Outstanding Welsh harpist Catrin Finch on playing the London Canal Museum for Museums at Night 2015

By Ben Miller | 06 May 2015

Coinciding with the start of a major tour alongside another of the country's most acclaimed virtuoso musicians, Catrin Finch will play a special Museums at Night show with a water theme

A photo of a young woman sitting on a stall next to a large dark harp
Harpist Catrin Finch's album and tour with Seckou Keita, the British-based kora player, has produced some of the most acclaimed classical music of the past two years© Rhys Frampton
For a four-year period, in the midst of graduating from the Royal Academy of Music, Catrin Finch was known as the Royal Harpist to the Prince of Wales, reviving a tradition which hadn’t had an incumbent since 1873. For perhaps Britain’s finest harpist, though, the greatest run of critical success came nine years after that appointment ended, with another figure possessing a very different royal lineage.

Seckou Keita, a kora master, drummer and descendant of a Malian family of kings, has worked with the Welsh Queen of Harps since 2013. A meeting of two renowned stage performers, they encompass almost as many styles and countries as they do strings, their boldness paying off in unprecedented album sales and numerous award wins and nominations.

“I knew it would be something that would be quite liberating for me,” says Finch. “Nothing was ever expected of my collaboration with Sekou, but it’s been one of the most successful things I’ve ever been involved in.

“We did an album and a few gigs, and then it sold really well and we were getting these amazing reviews. Last year, alone, I think we did 59 concerts – which is insane, really. We were everywhere. It was crazy.”

A photo of a young woman playing a large blue harp to a crowd of young Africans
Finch, an Ambassador for WaterAid, on a visit to Ethiopia© James McCauley
A cursory glance at their tour dates, beginning with this Museums at Night solo show by Finch at the London Canal Museum and taking in Denmark, Norway and Poland, suggests Finch may not be spending too much time at her recording studio and concert hall near Cardiff this summer. “It’s kind of going on and on. It was a very organic project that nobody really thought would go anywhere, but it has.

“You never know what people are going to like. I guess my mindset is that as long as I’m happy with what I’m doing and having a good time and enjoying it, you keep the faith with it.”

Finch first found freedom with exotic companions in 2007, when she began working with Cimarron, a harpist-led Colombian band known for performing a festive dance and delighting in music with Andalusian, indigenous Indian and African roots.

“There was no music at first,” she recalls. “We sat in a room and worked stuff out and I really enjoyed it.”

A photo of a painting showing a block of blue sea beneath a dark red sky
Simon Tarrant, Red Sky. The cover art for Finch's water-themed new record, Tides - the first album entirely made of compositions written by the harpist© Simon Tarrant
Her Museums at Night gig chimes with the water theme of her new album, Tides. Charities are important to both Seckou – who has pledged portions of his album sales to the Red Cross – and Finch, who is playing as part of her ambassadorial role for WaterAid, accompanying an exhibition of paintings at the museum by a close friend, Simon Tarrant, who produced some of the artwork for the record.

“The museum sounds like an intriguing place to me,” she says. “There’s some idea about arriving on a tug. I think it’ll be quite fun. I’m looking forward to it very much. I think it’s always quite interesting to mix music with art and to visualise things. You get asked to play in all sorts of places, so you’re kinda ready for anything.”

Setting up a harp is, imaginably, somewhat trickier than, say, plugging in a guitar. At a celebrated WOMAD gig with Seckou, Finch had to carry her instrument on what she describes as a kind of golf buggy.

“So that was quite interesting when it came to trying to put a harp in one of those,” she reflects cheerfully. “When you’re faced with a huge flight of stairs, it gives you the fear of god. It’s big and bulky but at least it’s only one thing, so once you’ve got it you can squeeze it in the space.

An image of a painting showing yellow and green plants beneath a black and blue sea
Artist Simon Tarrant's work is featuring in an exhibition at the museum© Simon Tarrant
“I think my husband is coming, so I’ll leave it to him. It’s not that much of a big deal, you get used to it. God, I’ve done it for years and years – it kinda comes with the territory, really.”

  • Catrin Finch is at the London Canal Museum on May 16 2015. Book tickets online. Visit catrinfinch.com/tides for details of the new album and tour dates. Paintings by Simon Tarrant are at the museum until May 31.

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