Professional singer and manager of music festival KOFMA, coming to W12 in October
How long have you lived in the area?
Only since March, but I was nearby in W14 before that.
Where are your favourite haunts?
I love The Ginger Pig. People think it's expensive but some of their cuts, such as the onglet, are really reasonable. And Askewine do a lovely Normandy cider.
Where did you live before?
I grew up in Belfast and then went to Leeds University. I'd never been there before but they had a good music degree. My parents just dropped me off. Then I went to Dublin, to Christchurch Cathedral for the work. It's one of the few churches that hires women for the choir's top line – that's the sopranos. Traditionally, church choirs, such as at Westminster Abbey, only advertise for men and boys. I'm an alto now but I was a soprano then. And I've also lived in Sicily. My friend Miles (Lallemant) and I went there for 14 months. We drove there in his little yellow car and lived on Mount Etna. It erupted a couple of times and we even saw the lava running down the side.
PULL QUOTE: Everyone can sing
You sound brave, going to a university in a city you've never seen and living on a volcano.
Those kind of things don't worry me.
Is your family musical?
No. There was always talk of a great grandmother who sang well, but no one alive has ever heard her so, no. Some people on Mum's side are creative, jewellers and painters, but no professional musicians.
Were you a musical child?
Not really. When I was at school the teacher played us a recording she'd made of us singing when we were seven and I was the worst. It was awful. When I was about nine I took up the violin but I was very bad and eventually gave up for everyone's sake. But then when I was about 10, I auditioned for the school choir solos and I'd got better. In fact, I was good. I don't know why I improved. I didn't have any singing lessons. I was just competitive I guess. I don't know why. I'm not competitive in general life, but back then I just wanted to win at everything. Now I'm more realistic.
Who were your musical idols, then and now?
Always Pavarotti. My parents went to watch him at Stormont. I watched him on TV and if I'd known how good he was I would have begged for a ticket. It wasn't only classical though. Mum and Dad used to listen to Van Morrison, Elvis, Dolly Parton and everything really. The first classical record I bought was Purcell's The Fairy Queen, but only because I was studying it at secondary school.
What do you sing and how do you choose?
Mostly I don't get to chose. I mostly sing in chamber choirs or ensembles, which are usually less than a dozen. I'm under contract with Chamber Choir Ireland, the national choir, and Ars Nova Copenhagen. Our last programme in Ireland was a collection of Slavonic church music, composers like Rachmaninov. I also went to the Bach Festival in Leipzig in June with the Dunedin Consort, which was an amazing experience.
What and where would you most like to sing?
My favourite composers are Bach and Monteverdi. I like to sing these in any beautiful building with a good acoustic, but I am a big fan of the buildings in Rome. I love so many things that it is hard to decide. The best part of what I do is that I get to perform so many different things in so many different places.
It takes courage to sing in public. Where did you get that confidence?
My parents maybe. To me, it's no big deal. You do your best and hope people like it and they usually do. You're your worst critic, but mostly people don't notice your mistakes or they don't say because they're there to have a good time.
Do you never get stage fright?
Sometimes, if you don't know a piece well enough. Generally, I have no music so I have to learn it, especially when you're doing a solo. You listen to a lot of recordings and really listen to the words. And sing it lots of times and write down the words from memory. I've got quite a good memory. I still remember all the words from Van Morrison and Elvis.
In which countries have you performed?
Lots: Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Russia... I'm usually away one or two weeks each month.
What is KOFMA and what's your role?
It's a week-long music festival in early October, originally only in Kensington Olympia but this year we're extending it to Hammersmith. This is our third year. We particularly try to promote young and local musicians and artists. I'm the Festival Manager.
(On Friday 6 October) A performance of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at Holy Innocents' Church by Ravenscourt Park. And (on Saturday 7 October) at St Luke's on Uxbridge Road, we have a samba drumming workshop for children. Then (on Monday 9 October) a cello recital of Russian favourites like Rachmaninov and Shostakovich. Plus there's a young singer's master class (on Tuesday 10 October) and, from Gareth Malone's Pitch Battle, we have the group All the King's Men (on Thursday 12 October). And then there's the gala dinner at Bush Hall.
Are you performing?
I am Dido in Dido and Aeneas.
You also run a local community choir. Why has singing in a choir become so popular?
Gareth Malone. People like to sing and, thanks to him, they've realised that in a group they don't have to be amazing. Ours came about after our first (KOFMA) festival when we had a come-and-sing day. People seemed to like it so I organized a regular Tuesday evening rehearsal. Miles plays the piano and conducts.
Can anyone learn to sing?
Everyone can sing but there are confidence issues when they're outside their comfort zone. Some people are never going to be good, but that doesn't matter. Oddly enough, it's often the worst singers who are the loudest, and the best who worry the most about whether they are good.
Do you prefer singing or teaching?
Singing. I don't see the rehearsal as teaching but as a social activity with purpose.
What's your best advice for someone who wants to make a living in music?
If you want to be rich it's the wrong career, but you can make a living. Singing has an early retirement age, but there are lots of teaching positions in schools and universities. If you don't fancy teaching it would be helpful to have something else running in parallel.
How do you relax?
Eating and drinking. I love cooking, particularly roasts and Italian feasts.
With whom do you relax?
Friends and family and Miles. We went to Snowdonia last week. It was so peaceful. I can't remember when I last slept so well. And we climbed Mount Snowden. We didn't get to the top but it was so quiet. Just wonderful.
Thank you, Laura. It's been a real pleasure to meet you.
Interviewed by Jo Reynolds September 2017