Cat Rea: A battle with addiction and hopelessness before redemption

Tuesday 9th March 2021

Chris Mountford spoke to singer CAT REA who's broken through with the "Freedom Reign" radio hit

Cat Rea
Cat Rea

With the pandemic continuing to pound the music world, if not into submission then into whole new ways of doing things, it's heartening to speak to Cat Rea. Cat recorded her debut album 'Redemption' remotely and then contracted the dread virus at the tail end of 2020. She has now come bouncing back to promote 'Redemption' which is every bit as good as her breakthrough radio hit single "Freedom Reign". I spoke to the London-based singer and songwriter about Covid, her pop star uncle Chris Rea, her battle with drugs and alcohol and her emergence onto the music scene. I began by asking her if she was well.

Cat: I am well. 2021 is good. I had Covid last year so hopefully I'm on the up. Very well and excited for this new year. I dodged Covid till December and I started having symptoms at Christmas. Boris had said we're all locking down anyway so it was a double whammy for me. Everyone I talk to knows someone who's had it or had it themselves. 2020 was a year of Covid, wasn't it? But I think through it all it's taught me to appreciate every moment, every day and just look forward to the future.

Chris: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Cat: I'm originally from Middlesborough, which is in the north east of England. I grew up and went to school and college there. I did a couple of years doing music. I love singing, obviously. I've sung since I was very little but I was very shy so nobody knew that I sang till I was about 18, 19 when I started singing in front of people. I was a late bloomer in that. I got some jobs and did a bit of life and in my 20s I started to do music full time. I got signed to a company called Universal, well EMI which doesn't exist anymore.

Chris: Presumably before you started performing and singing publicly you were singing around the home? How did it start?

Cat: I locked myself in my room. I remember going to school and waiting for the day to end so I could run home and put the Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston CDs on and I would sing in my room and just get lost in that. I would try and imitate all of the singers.

Chris: Does the fact that you're the niece of hit maker Chris Rea have much of an influence on you?

Cat: Definitely, I'm from a musical family, so not just Chris. My Dad's a musician; my uncle's an opera singer. So I've had the blessing of music as I've grown up and listened to all different types of music. With Chris being on the road a lot I've only met him two or three times. He moved away; he was quite young when he got a record deal. I definitely think it's in the blood and just being exposed to so many different styles of music has taught me a lot about how to write songs, how to sing differently, different tones. Yeah. It definitely had a lot of influence in my career.

Chris: I understand that growing up on an estate in Middlesborough was very tough for you.

Cat: Growing up I was very shy and home life was very unstable. I felt trapped; I couldn't talk to anyone about things or be free in that area. My parents divorced when I was 15; that hit me really hard. From then on I would find affirmation or security in different things. I was drinking a lot of alcohol and dabbling in different drugs, having different boyfriends. I was trying to find that security in those things. By the age of 23, 24 I was depressed, suicidal with a feeling of hopelessness because it was a build up of a lot of stuff throughout the years. I was very unstable. I had a sense of hopelessness - nothing to look forward to in the future and believing I couldn't do anything in the future because of the insecurities I would face on a day to day basis. When I was 25, 26 I had agoraphobia. I didn't want to go outside and it would take me literally all day to get dressed and build up the courage to face the world. The feelings in my 20s were of brokenness and feeling lost.

Chris: What changed? Presumably there was some sort of turnaround?

Cat: When I was younger there was a church I used to go to and I would hear the message every Sunday that Jesus loves me, he would love me no matter what. God cares and loves me no matter what I do. I grew up with the truth of that. When I hit 25, 26 I was living in Turkey with a guy addicted to alcohol and drugs. It was a very dark time of my life. And sitting in that flat on my own day after day I remembered those sermons and those people telling me that God's love for me never fails, it doesn't matter where I find myself. And I remember saying 'God, if you're still there, if you still love me, I want to be in a relationship with you. I want you to come into my life and help me because I feel hopeless.' It was almost like sobering up. It was a sense of me having a different head on, it was so clear. I was thinking wow! I don't have to be in this situation, I don't have to be like this. A week later I was on a plane, flying back to the North East of England and joining a church in Newcastle. God really met me where I was; he met me in my brokenness. I'm not saying it was an instant turnaround but he got me back on the track and I started to feel happy again, I started to feel hopeful. I started to feel free. And that's what happens in your life when the Holy Spirit descends on you. That was the turnaround for me and ever since then it's been more freedom, more love. I'm not saying I don't have challenges, I'm not saying life doesn't come with its surprises sometimes. But having that security in God and my faith has changed my life completely.

Chris: Are some of these things reflected in the music you write?

Cat: Yes, definitely. I released a single last year called "Freedom Reign" and that's exactly about that time in Turkey. I lived in a place called IƧmeler, which I mention in the song. Everyone keeps saying what is that word? I say it's a place in Turkey where I lived when I received freedom. It was almost like all of heaven sang over me freedom reign, let freedom reign. That was my first single, and the opener on that album. I wanted to write about that journey. There's one called "The Way". It's not that you've got to get everything lined up ready for freedom. Freedom is available. Using the music in that song too, the funky bass comes in three quarters of the way in and I also have a choir on that song as well. I wanted a sense of hope and freedom. The lyrics are 'I've got love, joy, peace, I'm free again.' It's about living that hopeless life and God is singing freedom over you.

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