Edelle McMahon on songwriting, her debut album and future plans
Edelle McMahon, one of Northern Ireland’s best kept secrets, recently released her debut album ‘Adventures in Narcissism’ and the critics have had their say – and they are on side. She may have been lurking in the shadows for a while but with raving reviews, the light has shone her way, highlighting her quality and personality. We reviewed her launch night in the Accidental Theatre last year – she went down a storm.
Edelle grew up in Monaghan and from an early age she was keen on singing before eventually seeking to become independent, “I was always a singer and I was always a show-off. I was singing way before I could sing. I used to be awful. Eventually I started to listen and singing is 70% listening. I didn’t want to be dependent on other people for backing. I think, even at 10, my independent streak made me want to accompany myself.” Her parents eventually caved in to the singer’s wishes after an unsuccessful period on the tinwhistle. “Mum and Dad thought it would be the same story so they bought me a cheap guitar from the Argos catalogue and they never had to ask me if I’ve done my practice. My cousin gave me a year’s lessons and I’ve never looked back. It was hands down the best present anyone has ever bought me.”
Her main influence at the time was the church and remained part of choirs and performed at weddings and funerals for family and friends. “A big influence, that’s not terribly fashionable, would have been the church. Our sister and I were in the church choir since we were tots. My cousins both played guitar in choirs so I’d bring my guitar along and they’d teach me a few things, and this was after I stopped getting lessons. There was also my mentor Gerard McQuadie, my Irish dancing teacher. When you’re growing up in County Monaghan in the early 80s, your choices were limited. Gerard was an incredible musician himself and for people he thought had something special, he would teach them some extra stuff so he taught me Sean-nÓs – traditional Irish singing – and storytelling – a lot of trad roots. Then there’s Christy Moore, Mary Black and as I got older I got into The 4 Of Us, and I still love them. Such lovely guys!”
Edelle doesn’t recall the first time she performed publicly however she remembers the first time in Belfast fondly. “The first open mic in Belfast was in 2003/4 and it was lovely. The John Hewitt open mic night on a Monday and I got a new guitar and Geoff [Hatt, friend] had been on at me for a while to go on and this was long before I had any notion about being a songwriter, it was just covers for me. I did about two or three songs and I was shitting myself. I’ve been performing in church, weddings for friends and family and it was all fine. When I moved to Belfast in the late 90s, nobody wanted to hear folk music. No-one was interested in the stuff I was doing so I lost a lot of confidence in myself as a performer in Belfast so when I decided to go down and do the open mic night in Belfast, I felt like a real fish out of water. No-one is gonna listen. But the audience were really kind and it can be tough down there, a loud crowd but they were really quiet. It really gave me a taste for it.”
Her debut album Adventures in Narcissism was released in November 2017 and has been received well by press and fans alike. “The album came about in a weird way. I originally went in to do an EP because I kept getting asked ‘do I have an album coming out’ and I was getting quite embarassed that I didn’t. So I eventually bit the bullet and decided I was just going to have to do this. I came quite late to songwriting. I didn’t start writing until my late 30s so I’ve been writing for about 7 or 8 years.” When asked what she thought the reason was for the long wait to finally get into songwriting, Edelle explained “Confidence. I always thought to myself, ‘I’m just a singer, I’m not a songwriter, I don’t have that gift’.
“Two friends that I co-write with – Paul Wilkinson and Jim Johnston, a published poet and lyricist who writes with a lot of local artists – seperately. Paul and I got together and jammed after Jackson Cage split and eventually he had a lot of riffs and I had started to sing some melodies over the top of those. That was it, I was off. I still write quite regularly with Jim and I started having the confidence to write a few things by myself. When you’re writing by yourself initially you’re like “Oh my god, this is the greatest thing I’ve written” and then after a while, you’re like “I don’t think anyone is going to like it.” You just have to take them on the road and see what goes down well.”
Edelle remains modest when speaking about her debut album. We asked her how she felt the album was been received, she explained, “Really well, much to my astonishment. It’s my debut album and no-one really knows who I am. It’s hard for middle-aged women in Northern Ireland to feel confident. This always seems to be a young man’s game.” It’s well noting that Adventures in Narcissism is entirely self-funded. The project seemed to be a large goal for Edelle and she is taken aback by glowing reviews of the release and recent album launch in Belfast, speaking highly of her fans.
She recently played at the launch of Gigging NI’s own singer songwriter night at the Sunflower Public House and she was, no doubt, within her element. Her smile, glowing throughout the night, is evidence of a woman keen to craft a career in songwriting and her performance justified that urge. Songs like ‘A Haunting’ and ‘Hollow Lullaby’ are arguably where she is most comfortable; slow paced songs that let Edelle’s vocals really shine.
If the music fan remains glued to the music industry’s ‘perfect’ picture of what we should listen to, we may miss gems like Edelle. Musicians and songwriters bestowed with the ability to write a piece that some ten, or fifteen, collaborators could only wish to come up with during a week-long session. Once listening to Edelle, she makes it look effortless, ranging low to high across the vocal range. Hitting high notes and holding them. She’s a professional. She’s been doing it her whole life. It’s justified that Northern Ireland should nurture this talent and embrace it for all its worth.
Edelle remains keen to make a plan for her future. There is one particular thing that she remains hopeful for. “I’m planning to do a launch in Monaghan, where I’m from, my hometown. There was a lot of people approaching me at Christmas so I think we could sell enough tickets to get the boys [full band] down. Oh, and I’m gonna bring Ursula Burns down, and I can’t wait to bring her to Monaghan”.
As a just-turned self-employed musician, Edelle seems driven to make ends at the very least, “Must is a great motivator. I do music for weddings and funerals, I have a couple of other things too – freelance admin, and some roleplay work. I have different income streams but if I hadn’t quit my job, I wouldn’t be thinking ‘I’m gonna play a gig in every county of this island by the end of the year’ or ‘I’m going to be back in the studio this time next year’ because I would be safe. I would be sitting hoping things would happen whereas now I have to make things happen or I’m not going to be able to pay the rent.”