Katrina from Katrina and The Waves releases ‘very personal’ new album

Katrina from Katrina and the Waves

Katrina from Katrina and the Waves - Credit: Archant

The West Hampstead Walking on Sunshine singer on turning 60, writing her own songs and winning Eurovision

Katrina Leskanavich with her backing group the Waves celebrates her victory after winning the Eu

Katrina Leskanavich with her backing group the Waves celebrates her victory after winning the Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin, Saturday May 3 1997. Pic John Giles.PA - Credit: PA

One of the defining achievements of Katrina and the Waves’ career came when they were several glasses of champagne down in the Green Room at The Point in Dublin.

It was 1997, the Irish were hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, but the UK entry was so sure they wouldn’t win, they were tucking into the complimentary bar.

“It was the most nerve wracking two minutes and 58 seconds of my life,” says lead singer Katrina.

“We were used to performing gigs to thousands but the pressure once you got out there was astonishing. I was thrown by how nervous I was. The thought of how many people were watching, relying on you, of letting down the country you are representing so they say ‘we should have got an English girl to sing it’. When I turned to see my backing singers so relaxed they said ‘betablockers darling’.

Katrina Leskanavich singing the winning entry for the Unitede Kingdom atthe Point Theatre in Dubli

Katrina Leskanavich singing the winning entry for the Unitede Kingdom atthe Point Theatre in Dublin, Saturday May 3 1997, as Katrina and the waves won the Eurovision Song Contest. Pic John Giles.PA - Credit: PA

The West Hampstead musician adds: “People said ‘you will never win’ so even in the Green Room we thought we might as well sit back and enjoy it. We were about 300 sheets to the wind when we were told ‘you have to do it again because you won! I missed the words, you can see me laughing, coming in at the wrong time.”

The band had stuck the uplifting Love Shine A Light into a drawer because it sounded ‘too Eurovision’. But producer Jonathan King, the promise of a record deal and plenty of exposure persuaded them to follow in the footsteps of ABBA, Cliff and Sandie Shaw.

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Watching it back, Katrina brings a rock-chick professionalism to the usual frentically camp hoopla and clearly deserved the win - which came the day after Labour’s election landslide.

“It was right place, right time, right song,” she says.

“Labour was coming into power, the music scene was cool and Britain was thriving on hope. Lots of English people had come over to support us, and what a moment, it brought the house down.”

But she chuckles: “Thanks to Brexit don’t ever expect to win again!”

Of course the Waves are also loved for their much-covered 80s anthem Walking on Sunshine.

“I don’t have kids but if that’s my kid it will live way beyond my lifetime,” laughs Katrina.

“It’s been the cause of lots of ugly dad dancing and jiggling of middle-aged bosoms because you can’t dance to it, you just have to jump up and down. It’s a novelty song that makes people feel light-hearted and fun and young and crazy. It’s as fresh as the day it was recorded.”

Eurovision meant her American parents, who had settled in Norfolk in the 70s after a nomadic military career, (her father was a colonel in the US Air Force) got to celebrate her success.

“My mom’s dream was to move to England, she was obsessed with the Queen and kept Welsh Corgis and Manx cats. In Omaha, Nebraska people used to drive past, roll down their windows and say ‘y’all shouldn’t have done that to those dogs’.

They thought we were crazy hillbillies cutting the tails off our animals.”

“She was worried about me and how singing was going to work out, but Eurovision was the moment she could tell the Norfolk neighbours ‘my daughter won’.”

Mum Katherine is the source of two songs on Katrina’s “very personal” new album Hearts Loves and Babies.

‘Crazy Mama’ is about the woman who raised six children after dreaming of joining the circus. And Move On is a ‘deathbed lullaby’ which describes the grief of losing her.

“They moved every two years, so it was quite a tricky life for her. She didn’t join the circus so we became her circus. She was eccentric and crazy and as a child it could be embarrassing. But as I got older I started to relate to the unorthodox behaviour and embrace it.

“It’s been ten years since she passed and the older you get, the clearer the past becomes. It was a protracted illness and at the end she was full of morphine and I thanked God that she was released from all the horrible pain. She’s still in my heart and in my memories, and that song came out in a very poetic way.”

Other tracks include the toe-tappingly catchy single Drive about her desire for freedom during lockdown, and a sultry cover of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.

More than two decades after splitting from the Waves, she is also embracing turning 60 and like her heroines Chrissie Hynde and Debbie Harry, doing things on her own terms.

“When you hit 60 you start looking back a lot more and stop caring about how you look. You get on with enjoying life and having as much fun as you can. I feel lucky to have such a fun life. Lockdown felt like a wonderful time to be creative, I had to do everything myself, finish the album and make a video, but part of the joy and challenge of being able to do my own songs is not having to put it through a committee. I really wanted to take full responsibility for what I was saying.”

She’s also putting the album out herself after decades of navigating the “testosterone driven” music industry where female performers are forced to be sexy, relegated down the bill and “not taken seriously.”

“It’s more of a battle than it should be, but I am still here. I am still going, I am going to survive it.”

Hearts, Loves & Babys is out August 28 on Katrina’s Web.

The single I Want To Love Again is out now.

Order from Amazon or www.katrinasweb.com