Two of a Kind
Celebrity available for hire, based in Queensland
When journalist and sometime cabaret performer Brian Noonan used to watch his wife Maggie and young daughter Katie leaving their house together in Brisbane’s inner north-west suburb of Ashgrove, he thought they looked like two of a kind. Twenty years on, the same thought crossed his mind again, as he witnessed the now-adult Katie and her mother standing together for six nights running, singing to full houses in the Optus Playhouse at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre as a featured duo in the annual Women in Voice concerts.
‘Everyone who meets me, and who knows Mum, tells me I’m the spitting image of her,’ Katie says in between recording sessions for their first CD together. ‘I guess it’s all the huge gesticulations that I do and the large red hair!’
Even today, amid the euphoria of her rise to chart-topping success, Katie attributes her renowned down-to-earth demeanour to the regard that she was shown as a child. ‘Both my brother Tyrone and I have been brought up with a sense of self-worth and self-belief,’ she says, ‘because to this day Mum and Dad and all their friends don’t talk down to children but rather involve them in their conversations.’
With such a strong family unit steeped in music and the smell of the greasepaint part of daily life – and with both Katie and Tyrone being such enthusiastic, natural performers – it was inevitable that they would begin to learn from their mother at an early age. ‘Ever since I was two or three, and right up until now, I’ve been learning singing and piano from Mum,’ Katie says. And yet prior to this recording, the Women in Voice concerts were their only experience of singing together in public.
In part, that’s because the two have pursued careers in different fields of music. As the voice of jazz trio Elixir, and one-fifth of the sophisticated group george (Tyrone is also a high-profile member of the group and well-known jazz vocalist), Katie with her staggering ‘pop coloratura’ has concentrated on more popular music, while Maggie’s lyric-dramatic soprano has leant itself to the worlds of opera and lieder. But all that changed with Women in Voice, where Maggie was seen playing air guitar and ripping into the vocals of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, while Katie joined her mother in a spellbinding ‘Flower Duet’ from Lakmé.
Both proclaimed themselves terrified by their journey outside their own comfort-zones and into the musical worlds of the other. But the standing ovations every night allayed their fears.
‘It was an interesting experience in crossing genres,’ Katie says. ‘It’s always been important to me to work in various genres, honing my own craft and learning through working with people who have expertise in different fields.’
The result though, is a collaboration that has thrilled them both as they stretched their creative wings and soared together in music drawn from jazz, the blues, the shows and opera. The chemistry was there right from the first sessions, not just between Maggie and Katie themselves, but also with their collaborators. The singers had both worked with The Queensland Orchestra previously - Katie in the ground-breaking collaboration on Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra, and Maggie in a glorious concert version of her Australia Sings! solo project. But neither had worked with conductor Guy Noble before and the partnership proved a revelation. ‘Guy was like the missing link between all the styles we were proposing,’ Katie says. ‘It’s so hard to find a conductor who’s across popular, jazz and classical music. Not only was Guy a delight to work with but he proved to be a kindred spirit of ours in that he takes his craft seriously but not himself.’
Ultimately for Katie, their CD represents an acknowledgement of the respect that her mother showed her as a child. ‘Because Mum and Dad always took what I was doing seriously,’ she says, ‘now 20 years later I’m doing the same with Mum. In my industry, working with your parents may not be considered a cool thing to do, whereas I think that showing respect for your elders and musical peers is something that you must do!’
And for Maggie, the album is a chance to celebrate the family ties that have given her so much joy over the years. ‘It’s a troubled world out there,’ she says, ‘and maybe we can just give people a little hope in the future, and touch them through our art, demonstrating that family is the most important thing in life, even more than career.’