Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Waltzing with the Queen of Late Night Radio.

My January Artist is Clara Rose


On 15th January last I posted a declaration. 

I declared that I am going to interview –right here – a dozen great writers and artists whom I am privileged to know.  I am going to ask them what they keep in their drawers – or rather to describe the tools of their trade.  I’m going to find out what their hopes and fears are for their art.  Very shortly afterwards I heard my latest favourite song  -‘Wallflower Waltz’ - on RTE Radio’s Late Date music programme and I knew it was a sign.  What better way to start my quest to discover how art is made than by chatting with the Queen of the Late Night Radio Clara Rose.


Clara has been writing and performing original music for 10 years now. She already has two acclaimed albums under her belt - A Portfolio and Queen of the Late Night Radio.

She has also shared stages with Celtic legends such as The Horslips, Henry McCullough, The Waterboys, Eleanor McEvoy, John Spillane, Jack L and she records and tours with blues legend Don Baker. 

Clara and Don are currently in studio finishing a collaborative album that is due for release later in the year. The album is a mixture of original songs by both artists.

Clara has always written.  As a child she wrote short stories.   As a teenager she wrote poetry.  ‘Terrible poetry’, she maintains, laughing. ‘Maybe if you put music to terrible poems they become good songs?’ She hasn’t tried yet to put music to her short stories although some of her favourite artists do that regularly -  Tom Waits does and  Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell….

She reveals that she doesn’t have a writer’s drawer, nor does she use a particular desk.  But she does use very specific tools for her trade. Clara usually writes a song with the guitar.  Mostly it’s when she is messing with the guitar that a lyric pops into her head - and then a feeling comes – and then she’s off.

Othertimes the lyric and the melody come when she’s on the road.  Often she will pull over to sing it into the phone and then she can hardly wait to get back to her guitar to develop it.

‘I've written lots and lots of songs at the kitchen table where I’ve deliberately sat down in a disciplined way to do it.  I don't like them.  My songs are very personal.  They are like a therapy for me – and if people like to listen to them then it’s a bonus.’

Clara has two other very important creative tools – a journal and a songbook. 
‘I usually scribble before I go to bed – a sort of de-cluttering exercise. I allow a stream of consciousness to flow into my journal.  Very often when I take the time to look back over it I’ll find a lyric in there and then that will go into the song book.  Later I’ll go back to the song book and develop the lyric into song.'
Clara, (who incidentally holds a Bachelor of Music from Maynooth University and a Music Therapy Masters from The University of Limerick), is a music therapist.  I ask her about her day job.  She loves it.  She works principally with people with disability and with older adults.  ‘I bring instruments along – maybe a badhrán, maraca, tambourine, whistle.  We begin by playing their favourite songs.  It’s a non-verbal therapy - an alternative to talk therapy. I like my sessions to be as much fun as possible’.

Which of her own songs does she currently like best?
I was delighted when she cited Wallflower Waltz. I asked her why?  ‘I think it has the ingredients of a good song – the lyrics draw you in – it has a good strong melody line and the harmonies work well around that.  For the time that you're listening to the song it takes you in.’

How did wallflower waltz come to you?

'Usually I write with the guitar but this time it was with piano’, she explains.  ‘I was waiting for a client one day who didn't show. I was playing a melody on the piano and suddenly there it was.  At that time I felt a lot like a spectator in life and this song is a sort of imagining of someone joining me on this wallflower journey.’ Clara explains that she’s not really a piano player – so what was arising wasn’t theoretically correct – it was, she says ‘almost as if musically incorrect odd cords came together as if by magic to reflect the lyrical theme of the song.’

So – who, I wondered, is Clara’s audience?
‘If I look at my stats on Facebook my audience is between 25 and 35 - there are a lot of men in their 50s in there too - all ages really - all very beautiful intelligent people who like songs that make you think - contemplatives songs.  But I also like and enjoy and write songs that let go - shake your ass/butt type songs – that bring out the craic - my gigs cater for both types of experience.’

Have there ever been times when the muse is not with her?
She says this has happened to her several times.  Once she had a whole year where she didn't write. She might have been performing, promoting, and very, very busy - but she didn’t write.  She made a big change in her life around that time and then the writing began again. She describes the times when she can’t write as terrifying.  As time goes on, though, she is beginning to trust more that after every ebb there will be a flow.

 Clara sees the whole thing is a gift.  Her big hope is that she will always be able to experience it.  She is deeply appreciative of her freedoms. She is aware that so many people in the world that have talents are oppressed - who simply don't have the opportunity to sit down on a Tuesday night with the guitar and make songs…...

We wonder together if art is art without someone else to respond to it?
Clara talks about a recent gig she played in which she ‘world premiered’  two new songs.  She describes herself as dying to see what people would think of them, to take the temperature of the audience reaction. ‘Your instinct might tell you that it is good’, she says, ‘but audience response is the test’.  

What is her genre?
Clara describes herself as blues rock oriented.  She started out as more ‘emotional rock’ and now she says maybe there’s a more ‘measured' 'folksy' singer emerging.  She loves the storytelling part of the Irish tradition.  She’s very aware of the storytelling and musical traditions that filter down from both sides of her heritage – of having a DNA that's very Irish - that goes way back both sides - as far as the 16th century.

She talks again about the fact that her songs are very personal - she doesn't plan them.  She admires very much Marion McEvoy, for instance, who studies a character from history and creates beautiful historical folksongs around that character. She would like to be able to do something like that - but right now anyway - that’s not how it’s happening for her. 

 We discussed what it’s like to be an independent artist.
It involves a lot of administration and hard graft.  A lot of online promotion - website maintenance - booking gigs - setting up equipment. It takes Clara one and half hours to set up equipment for a gig - then a quick change in the jacks – sometimes with maybe 12 minutes to make herself look beautiful - and then she goes on stage. 

‘I hope I use social media just enough to get the balance right between not pissing people off but yet giving them enough information’ she says.  There is a need to be more and more creative with social media posts. She notices that people respond much better when she uses video or images than when she just put up text. 

Who is she currently listening to and loving right now?
‘Hosier’, she says immediately. ‘Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison.  LA pop rock band Haim are on her current list as is English acoustic folk rock trio the Staves.  She loves to listen to talk radio to relax.

Does Clara read? 
Why am I not surprised to discover that she is, and always was, a voracious reader. 

Here are the current books on her locker:

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared - by Jonas Jonasson

Moby Dick - by Herman Melville

Oh Dear Silvia - by Dawn French



So – now we’ve had a look at all the influences and ingredients – what do they come together to make?

Go make yourself a cuppa – sit back  (or better still grab your partner - or snuggle up close with the sweeping brush) - and enjoy this waltz...........


Here it is.

  For more check out www.clararosemusic.com


Thursday, 15 January 2015

I have become A Henry After Sheep.

After decades of happy chaos something big has shifted.  The detritus around my home has lost all charm. Mess has become intolerable.   It even looks dangerous.  Apparently one should never pile items upon other items.  The items on the bottom become neglected and probably even toxic. I am worried. So far my search for a solution has included the purchase of several home organisation gadgets from IKEA. 

Yesterday - I texted a photo of my freshly organised drawer to one of my crones.  
Now she is worried.
Only last week she came to dinner and found herself assembling an IKEA filing cabinet.  
‘You are beginning to resemble Henry after sheep’, she texted back. 

Henry, her mother’s dog, enjoys more favour with her mother than her children, is more revered than her grandchildren, is more absorbing than her bridge, is more worldly even than her favourite Irish Times columnists which he reads with her daily. To her he is sweetness and light. He occupies the favourite chair and between them all is good. And yet, when Henry steps outside onto the farm, his ability to assert himself - to pursue his goals knows no bounds. Sheep flee.  Cattle scatter. Even the 2,500 pound bull finds a hiding place.  Henry is capable, within minutes, of creating an animal free farm for his perambulations.

I have found a photograph of Henry and looked deep into his eyes. 

If I’m honest I know I too can look this innocent – and I know I too have his steel. 

I can do this.  I know I can.

Hopes and Fears for Art

Of course none of this is new.  The English textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris, who is associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, wrote in his ‘Hopes and Fears for Art,’ (1882) p108 - Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or do not believe to be beautiful.

To inspire me I am going to keep his mug on my desk.

So, what has survived, so far, in draft 1 of my unlayered, ikeaed desk drawer?

It looks like this: