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Thursday, 14 December 2017

You Can't Sing...

Oh dear. I've been putting off posting this. Another sad topic.

From when I was able to write, I wrote. My mum bought me a blue ‘Marie’ diary at the age of six (Marie from Aristocats). Around the age of five I think I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to work with cats in a cattery or be a vet. (That ship has sailed now, although I hope to have my own kitty someday). I’ve always written stories, poems, diaries, and just found writing to be so freeing. It comes naturally to me.

Then around the age of nine I started taking guitar lessons at primary school. My dad is a musician, and up until then I had never really thought about music as a potential career path. Then I realised I could combine playing guitar and my love of words to create a new vocation – songwriting. My early songs were written in 2007, and pretty daft – something to do with cats chasing rats and there’s one about a girl I loved (a friend of mine who was younger than me) in primary school. My first full ‘good’ song was written in 2008, and it’s called ‘I’ve been feeling awful today.’ I was eleven. You can listen to it on SoundCloud here (recorded it when I was 17):

In year 6 I sang ‘Redemption Song’ by Bob Marley in front of the whole school. Note: I was very unpopular in primary school and bullied, teased and humiliated throughout most of it. I found it horrible and couldn’t wait to leave; my first year of secondary school was like paradise in comparison. Most of the school laughed, although I didn’t notice until after. My brother was so embarrassed he’d been crying throughout it. All I noticed was the massive round of applause and people afterwards telling me I was really good. But maybe I wasn’t.

Performing aged 13.
I began taking vocal lessons with my wonderful dad around the age of 13, and in 2012 briefly took some lessons with a lady named Carol to get some external insight. I think I knew I had a problem. My family said it, my friends said it, but it was kind of ‘hushed’. I remember my friends being out after school in Springfield Park in year 8 (for some reason I didn’t go; I often made excuses not to go out with them because I felt fed up or lethargic). They called me – they kept passing the phone around to each other and I felt really confused. I’d say earlier that week that I had wanted to perform in the school assembly. Then one of them said to me ‘well, you haven’t exactly got the best voice in the world.’ They were trying to be tactful; they didn’t want to see their friend embarrass herself in front of the entire school. They weren’t being mean or horrible, simply honest, and now I’m glad they said that.

I remember seeing my mum wince, and hearing her tell my dad how horrible I sounded when I practiced my singing. I remember the looks on my brother’s face. In the back of my mind I still look at him, even though I love him more than anyone else on the planet, and think to myself ‘does he think I’m good at what I do? Or does he still see a poor girl who just couldn’t hack it?’ He has told me recently that he’s warmed more to my voice as its improved and is much more complimentary of it nowadays. He and I both participated in music and drama workshops in a place called Hoxton Hall, and I loved it, but in the back of my mind I always felt like I was counting my chickens with my voice. I sang, but I was sure everyone thought I was terrible. I was sure the mentors thought I was, and that I should stick to playing guitar which I didn’t even think I was that good at. I even had this boyfriend when I was 15 that took the piss out my singing and said I 'sang like a man.' (That relationship didn't last long).

The only person who ever believed I could improve my vocals was my dad. He never gave up on me. ‘If you can talk, you can sing’, he said. I’ve never liked the sound of my speaking voice – in primary and secondary school people always said I sounded posh and it made me really angry and upset. I’ve always thought my voice sounds posh and plumy and ‘squelchy’, like I have a permanent cold. Older people tell me I’m articulate and well spoken, so I guess that’s something. 

By the time I was sixteen my voice had improved tremendously. I practiced weekly; I did my vocal lessons, I sang harmonies and backing vocals with songs, I researched classic Jazz and Soul vocalists and watched their techniques, and most of all I never gave up. I was determined to sing. I could write, I could play guitar; as long as I could sing a bit I’d be fine. Paul McCartney isn’t a great singer; Bob Dylan isn’t a great singer, Tracy Chapman isn’t a great singer, but they make great music and people like them. In my opinion Prince doesn’t have an amazing voice, but I love his music. Alicia Keys has a beautiful voice, but goes out of tune when live. Madonna sounds like a little girl. As long as you can sing decently, you’re fine. It’s more about the quality of the song.

Since then, busking has greatly improved my vocal confidence; I’ve had people coming up to me telling me I have a lovely voice, and now that I’ve gotten more and more used to singing in public my vocal confidence has soured. In the back of my mind I still wonder ‘do I have a crap voice? Are people secretly laughing at me?’ but hopefully that will pass. My mum is very proud of me and always tells me how much my vocals have improved. One of the reasons I quit drinking was because I was terrified it was going to ruin my voice and all those years of hard work. I recently took vocal lessons with a girl from my uni, and my head voice has become freer as well as me becoming more relaxed. Anxiety naturally affects the voice, so becoming relaxed in general (little things like smiling) help to free up the vocal tone.

In year 11 a wonderful thing happened. I sang a remixed version I had written of ‘Talk that Talk’ by Rihanna and Jay-Z, and a friend of mine did a little guitar solo. My entire year group cheered and told me I was awesome. They all wrote stuff in my year group about how I’d be on TV and be famous and the teachers loved it and I felt incredible. It was one of the best moments of my life. I even got voted ‘most talented’ and ‘most likely to become famous’ in the yearbook. I still don’t think my voice is incredible; I wouldn’t class myself as a great singer – I’m a singer-songwriter and rhythm guitarist – but I think I can sing now. I can sing well enough so that people aren’t laughing at me or running for cover. I would say I am proof that anyone can learn to sing, that with a few years of vocal training and dedication you can go from having a shit voice to a relatively pleasant one.

What do you think? Have a listen to my most recent song below:

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