To mark International Women’s Day, we have dedicated the week to celebrating and shining a spotlight on the women of Northern Ireland music. We asked seven female artists from Northern Ireland to talk about the women in music who have inspired them. From tough lives cut too short to pure attitudes, songwriting and beautiful voices, our artists tell us all about their inspirations below.
For the rest of our Women in Music week features, follow this link.
Christine Tubridy – Hiva Oa
I found it quite difficult to pick out one female artist in particular who has inspired me, because most of them have in one way or another. But given the significance of International Women’s Day and how the story of Cass Elliot made an impact on me, I have chosen her.
She was most famously known as Mama Cass, which she hated because it was a name that came partly from the fat-shaming taunts of her bandmates in The Mamas & the Papas, particularly the not-so-squeaky-clean John Phillips.
To me what made Cass Elliot stand out was her unwavering determination to succeed. All her life she suffered a pretty relentless onslaught of abuse about her physical appearance and was victimised by some of her own bandmates on top of that. She was highly intelligent and charismatic, her personality and sense of humour brought her huge success despite being the antithesis of the slim, smiling, submissive pop starlet of the era.
She got pregnant and brought up her daughter as a single mother, obviously a scandal at the time, until her untimely death aged just 32. I think it’s fair to say she enjoyed all the fruits of the hedonistic sixties lifestyle, but who could blame her. It’s partly why I imagine we might be friends in another dimension.
Her voice has a tone that genuinely gives me chills. She sounds defiant and fierce, but there is an undeniable vulnerability there. It’s not Aretha Franklin flawless by any means, but it’s got a kind of depth and self-consciousness to it that I find mesmerising and real. You could hone in on so many women that have made ground-breaking music and have displayed unique talent, but on this occasion Cass Elliot’s sheer presence and self-belief make her an inspirational female to me.
From a young age as a musician I have taken inspiration from many artists, but one in particular always stood out to me; Amy Winehouse. I first heard Amy Winehouse on the CD player in my mum’s car, I was blown away by her amazing distinct and unique voice. Her music was and is truly magical to me. I really identified with her unique voice as I have often been told that my voice is ‘unusual’ and to know that there were others out there with unique vocal tones really resonated with me. As I have grown older I have studied her music and songwriting in more depth and have been able to appreciate her artistry through her lyrics, melodies and performance. She was a troubled soul, but music was her outlet, she poured her heart and soul out through her music. Her lyrics were raw, honest and poetic. I admire this so much and I think there is something truly beautiful about being able to capture raw emotion within a song. I’m encouraged and inspired by Amy’s lyrics to push myself to look at my lyrical style and attempt to capture my own emotions through my songwriting. Amy’s vocal performances are a constant inspiration and drive me to explore my own vocal capabilities. Amy was truly talented and her music is timeless, I don’t think she knew how brilliant and inspirational she was.
Hannah Richardson – Cherym
I have and always will love the Pixies. I remember the first time I ever heard Gigantic and immediately fell in love with Kim Deal’s voice. It was the first time she had ever really stood out to me as a vocalist rather than a bass player and I loved how the bassline complimented it so well. It was so simple but the progression on the vocal melody made it sound huge. It was genius and I wanted to know more. A few days later I purchased my very own copy of Surfer Rosa from CEX and played it on repeat in the CD player in my kitchen for about two weeks straight until I was 100% sure every person I lived with was sick of hearing it… I definitely wasn’t. That album alone had a really positive impact on my writing styles and completely changed the way I listened to music.
Last August myself and Lauren held auditions in the Nerve Centre for a new bass player for Cherym. When Nyree came in and first started jamming with us we both started getting Kim vibes straight away, not just vocally but also from her playing technique. She was really good but whenever she suggested playing some Breeders tunes it quickly became apparent that she had to be in the band. Each of us in Cherym have similar musical influences so it doesn’t come as a surprise that a lot of the music that we write is inspired by particular chord progressions and sometimes unusual rhythms that we’ve heard before and decided to share. The Pixies were all about that, and I think a lot that boiled down to Kim’s ability to stand out and use that obscurity as a way to separate herself from your average bass player or vocalist, which I think is totally cool.
Lucy Gaffney – MMODE
Every time I listen to Joni Mitchell’s music I feel somewhat changed by it. She can capture an emotion in a song better than anyone.
When I started listening to her it was the stories in her songs that captivated me the most. She was the first person that made me want to write and take people to a place that could evoke something in them with my own music. The song I first learnt to play on guitar was ‘Blue’. I still play it backstage at every gig to warm up my voice. Her distinctive way of singing isn’t exactly easy or forgiving to attempt unless you’re well warmed up, so if I can sing ‘Blue’ perfectly I know I’m doing something right.
The simple beauty in the lines from ‘A Case Of You’ have always stuck by me when it comes to writing my own songs,
‘I remember that time that you told me, you said
“Love is touching souls”
Surely you touched mine ’cause
Part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time’
I think it’s the effortless flow of her words that’s always had me hooked. The first songs I wrote were ‘Sometimes in Life’ and ‘Would It Be Wrong’, and it’s safe to say Joni’s style of writing taught me that the most honest and simplistic words you write are the ones that can have the greatest impact.
Discovering her music at a young age was definitely enlightening, especially when I’d grown up surrounded by the idea that The Spice Girls had anything to do with ‘Girl Power’ and girls my age were simply being force fed whatever regurgitated pop star MTV were churning out in the 00’s. For me Joni counter acted all of that. She had her own style, produced her own songs in the studio, her beauty was subtle and her music was timeless. As time goes by and my influences keep expanding, it’s a small comfort to know that when I stick on one of her records I’m instantly transported back to the deep connection I made with her music and the reason I was first inspired to write a song.
Shannon Delores O’Neill – Sister Ghost
I still remember the first time I heard her, on a school-night around 2009, through the speakers on a now-ancient desktop computer that my family shared. Mia Zapata’s voice was loud, aggressive and in your face, yet still slung with melody and the blues. Songs like ‘Second Skin’, with lyrics about being tough and shirking off the hurt felt like a gift to my teenage self, and even better, there was a female voice singing it. Mia Zapata was stolen from us, in the cruellest way, and as a teenager finding out her story both devastated me and fired me up. In Mia I found the courage to be both angry, defiant and witty all at once. In my opinion, performers need to give it everything when you play and I especially love the line Mia sings in ‘Second Skin’ that says “I’ve got that chance to give every drop that’s left in me”. I think this nicely sums up that ethos.
I completely believe that we must never forget the heroes who paved the way, especially those who never got the chance to show us more. Viva Zapata!
Saffron Gorman – Safire
One of the biggest influences growing up for me in music was Joan Jett. I remember at a young age seeing her on TV singing the iconic song ‘I Love Rock and Roll’. She oozed confidence from her stage presence, to her gritty punchy vocal and her tom boyish hard rock punk style. It was then I knew I wanted to be a strong confident lead singer in a rock band when I grew up (with an awesome biker jacket of my own!!). She has definitely musically driven me through the years, writing my own songs and self-teaching myself guitar (although I stress just enough guitar to write my songs…). With our band Safire, we are currently writing our last songs for our album, and you will hear a massive Joan Jett influence throughout the album. With killer driving drums and bass and some amazing guitar hooks keeping that iconic 80’s sound, just like Joan Jetts’ ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’. For myself growing up on a personal level loving rock, I strongly looked up to icons like Joan Jett. She gave me a feel of acceptance and the confidence to follow my dream and never give up. So for me hands up to Joan Jett!!
As a child, I loved music. I lived through music, dreamed through music, understood who I was through music. I loved to sing into hairbrushes, pretending I was on a world stage but I never actually thought I could. I was, for as long as I can remember, surrounded by incredible singers. I adored them the way some of my friends adored superheroes; and they were a type of superhero to me. I could never sound like them, sing as high as them or do as many runs as them. If I was honest with myself these incredible singers with the ability to move through notes with such speed and agility only served to inform me that I did not belong in the world of vocalist.
I don’t remember the date, how old I was or even where I was. But I do remember exactly what I felt the first time I heard Roberta Flack’s voice. ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. The painfully slow, full and simple melody broke my heart in the most delightful way over and over again. The way she sang; there was no show case, no hype, nothing but pure, simple, deep beauty. And suddenly, somewhere deep inside I knew I could sing.