From English Irish pubs to Johannesburg, article by Niamh Clune
My singing career began by mistake when I turned fifteen. In those days, people paid me to sing. Getting gigs was easy; they landed in my lap. Music was live with no shortage of venues. The new era had come into its own. I learned stage-craft through the experience of doing the rounds: everything from singing at American bases in the UK, (many G.I’s were stationed in Britain on their way to and from Vietnam) to singing in The Playboy Club, West End Night Clubs, The Hammersmith Palais, The Lyceum in London’s Strand, and London’s vibrant and thriving pub circuit.
I had grown up in London Irish pubs where music was inwoven into the fabric of daily life. One of my father’s few redeeming features was that he was a good musician, some would say fabulous, even. He played big band swing and Bebop on sax and clarinet. When he wanted to torture me and my mother, he played Irish jigs on the silver flute (should always be played on the simple wooden flute).
Musicians such as The Dubliners stayed with us in the pub we ran in Finsbury Park and drank us out of house and home. Seamus Heaney, the poet laureate, also passed through our revolving doors as did many exiled and lonely young men full of music, poetry, politics and idealistic intellect. They were attracted to our pubs like bees to honey, the honey being my mother’s sparkling blue eyes, astonishing charm, and generous supply of home-cooking. They came also because the craic was great. Music pumped out of the bar every night, from Jazz and Bebop, to Blues, Country and Traditional Irish.
At a young age, my father hauled me up onto that stage to “sing us a song” to make the auld fellas cry and drown shamrock memories in copious amounts of the ‘black stuff.’ Children and mammies were remembered. Many had been abandoned for years and left to fend for themselves back in the auld country where there was little hope of employment. Paddy was forced to seek work in foreign, English climes. The lure of digging London’s Victoria Tunnel superseded all other needs. Earn the Queen’s shilling and put a crust of bread on now distant tables, was the prayer of the day. Home parlours were replaced by my mother’s public bar, where navvy’s found refuge through smiling, non-judgmental, Irish eyes that lit cold souls and warmed exiled hearts.
As was the way with most Irish families, if you could sing, then sing. It was expected. If you could recite a poem, then recite away. If you could make a speech and blind all with oratory then “Fair play to ye!” Just make sure it was passionate, rousing and fired with history and enough whiskey!
Singing just happened. It was my first career that progressed organically moving from Irish pubs to being the chanteuse in rock bands, touring, and recording. I sang at the Tokyo Song Festival on the same stage as Kate Bush. I did sessions for Todd Rundgren on the Tom Robinson 2 album, and with Mutt Lange who produced Shania Twain. I did an album with Tony Clarke who produced The Moody Blues and sang with Chris Thompson’s band. Chris was the lead singer with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I even sang with Johnny Hallyday, the French Elvis Presley. All in all, I had fun and earned enough money to buy my first house in London and single-handedly raise and support my daughter.
I became disenfranchised with the music industry as the 70s rolled into the 80s and rock and melody gave way to punk and noise. By then I had burned out on the glamour, met enough wrong men and stayed up for too many late nights. I became bored with the ‘scene.’ Instead, being a sensible mother and psychotherapist was of infinitely more interest. I put aside singing, writing and performing on stage. That is until my passion for protecting the environment proved motivation enough to make me jump back in and write a song for the World Summit in Johannesburg in 2002. Having penned “We Are the Voice” as a campaign song about impending climate change, my then grown-up daughter and I performed it together on a distant, African stadium stage. It was the opening concert littered with the famous and good. It was a shock after all those years, and at that age, when no longer the ‘dolly-bird’ to stand upon an international stage once again and perform a song that I had written. I did it simply because I could! I had something to say. And I wanted to say it.
These days, I write books. Music plays a huge part in my writing process, as I am aware of the rhythm and sound of words and the way in which they make music. Being and thinking as a lyricist and singer of melody all that time ago plays still through all I write.
As is often the case, a few years ago, I craved making music once again. I re-entered the recording studio to put my first book, The Coming of the Feminine Christ, to music. I experimented with sounds and rhythms. I mixed reading and recitation with song. “Touching Angels” is the result. And I am proud of it. I have done nothing to market it other than use a couple of snippets for a video about my latest book: Orange Petals in a Storm.
Please listen to Niamh Clune’s “Morning Star,” “Red on White,” and “Dreamer,” at Soundcloud.
Listen to “We Are the Voice” – the song written and performed for the World Summit in Johannesburg here.
Great news! Niamh has just signed to the new ChillAudio Label. Says founder Tom Cloverfield, “ChillAudio is the finest chillout music. Founded 2012 in Germany. The main goal is to bring different artists, music and poetry together, creating a unique, dynamic synergy which we hope will demonstrate Global Unity, Peace and International Friendship as an example to all. We create a completely new sound that goes deeper into ears and hearts.”
About Niamh –
I am a published writer of inspirational stories to feed the soul; award-winning Irish Social Entrepreneur; revolutionary psychotherapist of all things soul; Environmental Campaigner (very mental and elemental); singer/songwriter and spoken-word artist. In short, friends describe me as a polymath! I have lived and worked in Africa for many years working for OXFAM, UNICEF and World Food Programme, (during the nineties when times were very troubled). I cannot leave out my present and most profound joy – that of being a proud grandmother.