Oil tankers around Northern Europe, largely off the coast of Scotland and the West Coast of Ireland. Being exposed to the natural elements and the dramatic scenery of the Hebrides of Scotland and Coastline of Ireland was deeply inspiring. Songwriting came to me naturally about my life at sea and today my musical aspiration is to offer an insight into the Modern Mariner’s life through my music. Somehow the songs I started creating fit so perfectly against the backdrop of my Celtic Harp music and it was around then I started to perform as a singer/songwriter and harpist.
What are the challenges involved with the vocation?
You feel incredibly vulnerable putting your heart and soul into your creations for others to listen to and take to their own hearts or reject. Much in the same way you are incredibly vulnerable as a seafarer on a vast ocean when you’re deep sea. My career at sea has strengthened my character and given me the resilience needed to persevere in the music industry, which can sometimes seem brutal. I certainly didn’t have the stamina needed in my early teens when I first tried to pursue music but now things are falling into place.
What are the rewards?
Making heart to heart connections with authentic people, taking them on a musical voyage into my watery world during a performance, and feeling like I’m offering a new insight for people to explore is exceptionally rewarding.
How have you evolved as an artist over time?
I weave my real-life experience into every song I write. Since life’s forever changing my music certainly evolves as well as myself as an artist.
What have been some career highlights?
I recently won an award for my debut album, Small Voyages. It was awarded Celtic Music Radio’s Album of the Year 2022 and was described as “an exquisite release” by the Herald. Having my work recognised like that was unimaginable and completely unexpected, especially as I only started pursuing music again in October 2021. I am so grateful to the listeners who voted for it – Small Voyages received 47% of the total number of votes which is truly humbling especially when it was up against releases from incredible musicians such as Dougie McLean. The album is available here: https://linktr.ee/chloematharu
Is your creative process more “inspirational” or “perspirational”?
My creative process is definitely inspirational, it’s almost like the songs I write find me and I channel them through my harp and voice. I usually write in one sitting, lyrics and music together, finishing off by adding harp afterwards.
What makes a good song?
A good song to me is one that tells a story, is an honest and authentic reflection of the writer, and carries the listener to another place.
What makes a good live show?
A good show is one that offers escapism to the attendees, a break from their own reality. In my mind a concert ticket is like the fayre for a short journey. You join the artist who carries you away with their creativity before placing you back where you started. For me storytelling is really important – it’s not so much about the technical ability of the performers, but the ability to draw the audience into another world for a short spell.
What can audiences expect at your Showing Roots performance?
I will be performing songs from my debut album, Small Voyages, interlaced with some salty tales of my time at sea.
What’s on your musical agenda for the rest of 2023?
I am performing some exciting gigs across the UK including Glasgow, Leeds and Liverpool in the next couple of weeks. I’m releasing a single early summer and an edition of my album, including the new single, on vinyl later this year. I have a couple of exciting cowriting projects coming up as well as a joint tour of Scotland and Finland with Finnish Songwriter Desirée Saarela-Portin in the Autumn. And another joint tour with Danish duo, En:1, in Germany. I’m really excited how this year is shaping up!