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June 2019
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2012-05 Where thieves and pimps run free&

James column for the Sligo Weekender

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side. (Hunter S. Thompson).

The harsh reality of this quote, borrowed from a noticeboard in a London recording studio, compelled me to write it down straightaway.

So why have I chosen to pursue a full-time singing career for over two decades? I would like to think the primary reason is that I have succeeded in retaining my love of music as the central driving force. It most definitely wasnt a love of money - my mortgage, overdraft and debts are testament to that. 

Neither was it some narcissistic attention-seeking appetite to live forever under a spotlight that steered me into a life of performing.When I listen to countless young performers on endless TV talent-search shows saying they want to be famous, I get the urge to dive through the TV screen, shake them, and plead with them to re-evaluate their motivation. My absolute love of music, coupled with the drug-free buzz of live performance, with an added later buzz of creativity both in and out of the recording studio remain central to my professional life. Add to that the daily pleasure of meeting people from every conceivable culture, along with many unique and varied travel experiences, and I think Ive pretty much itemised everything that keeps me motivated within the strange and wacky world of show business.

But what of this negative side? From my very first day at music college, I experienced first-hand the bitchiness, falseness and negativity, sadly all to prevalent on the music scene. Thankfully my first répetiteur  Alison Young  prudently advised me to rise above it all, and hold onto what is important. I tended to take that one step further and laugh at it all, as far as possible. There are so many knocks, and lows, along the path to a music career, it would be futile to dwell on the negativity. Yet, folk do.

The choice of a teacher can be a make or break decision. Some teachers only work for some pupils. Music teachers provide a service, so shop around. If you are serious about being in this business, you must have unshatterable dedication, and unfailing self-discipline. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. After that, in my mind its all about reliabliity. If you are gregarious, amiable, and reliable vocally, musically, dramatically, professionally  on every level  you should do ok.  Always try to give your best performance. Whether there are 50 or 5000 in the audience, remember it is always a first night for most of that audience. And as the saying goes, you probably are only as good as your last performance. Diva behaviour was once endured, but is no longer generally tolerated. If and when we may meet, please ask me about some of the truly shocking true soprano stories of behaviour that would shock even the hardest mind  please.

Remember at all times, as a performer you are on show.  an ambassador for yourself, your group and your country, even at 4am when checking in for a flight (cue story)! The music business tends to attract the least secure, and paradoxically weak specimens (often totally bonkers) whose emotional baggage far outweighs their actual baggage. Maybe were happier hiding behind a stage persona, than in the reality of the daily rat-race.

One of my outlandish pipe-dreams is to set up a proper performance academy/stage-school that would instruct in every facet of the music business. Aside from music, theory, stagecraft, technique and all the rest, I would invite experts to discuss audition technique, taking knocks and blows, diet, fitness, stamina, relaxation techniques, management, agencies, publicists, tax and so much more.

One of the things that really gets my goat is when people say to me Oh I could have done what you do, but I never got the chance! You have to make the chance, I reply calmly. As a singer it was hell for me working in smoky London pubs, being told I was too fat for a role, and doing crappy gigs like you wouldnt believe. Caruso walked miles to singing lessons and worked terrible part-time jobs. If you want it enough, follow your dreams, make it happen. A hobby can become a career, and most of the time the privilege of singing for my supper leaves me continually pinching myself.