Katriona has just released her new album, Blind Passion, inspired by other visually impaired musicians.
Do you think music means more to blind or visually impaired people than other people?
Personally, it means a huge amount to me, because it is a way to escape, to go into your imagination. I think I’m quite sensitive to music, I remember it very, very precisely.
Can you tell us a little bit about your own condition?
Stargardt disease is a genetic condition. I first found out that I had been diagnosed at the age of seven. My sight was failing so I saw a couple of people before they identified what it was. The general prognosis was pretty dire at the time; it was you’ll be blind by the time you’re 21. Now, that didn’t happen to me, but I do remember that moment when I was told, you won’t drive, you won’t do this, you won’t do that. As it happens, I’m happy to say I’ve led a very full life.
When did you find music?
When I was very young, when I was five or six, I could be found prancing around the living room singing and being a DJ, doing those sorts of things, then through school, I was quite sporty, so I didn’t really focus so much on music. I went on to be quite academic and I became a lawyer.
Funnily enough when I was looking at leaving law, I really asked myself, with one life to go, what was in me, in terms of passion, and the answer was music and singing.
I was always listening to music as a young person. My parents had great records, I was into all my dad’s collection which was more like Abba, Aretha Franklin and Billy Joel. My mum, on the other hand, had a very sort of Brazilian influence going on. So, I was always listening to what they had playing and that’s definitely shaped some of my musical tastes.
I thought that I would try to be a professional singer, I had this belief that I could write music, which fortunately, turned out to be true. I just took a leap of faith at that point.
Are people taken by surprise that you’re visually impaired?
They do realise because they see me led on stage, for instance. That’s part of what Blind Passion is about for me. It is about having been a singer for a while, it’s not something I particularly represented about myself – that I was visually impaired. Now I want to tell that part of my story and own it a little bit and celebrate.
How have you coped without performing live recently?
I seem to live life at 100 miles per hour. I’m a very driven person and I always like to do things. And, I have a busy life with children as well. So in between doing performances, teaching students and running vocal workshops, life was very busy.
What I found was, I kept meaning to do this album and I never got round to it, but I fixed a date in the diary and I said right that’s it, we’re going in in June 2020. So of course, everybody’s booked and what happens at the end of March? Lockdown. So, although I was then put into a bit of a spin with home-schooling children and stuff like that, it gave me a bit of a breather to really decide what I was going to do with the album.
It gave me time to formulate it and work on the arrangements. It gave me a bit of space and time, which I really needed actually.
We started live-streaming last year. It was great, we had 300 people watching, with viewers from a few different continents on there and nice chats going on. I hadn’t really introduced myself as a visually impaired singer. Because the live streaming was a new, fresh thing, it was a really good way for me to start talking about that. Just to explain my project and what I wanted to do and why I thought it was really nice to celebrate these trailblazers.
I also found the wonderful charity, Stargardt’s Connected, which is a very young organisation that came into its own during the lockdown period.
How did you go about picking the musicians you want to pay tribute to? These are absolute giants you’re taking on…
That’s one of the things I’ve always loved to do; take other people’s music and rearrange it, make it very much my own. So yes, absolutely, these people are giants, so I wanted to do a really good job. With the track that we did with Jools Holland, ‘As You See Me Now’ (originally recorded with José Feliciano) Jools has given us some really good feedback and he really likes what we did. It was quite different to his original but I guess if you do things with integrity and sincerity then hopefully that comes across.
Blind Passion by Katriona Taylor is available now.
Visit: www.katrionataylor.com and