Please, fasten your seatbelts – your journey back to Planet Pop is about to begin.
Cathy Dennis has more than earned her place as a Pop Princess. In fact, if it wasn’t for her, many fellow music royals wouldn’t have some of their biggest hits. Kylie, Britney, Katy Perry, Celine Dion, Pink, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, Little Mix – they’ve all recorded songs written by Cathy, to name only a few.
A British singer, songwriter and music producer, Cathy Dennis has previously been called “one of the most influential people in the music industry” by Q Magazine.
And now, she’s back. This most certainly is for real, and not just another dream.
A certified ‘award botherer’, Cathy’s been nominated for four Grammy’s – winning two, thank you very much – had three Brit nods, won six Ivor Novellos and numerous ASCAP awards. Somewhere along the way she also scooped the UK Music Industry Woman of the Year. Not that you’d realise if you happened to pop round.
“I put them in boxes,” she smiles. “Then put the lids on the boxes. I can’t relate to walking around a house, or even a studio, and needing stuff that reminds you of how great you are,” she says with an infectious laugh.
With a musical family – her father, Alan, was a professional jazz and classical pianist while her mother, Linda, was a professional singer – Norwich-born Cathy was destined for a life in the arts.
Spending her early teens singing in venues around East Anglia, she wrote and recorded her first song – with her father – at quite a young age. “I paid for the recording studio in Norwich when I was 15,” she recalls. “I’ve always been very ambitious. I’ve always put my career first. Even from the age of 14 I was singing three times a week when all my friends were going to school, and I couldn’t really talk about it. Because it was something that nobody could understand. It was like a completely different existence that you couldn’t really explain.”
Cathy moved to London when she was 17 with a dream of becoming a successful musician. In 1986 she met entertainment mogul Simon Fuller and her destiny was set. Working with D-Mob on the now classic dance track C’Mon and Get My Love – which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year – helped cement Cathy’s place in the charts.
“I wouldn’t have known that I would still be so obsessed by music,” she says of where she finds herself three decades on. “Even though it’s in a different capacity. But it was always part of the process, even as an artist writing. Writing needed to be the main focal point. The only reason I started writing as an artist is because I knew that the songs I was being given were not good enough to make any impact as a new artist.”
Her instinct paid off. The platinum-selling debut solo album Move To This (1990) included a number of US top ten songs – the previously mentioned D-Mob collaboration, Touch Me (All Night Long), Just Another Dream, Everybody Move and the epic ballad Too Many Walls. It also meant Oprah Winfrey invited her to perform and have a chat on her show. As you do.
The second album, Into The Skyline, saw Cathy once more enjoy chart success in Britain and America throughout 1993, with singles You Lied To Me, Falling, Moments of Love and Irresistible. Soundtrack work and appearances on shows such as Beverly Hills 90210 followed.
By the time her third album, Am I The Kinda Girl?, was released in 1997, Cathy was pushing her writing skills further and had switched to a new sound for singles West End Pad, Waterloo Sunset and When Dreams Turn To Dust.
Her uncertainty about a fourth album – imposing her own restrictions, she now realises – prompted her to move towards writing for other artists. It’s no surprise, given that across all of her released collections there are only two songs where Cathy didn’t contribute to the writing process.
“I felt that I did have, not so much a hugetalent,” she humbly pauses, “but I felt that I’d been given atalent in music and I still needed to use that. So it made sense to write for other people, where I would still have the freedom to be anyone I wanted to be on any given day, as a writer. So that I could still indulge myself creatively.”
It’s fair to say she’s indulged, given worldwide smashes such as Katy Perry’s I Kissed a Girl or Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.
“It’s difficult to feel the impact that that had, as a writer, I find,” she considers of writing songs that have been global megahits. “Or as a producer. Because it’s always onto the next,” she shrugs. “It’s very difficult to write contemporary pop songs. If you set out to do it, I think it’s very hard.”
Hard it may be, but she still managed to do it all over again a few years later with Britney Spears’ Toxic.
“Britney’s a one off. She’s very enigmatic. I think she’s a bit of an alien,” Cathy laughs. “She just kind of lives on another planet, but she’s very endearing, very sweet.”
It was, she reveals, a brief dalliance with another type of girl power that led to her success with the 90s supergroup S Club.
“I saw how, through Simon [Fuller]’s genius, he shaped the Spice Girls,” she explains. “Nobody could have predicted the kind of success that he would be able to bring to that. I’d had the chance to write for them,” she says of classic Spice track Bumper To Bumper. “At the time, I was still finishing being an artist, really. I saw these other writers experiencing huge success and as an ambitious career woman I wanted to be successful.”
It’s this ambition that led to one of her most successful singles ever.
“I’d always enjoyed writing ballads. This was a way that I could still write songs which were true to me. Never Had a Dream Come True was a good example where I wanted to write that and it was heartfelt.”
There are none of her hits that she wishes she’d recorded herself though, despite a slew of worldwide chart smashes. “If I was busy looking backwards then I couldn’t spend so much time hurling myself into the future, which is what I generally tend to do.”
But after all this time of bequeathing hits to those that followed in her catsuit and Dr Marten-wearing wake, she’s back, back, back! as Smash Hits magazine would have said – after last performing in public 15 years ago at the Royal Albert Hall.
“I think if I don’t do a little bit now, I never will!” Cathy laughs. “I prioritise my writing in my life and in my career. It’s been such a long time since I’ve done anything publicly that I thought it would be nice to just do it again, briefly.”
This rare public performance is an indulgence she’s willing to share though, and an appearance at The Mighty Hoopla, London’s ultimate pop extravaganza, puts her in front of something she hadn’t quite expected.
Now living in Surrey with her husband and four black labradors, Cathy says she’s still able to find angst elsewhere to fuel those epic melancholy musical moments – who knows whether she’ll head back into the recording studio herself. For now, Cathy hints at what she teasingly refers to as “a few exclusive situations.” It’s still, she stresses, about what comes next.
“If yesterday was enough then I wouldn’t still be going.”