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I remember a time when music never interested me. I don’t remember it well though. Looking back now, it’s as if that part of my life isn’t coloured in. My mum tried futilely to spark my interest, she bought me a toy tape player and some tapes, I think I was about seven. ‘The Tide is High’. That’s the only one I can remember. It might explain why I wasn’t mad for music then.A foot stool , red stickers on your guitar for where your arm had to be and to top it all off, a diary full of guitar homework for me to do. Classical guitar lessons. Too controlled for me. I did learn important stuff , like how to read music. It was alright, I liked it , I just didn’t love it…When I moved to Ireland at the age of nine , the practising stopped and my guitar stayed trapped in it’s guitar bag. Gathering dust.
Anytime a guitar was mentioned or we’d hear or see one anywhere , my mum would say something along the lines of ‘Oh it’s a guitar Sonny! Do you remember what one of them is???’ I’d feel guilty and maybe pick it back up again for a few days but I struggled to get into it. Everything I’d learnt was slowly slipping from my memory.
At around eleven, my best friend at the time had gotten quite good at the guitar and i think that’s what inspired me to not let it be an ornament any longer. I went to a few lessons with this guy. I still didn’t love it though. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
It wasn’t until the end of 2011, (according to my old crinkly ultimate guitar sheets) when I went for lessons with this lady who just printed out the chords for any song I asked for. That’s when I felt the love! It was me, I was doing what I wanted to do! Learning what I wanted to learn! Not being told what to play and how long to practise and stuff…
Unfortunately, I think the first song I learnt to play was ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry. Lets ignore that and move on though… I would never sing in front of anyone, apart from my mum and brother. When I did I’d sing like I was afraid to be heard. I was. My mum would go on about it though , saying how ‘sweet’ my voice was. It was so high-pitched because I was so nervous.
We went to England at the beginning of 2012 and i brought my guitar and sung for my family. It planted the first seed of confidence in my mind. Shortly after my parents split up , my Aunty came over to visit. Singing. She doesn’t stop. Ever. I asked her how she sung so powerfully, she said to sing the words like you really mean what you’re saying. Before I’d just simply say the words but then it hit me what she meant. There was this particular song, it completely related to my life at the time. The words and the meaning unscrambled, I sung it, not worrying how i sounded just thinking of what it meant. I got it. I ended up in tears and so did they.
That’s what music became for me. An emotional release. It would help get my feelings out. Things I couldn’t talk about I’d sing about. I’d write poems and try and turn them into songs. I’d forget them though the day after. Swimming competitively meant a lot of training sessions. Living an hour away from Galway City meant spending a lot of quality time in the car. In my dad’s it meant listening to Johnny Cash, Queen and James Blunt albums. I remember playing ‘You’re Beautiful’ on repeat and singing along for almost a whole car journey once. In my mum’s car on the other hand, it meant Bruce. Nothing but Bruce Springsteen. She told me once one day you’re going to get these lyrics and the meaning will change for you as you get older. At the time she said that I didn’t like his music and I didn’t think I ever would. I was too young to interpret the meaning of his songs.
Then I started to get obsessed with all these quotes and mantras about life and I realised they were a lot like good song lyrics. They were metaphors for deeper meanings . Figuring out what these quotes meant helped with figuring songs out. Before, I’d take the lyrics literally ‘I got this guitar and learnt how to make it talk’ . ‘What a stupid lyric guitars can’t talk?’ I’d think as a child. Now I get it. It was amazing because all these songs I’d spent my childhood listening to, knowing the words and the music, suddenly sounded different when I got what they really meant, I got the feeling and I felt like I understood the song and the song, me. I felt I could finally connect.
It was exciting. I was imagining all these millions of songs waiting for me to listen to them. All these messages hidden in them , waiting for me to get. I found that songs that had clear lyrics, usually slow and sad songs, that told stories, where you could hear the feelings in their voice and their words, not ones that just repeated the same words but had a good beat, appealed to me the most.
Artists such as Ben Howard, James Morrison, Jason Mraz, James Blunt and Mike Rosenberg, particularly Mike Rosenberg inspired me loads . I think it was their quirky style of singing that appealed and still does appeal to me. They made me realise it was absolutely fine to sound how you sound. There’s no one way to sing . You don’t have to sound like the majority of people just because the majority of people try to. We’re all different, with different voices . So that’s what I loved about them. Anyway after about two years of not singing in front of anyone I somehow ended up in an empty classroom with my two friends and a guitar. They made me do it. I had to have my back to them and face the wall and I think the entire time my voice shook. It was my biggest fear yet my biggest love at the same time. Their reactions when I finished completely overwhelmed me, they’re very honest people so i took what they said to heart, (it was all good stuff!) and that’s when the stalk first appeared above the dirt. My self-belief was still small , but it was finally past being a seed. I was fifteen, still hiding my guitar and my voice in my room and the most amount of people I’d played in front of was four. In my music class at school. Everytime the teacher asked me to play and sing to practise , I’d secretly love it. I was almost beginning to have to pretend to be nervous.
The maths teacher , the same guy who’d given me guitar lessons before organises a Christmas concert every year. The Christmas concert of 2013 I sat there just strumming my guitar watching other students singing on stage and I longed to be the one in front of the mic. ‘You wouldn’t dare a part of me said’. ‘You’re not good enough.’ But if they could do it how come I couldn’t do it? I realised I could do it. Anyone who really wanted to could. But it was too late it was all over and I vowed to myself that next year I would do it. I could imagine it. Me singing and playing on that stage in front of all those people. That next summer we went to England again. To Huddersfield , West Yorkshire. My hometown. I brought my guitar again. I told everyone I was going to busking because I wouldn’t see anyone I knew over there anyway. I didn’t know whether it was true or not but I said it anyway.
When my Mum announced we were off to Liverpool for the day I announced I was going to busk there for the day. You won’t dare do that! Mum said. For some people that would probably make them think oh okay mum doesn’t believe I can do it , I won’t do it then. But for me I just wanted to prove her wrong. I had to prove her wrong. There is absolutely no better feeling than doing something no one thought you would. Although I probably looked homeless , not wearing any shoes, sitting on the floor with my guitar and songbook. On a narrow street where it was quiet , otherwise noone would have heard me , I had no amp and no mic. I got a few pitiful glances and angry stares. But I didn’t care I loved every second of it. I made twenty five pounds. I counted it up on the car journey home. I was delighted with myself! A few days later I bought a big book about facts and I didnt realise until after it’d cost me all my busking money! It wasn’t even worth it as I didn’t even really pick it up again after. I’d read all the interesting bits in the shop. I felt kind of heartbroken and that my hard earned money had been wasted.
By now I was just discovering old music. It was much better. The Beatles, The Smiths, The Cure, Tracy Chapman, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison. Oh but first there was Ed Sheeran. And in between, and after and still now to this day. I developed a bit of an obsession with him. The Christmas I got his bonus edition CD, t-shirt, bracelet and autobiography, I admit was only last Christmas was the same christmas I fulfilled the vow I’d made to myself the previous one! By then I’d had numerous jamming sessions with two friends of mine , one who is an amazing singer , the other an amazing guitarist who at the time refused to sing for anyone. I’d had to practise for the concert in front of the other musicians and singers so it helped get over my fear of singing in front of people. The fact that I had my two close friends singing and playing with me helped a lot , we encouraged each other and I don’t think I would have been as confident as I was singing that night if it wasn’t for them. I might not have done it at all. I’d never been as nervous in my life, but halfway through a song, almost at the end I remember thinking, what the hell am I nervous for? I only want to do this because I love it so why am I worrying instead of just going for it! So I did my best and just went for it. After that the fear was still there a small bit but I’d done it now. I’d sung in front of about 200 people and their reactions had all been positive. My friend and I started to skip lessons to play music and sing , we were in Transition Year and not really doing anything anyway… We’d spend almost all the school day in the tiny damp music room with our guitars and folders full of songs. I did a few more concerts after that and my confidence just grew with each time I played for people. I still longed to busk in Galway. According to my mum I always went on about doing it but never did. She said it was starting to get on her nerves and I was ‘all talk no action.’ Then one jamming session with my friend I don’t know how but we made the decision to just go the hell with it and buy an amp and a mic , even if we had to take out all our life savings in order to do so.