Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pauline Alexander Interview: Echoes of Grace

by Anthony Servante

Pauline Alexander

Pauline Alexander's pure and angelic vocals take centre stage with Edwin Gallacher's complex finger picking style of guitar. Their stripped back acoustic sets are a seamless mix of folk and easy listening complemented by their interpretation of song and original material. Vocally Pauline is very easy on the ear and has been said to have echoes of Sandy Denny, Eva Cassidy or Karen Carpenter.

An emerging Scottish Singer from Glasgow. Her debut album 'Thoughts For The Masses' was an Iain Anderson 'Album of the week' on BBC Radio Scotland and has also been widely played on multiple radio stations including BBC Radio Wales, Ulster and Shropshire. This year saw Pauline's 'Dear Sister' Music Video make its TV debut on The Phil Mack Country Show on Showcase TV. 2013 has been busier than ever adding Glasgow St Patricks, Third Degree Burns, Tryst Festival, Innerleithen Music Festival and Folkstock to her festival billings.

Pauline acknowledges that her career is "lovingly promoted by my other half Stephen Thomson. He does his day job and comes home and spends time promoting me. That's devotion and belief in me!" 

'...her voice is quite de luxe! Never miss an opportunity of hearing her!' (Iain Anderson BBC Radio Scotland) '.

..Her live performance was simply stunning and was without doubt THE voice of this year's festival ' Jon Hollingworth- Arran Events


To buy

We welcome to the Servante of Darkness Blog, Pauline Alexander. I first heard her magnificent voice in a Facebook group named Trad! Traditional British & Celtic Music. She sang "Fields of Gold" by Sting with a mellifluous vocal style more akin to the English Renaissance than today's Techno Age. This was a voice I wanted my readers to hear and a person I wanted to know. So, I introduced myself to Ms. Alexander and arranged this interview. Now I'd like to introduce her to you, my readers. And after the words, please listen to the top ten songs hand-picked by Pauline herself. Let's begin.

The Interview:

Anthony: When and how did your singing career begin?
Pauline: It was an interest in acting at school that set me up for my involvement with music later on. I was quiet at school and found that I became interested in performing in the school shows. I think I may have surprised one or two people, I liked that! I became the lead singer in 'Dave' a Rock band formed at school too. Later after working for a few years, mainly in youth work and community drama jobs, I replied to an ad on a UK website in 2005 to work with a songwriter in Bristol, England (Jonathan Rowland). From there spawned a few demos and I also joined a function band (Washington Street) which started me off performing most weekends, and when the band split I continued to work on a solo basis and gather original material. My local Glasgow station 'Celtic Music Radio' had a presenter by the name of Andrew Quinn, who found my demos on myspace and encouraged me to send them in to his show; from there other presenters heard my music, and I had my first live radio interview in 2009. It has snowballed from there. Encouraging words go a very long way.

Anthony: What training did you receive to capture your unique sound?
Pauline: I completed a performing arts course at a nearby college. It's here I realized quickly, that it was actually singing not acting that I was most passionate about. In all honesty though, I think the best training anyone can have for shaping their 'sound' is by listening and appreciating music. As a teenager I could literally lose hours locked away listening to music. Singing along to it, trying to master the harmonies that I was hearing. I was sociable, I enjoyed going out but I also really valued my own time with music and I feel that this is the true way in which your own sound can be developed. When performing live, I normally perform as part of a two piece and the guitarists I have worked with have brought about their own sound and influences. This, of course, adds another dimension to the overall sound from a live point of view. I'm now working with a guy called Edwin Gallacher and he is influenced greatly by Tommy Emmanuel and Simon and Garfunkel

Anthony: How do you select the music you interpret?
Pauline: Very good question :) I feel it's almost instinctive. I think I'm naturally drawn to music that moves me and where I think or hope I would be able to bring something of myself to it. The melody and mood of the song are always very important to me. The challenge of taking a known song and perhaps stripping it back to a completely raw state is something I really like. It depends on the individual taste, whether it works or not I guess. I always wanted to do 'Brothers in Arms' by Dire Straits. I always had a good feeling about that song and we now do it as part of our set. I think it works :-)

Anthony: Which other music genres, and which artists/bands interest you?
Pauline: I could probably talk about this subject all night.

Most of my musical influences most definitely come from an era when I wasn't born. I grew up listening to my mum and dad's music: Beatles, Beach Boys, ELO, Gerry Rafferty. I'm also very drawn to pure,crystal clear voices. The kind of voices that make you sit up and take notice. I'm a huge fan of Karen Carpenter, Judith Durham and Joan Baez - Melodic, tuneful and distinctive. I also like Sam Cooke and Matt Monro. I think all of these singers have a sound which creates a certain emotional ambiance for their music. More recently I have been taken (like so many others) by the talent of Eva Cassidy. Where a great actor will bring a script alive, the perfect blend of voice and song will do the same. I'm a big believer that a good song is a good song regardless of genre. I'm also blown away by bands like Metallica.

Anthony: Can you tell us about Thoughts for the Masses?
Pauline: 'Thoughts For The Masses' is my debut album and came about after a three year period of working on material with Jonathan Rowland. It is a mixture of my own work and the work of other writers Ron Lindsay and Clark Sorley. The songs are a collection of thoughts and reflections, lyrically the songs tackle issues such as mental illness and domestic abuse. A video for one of the songs on the album can be viewed on youtube. (Dear Sister). I'm delighted by the positive response the album has had and the airplay it has received from UK and abroad. The album was featured as an 'Album of the Week' on BBC Radio Scotland and I'm honestly very proud of that.

Anthony: I'm cursed in that the music I love, as yours, is not played very much in the USA. Do you have any plans to reach out to the US fans and maybe tour here?
Pauline: Aww that's very nice of you to say. I would love very much to come to the US one day. I could get excited thinking about that. I've never even been to the US on holiday! There are a few stations in the US that have featured my music. Scrub Radio, UIC Radio, WRUR 88.5 and Gashouse Radio. There have also been some very kind folks from the US that have heard my music on Radio here and been in touch to tell me so!. 'Celtic Music Radio' seems to have reached out to all over the world. I hope that one day, I will get to the US to play. Even just once. I'd better start saving my pennies :-)

Anthony: Can you tell us about your current tour?
Pauline: Most of the gigs and shows are taking place throughout Scotland. Various festivals and folk clubs, that we have never played before, so we are really looking forward to the months ahead. This year will also see our first performance in England when we head to Hertfordshire in September for 'Folkstock' . 
NOTE: For more gigs, click here.

Anthony: Dede Williams of Trad! Traditional British & Celtic Music introduced me to your music. How traditional do you consider your sound? To me, it has a timeless quality.
Pauline: I'm very thankful to Dede Williams :) I don't feel that my own music has a particularly traditional sound or feel to it. That said, there are many traditional songs that certainly influence and inspire me however and have become part of the live set. I try not to limit myself to genre, I think you have to be true to who you are and first and foremost. I think that strong melodies and lyrics will always be timeless and will reach out to people. Rather than trying to be 'current', I think it's better to do what feels right.

Anthony: Are you working on any new music that fans can look forward to?
Pauline: Yes I am . Working on new material for my second album as we speak and have been trying to write over the last couple of months. I'm also involved in a new musical venture. 'The Grand Gestures'

The Grand Gestures is an electronica project involving a variety of artists from the Scottish music scene collaborating with Grand Gestures founder Jan Burnett. The music is written around loops, vintage synths, home-grown noises and live drums. Every artist writes their own concept and lyric. I was selected as a participant for album number two with the only remit being to steer towards the 'dark and poignant'. I was quite inspired by the Nick Cave/Kylie Minogue 'Murder ballad' idea for this project....I've tried to dredge up some pretty dark stuff. 'The Grand Gestures Second' album is due for release in October time. Which will include my own collaboration track 'A Whisper of Sayonara'. The link is up for a short time, a few days to listen

Anthony: I'd like to request a top ten list of your songs and any other music that has influenced your music. And could you tell us a bit about each song, why you selected it?

1. Those Were the Days -Mary Hopkin 

I used to hear this song being played at home as a child and I always thought it was a very unusual sounding pop song. I was too young so I really didn't know why. I later learned about the Russian origins of the song. I now realize that I always loved the pure sound of the vocals and the distinctive melody. Very haunting and nostalgic. It was a very different kind of pop music to my childhood 80's favourites of the time,but I really appreciated it . It was one of the first songs from a time when I wasn't born,that I remember feeling really meant something to me.

2. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - George Harrison.

I'm a huge Beatles fan; everyone that knows me, knows this! I've always admired this song. However, when I heard this completely stripped back version of just George , I was stopped in my tracks. For me, this version brings out the emotion of the song a lot more. Sometimes less is more. It's a simple, beautiful and well-written song.

3. House of the Rising Sun - Joan Baez. 

Joan Baez is completely inspiring, not just musically but as a person of principles. If I could take a time machine back to listen to her performing in the old coffee houses I would. Perhaps I should call on the Doc and Marty for the DeLorean? :) The first version of this song I heard was by The Animals which is a great version. Once I heard this pre Animals version from 1960, I was captivated. The power of voice with guitar only can be amazing, and Joan Baez proves this with this track.

4. Crescent Noon -The Carpenters.

I'm a massive fan of The Carpenters music and sound. Karen Carpenters fine voice for me is the best and she is without doubt my favourite female singer. Karen had a 'wise beyond her years' sound to her voice, very haunting, soothing and the most amazing tone. My biggest influence vocally, without a doubt. This beautiful song 'Crescent Noon' is from the 'Close to You' Album from 1970. It's maybe not recognized as one of their biggest hits but for me,it highlights in full their talents. Richard carpenters production and arrangements can't be overlooked either.

5. The Witches Promise- Jethro Tull 

I think Jethro Tull are an outstanding band . An incredibly exciting sound and fusion of genres. Including prog rock, folk rock,amongst others. I find this particular track very mellow and it's nice to lie back and listen to. Ian Andersons flute and vocals are a great combination

6. Dumb - Nirvana (Unplugged in New York)

Nirvana- Unplugged in New York is one of my favourite albums to listen to. Ever. I enjoy the dark, angst-y and sometimes aggressive sounds of Nirvana. I don't think this track was ever released as a single from the album 'In Utero', but it stood out for me with this live album. Kurt Kobain was complex, and a very compelling performer/songwriter.

7. If I were a Carpenter - The Four Tops

The Motown era was way before my time, but I was brought up listening to my mum and dad playing such artists as Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson. It was catchy feel good soul/pop/R&B music. It was music that made me feel glad to be listening to music. Levi Stubbs of 'The Four Tops' was an outstanding singer and I love the power and energy in this version of 'If I were a Carpenter'.

8. Tennessee Waltz - Eva Cassidy 

I'm very taken with this beautiful version by Eva Cassidy. She had a rare ability to put her own stamp on any song with such individual presentation. A brilliant singer and arranger. It's justice that word spread about her talent, and I especially admire her for choosing material that was close to her heart, rather than attempting to 'fit in'. A lady with a special voice and a guitar that needed no gimmicks. I'm a huge fan

9. Where Lucifer Lingers - written by Ron Lindsay, Performed by Pauline Alexander. 

This is the opening track to my debut album 'Thoughts For the Masses'. I was completely honoured when Ron Lindsay asked me to sing his song. The song is about experiencing and reflecting on the the hell of mental illness. The song has had a very positive reaction and I'm proud to have been part of it.

10. Dear Sister -Written and performed by Pauline Alexander, melody by Jonathan Rowland. 

This is the first song I've written and had recorded, and it will always be special to me for that reason. This is also a track from my album 'Thoughts For the Masses'. A video has also been created for this song which can be viewed on youtube. The song is from the point of view of watching someone close to us in a negative relationship, perhaps knowing that it's not doing them any good but are ultimately powerless to help.

Anthony: An amazing list of songs, many of my favorites among them. Thank you for sharing.
Pauline: Can I just say....10 songs was not enough!! Just sending a couple more songs.

11. Broken Youth - Written and performed by Pauline Alexander, Melody by Jonathan Rowland.

This is another song from my album 'Thoughts For The Masses'. This song is about the anger,violence which is apparent within some young people today, for a variety of reasons I guess. It's not particularly cheerful but then life is not all plain sailing! The song can be heard at Spotify.

12. 'Skipping Barefoot Through the Heather' Also known as (Skippin Barfit Through the Heather)

This is a Scottish traditional song, which I came across a few years ago. My mum had a record called ' Glasgow Street Songs'. I decided that I was going to sing this song for a TV audition for a Scottish music special. I enjoy performing this song as part of my live sets. A video clip of me singing this track can be found on youtube.

13. Gerry Rafferty- Shipyard Town. 

Gerry Rafferty is one of the finest singer/songwriters ever to come from Scotland. He'll mostly be known for his huge hit 'Baker Street' which is a brilliant track . 'Shipyard Town', however, is one of my favourite tracks. Very poignant, reflective and a great melody

Anthony: May I add: 

14. Fields of Gold by StingRendition by Pauline Alexander

Anthony: Ladies and gentlemen, Pauline Alexander. Thank you again for visiting with us today.
Pauline: Thank you very much for having me :-) 

1 comment: