Singer-song writer Amanda St John has a voice that grabs you by the waist and escorts you back to your chair to listen some more.
There’s blues in that voice, and there’s soul; there is also R&B, and jazz and some pop. With all that in the mix we have to find out who influences her singing and her song writing.
“My biggest influences are people like Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, and Roberta Flack. I love vocal driven songs and love a good melody. I haven’t seen any of these guys live but that’s probably because they are all classic artists. I’ve seen Lianne La Havas and Imelda May who are currently inspiring me.”
So how did this songstress from the Glens of Antrim start singing? “I’ve always been singing. I remember walking on the beach as a child and walking to school on my own just so I had space to be on my own to sing. And I think I sang myself to sleep every night as a child. I tortured my parents to get guitar lessons so I had something to sing along with and I got my first paid gig (a weekly residency) at the age of 16.”
It makes sense then that this would progress on to song writing. “I have been making up words and melodies since the age of about 4 or 5 (again as long back as I can remember). It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realised that this is actually song writing.”
“My first public performance of an original song was at a woman’s conference in Ballymena when I was about 16. I was asked by my school to write a song so I suppose it was my first commission. It went down really well and gave me a lot of confidence to pursue this side of things further.”
With all of this passion for music starting so young you would be forgiven for thinking that Amanda came from a musical family, but she assured me this wasn’t the case. “Not at all. I’m totally starting from scratch and working it out as I go. My great grandmother was musical but I was the first one since then. A few of my cousins have great voices and my brother is known to sing after a few beers but I suppose there are a lot of people like that! LOL!”
She has another musical life as well that absorbs this love of music. She is “a freelance music mentor in the community sector and for people who are long term unemployed. We use music as the medium to motivate groups of young adults and teach them about the music business, song writing and employability skills too. I absolutely love this work. It’s all about empowering and motivating young adults and it makes me feel that I am giving something back.”
In autumn last year Amanda ventured out to Nashville to work with established songwriters who are masters of their craft, some of whom have worked with household names. “I had made a few contacts through the Belfast Nashville Song Writing Festival for song writing collaborations” she told me. “I decided that it was time to start looking into the publishing side of music and Nashville is the song writing capital of the world.”
“I ended up with 14 co writes and recording sessions in the 10 days. I came home with 14 new songs and 8 fully produced demos. I worked with some incredible people including Benita Hill (who has written two No.1 hits for Garth Brooks), various artists at ‘Razor and Tie’ Publishing Agency and a guy called Jon Tiven who has written or produced for artists like BB King, Wilson Pickett, Huey Lewis and used to play Guitar with the Rolling Stones! I had one writing session booked with him and we hit it off so well that I went to his studio every evening after my other co-writes. At the end of the week I had 8 complete songs with Jon alone and he is being very supportive with industry contacts, he even compared me to Dusty Springfield (the biggest compliment of my career to date!)”
Tying all this together will be taking most her attention for the next few months. “I am focusing on completing my album. I have 14 new songs recorded and we are in the process of completing the final touches to these. I’ll release a single within the next couple of months and when I get the album finished it’s back off to Nashville for meetings and gigs. We’re planning a mini tour in USA for early 2016 and I’ll do my first UK & Ireland Tour. It’s very exciting, but a little terrifying too.”
However, when I said the album would be taking most of her attention, I neglected to mention the summer festivals and events she is performing at, including Sunflowerfest, Heart of the Glens Festival, and Eastside Arts Festival. “I love the festival circuit. It’s so much fun! Every Festival is great in its own way, there is just something so lovely about the vibe and who doesn’t love to hang out in a field in wellie boots listening to awesome music!”
Amanda St John performs throughout Northern Ireland this Summer.
Sunflowerfest – 2nd August
Heart of the Glens Festival – 8th August
Van’s Fan’s dinner Dance – 30th August
Eastside Arts Festival – Dates to be confirmed
Photo credit Tremaine Gregg. Words by Cara Gibney