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LONG READ: Inverness singer and songwriter Katie Gregson-Macleod reaches for the stars but her heart is in the Highlands

By Federica Stefani

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Katie Gregson-Macleod at the National Whisky Festival at Eden Court in July. Picture by: Federica Stefani.
Katie Gregson-Macleod at the National Whisky Festival at Eden Court in July. Picture by: Federica Stefani.

"A very quick progression to craziness," as she described it, was the trampoline propelling a young Inverness singing talent to sign a contract with one of the biggest labels in the industry.

"It's not been a quick journey, it's been four years of working on it, but in the last four weeks, everything has happened very, very quickly," said Katie Gregson-Macleod, in between recording sessions at studios in London.

"We've been recording some stuff and running around like mad as usual these days. It's been so exciting, since the first day it's been one thing after the other which is just, still insane to me and so surreal."

Spontaneous and sparkling with enthusiastic energy, Katie has been putting a lot of work in to build her artistic career. At the start of August, however, her popularity skyrocketed after she posted a video of a work-in-progress song titled Complex which, with its raw and heartfelt telling of a broken relationship, has moved millions of users on TikTok.

"It's as you do when you are a small artist, you put bits of your work up there, and it was kind of mindless in the way...but I went to bed and then the next morning it was huge! It was kinda crazy," said the 21-year-old.

Fast forward a few weeks, Katie has released a demo version of that single and is working with Columbia Records, with which she signed a contract last week.

"Obviously at times it's overwhelming, and you can't control it, but at the same time I am having a great time and I have great people around me. I feel very lucky."

The former Inverness Royal Academy pupil, now a history student at Edinburgh University, said she has always been around music and writing. She said: "I've been writing stories and poems since I can remember. I remember picking up a guitar when I was about seven, and playing piano. I was lucky enough to have an acoustic piano at home while growing up – my mother is a pianist and my family are all big music lovers so there was always music in the house. I have always performed and played at some capacity and done musical theatre so it just kind of came second nature to me.

"When I was about 17, as you do at that age, you start thinking about solidifying a career in some way. At that age I started getting serious towards that. That's when I started gigging and recording music, and writing a lot more. Since then, I have been working towards building my career as an artist, and it's been building up steadily. But, obviously four weeks ago everything exploded and from steady it became skyrocketing."

She remembers her very first paid gig at Encore Une Fois in Inverness, and then playing at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival when she was 18. She was back on stage at Belladrum this year, playing the Hot House stage.

"I love Belladrum," she said. "It was my first festival, there is not a ton of alternative music in Inverness but it's great that once a year at least there is this celebration of so many different kinds of music."

However, one of her big dreams was to play at the Ironworks – a venue which will be replaced by a hotel after a controversial decision made by Highland councillors.

"I think it's a great loss for Inverness and for the Highlands. It's a shame because it's just like there is not the regular gig-going crowd in Inverness so much at the moment. I am mourning the loss but hopefully something will come from it in the future. I think for any artist in Inverness growing up, it's a bit of a goal. I hope we have not seen the end of the Ironworks and something will start from the back of it."

A keen listener of many different genres, Katie's music was deeply influenced by the folk and storytelling scene of the Highlands, as well as giants such as Joni Mitchell, Phoebe Bridgers, Leonard Cohen and Elliot Smith.

Katie Gregson-Macleod. Picture by: Amy Henderson (2022)
Katie Gregson-Macleod. Picture by: Amy Henderson (2022)

She has performed on stage gigs in Inverness, Edinburgh and elsewhere. She's had experiences with BBC Radio Scotland and had a job at Perk Coffee and Doughnuts in Church Street, Inverness.

"I had a great period of working, but I really didn't expect for this to happen," she said.

The lead track of her first EP, Games I Play, was track of the week at BBC Radio Scotland Introducing and on Janice Forsyth's Afternoon show.

"It was a big milestone for me. With my most recent single Second Single Bed, I got my first Radio 1 placement, and I got to do a session on live radio in Scotland. That was huge for me and it was just a couple of weeks before Complex."

The song, which she wrote and shared at the start of August, became an overnight sensation.

She said: "It's one thing having lots of engagement with your post [on TikTok] and so many people obviously connecting to the song but others doing so many covers [of the song] was unreal!"

Looking forward, Katie will split her time between Inverness and London.

"Obviously my plans now are very different to what they were two or three weeks ago. And they're all thrown up in the air, but I hope that Complex will have a long life, and beyond this song I am just really excited to make more music, and I am going to collaborate with people I wouldn't have dreamed of before.

"This has swung open so much for me and right now it's just about taking it all in my stride, re-evaluating my goals and shooting for the sky. It's crazy but I am super excited to see what can happen."

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