Our Songs & Singing class is run by J Eoin, a contemporary songwriter with a stunning voice. Here he tells us about his work with the Irish Cultural Centre and his own musical experiences and inspirations.
Why not listen to the title track from his latest album 'Acrobat', as you read the interview.
What is your own background?
I toured in Ireland in the early 80’s with bands such as Clannad and Scullion. Moving to London in the early 90’s gave me the opportunity to branch out as a solo act and explore the different musical directions such a city has to offer. Over the years I have been involved in the many incarnations of the London Acoustic Scene and played a range of styles from Irish Traditional Folk to American Bluegrass.
When did you become involved with the ICC?
A musician friend of mine, Rory Campbell, originally ran the Singing Class. He would often call me in to deputize a class or two for him and I began to build a repertoire of songs that covered elements of the Tradition as well as some contemporary songs that became popular with the students. When Rory decided to relocate his family to France in 2004, the centre offered his position to me.
When were ‘the best times’ at the ICC?
The ‘early years’ always stand out in our minds and I have fond memories of finding my feet as part of the Adult Education team from 2004 on. After a couple of years I decided to involve the singing group in some fundraising activities that would give them something to aim for at the end of the winter term and would also help advertise the activities of the centre and their impact in aiding the local community. Subsequently, the singing class has performed at Hammersmith Underground station over the last 8 years for a number of local and national charities. This year the Haven Cancer Support in Chelsea was our chosen beneficiary.
Do you think it’s a good or a bad thing that the ICC will be ‘re-starting’ with a new building? Will there be any challenges? What are you most looking forward to?
The original building was built for a specific purpose and served that function admirably over the years. As the centre developed and expanded into the Irish Cultural Centre it became clear that there were other functions that such a centre needed to address. The new model proposed fulfils this greater function and also guarantees the permanence of the ICC.
What facilities would you most like to see in the new building?
When I saw the original plans I was very impressed with the new layout. The inclusion of the new stage and performance area will be a much needed addition to the London music landscape as there has been a huge loss of small venues over the last few years. These spaces are the lifeblood of the music scene and allow up and coming acts to build a following before moving on to the bigger stages.
The classrooms are also to be given a hi tech makeover which will allow for greater teacher/student interaction. It will be great to use all the tools at our disposal to make the education programme more interesting and interactive for those involved.
Looking forward to the café/bar idea also as a space like this has potential for exhibiting local artists and may work as an acoustic space for smaller events such as the weekly Irish session we used to have.
So, what should new students expect from your class?
As the ‘Irish Songs And Singing Class’ we cover songs from the Irish Tradition and look at contemporary songs that have become part of the Tradition. Irish singers such as Christy Moore and Paul Brady have created a whole new diversity for the Irish Song catalogue. We’ve also considered songs from the Scottish Tradition and the American Folk Songbook as there is a lot of cross-cultural influence that has developed over the years through the likes of Euan McColl and Pete Seeger.
The focus of the class has always been to allow people to find their own voices in a group setting. Techniques such as diction, tone and vocal projection are taught alongside exercises to develop an awareness of basic harmony. We have covered everything from solo recitals to 3-part harmony singing over the years.
Have you ever taught anyone who has gone on to become a professional singer?
Not directly! Many of my past students have gone on to sing at events such as weddings and parties for their friends and families. For some people this has been a huge step forward as they never had the confidence to do this before. They have acknowledged to me that the class provided a ‘safe space’ for them to develop at their own pace and the encouragement and friendly nature of the group was paramount in allowing them to express themselves so.
Who are your own favourite bands or musicians? Do you think it’s important for professional vocalists to have an interest in various types of music?
I’ve always been a fan of the ‘great singers’ like Sinatra and the like. One of my earliest memories is of my father and mother harmonizing to Doris Day songs in the kitchen. I also admire the way singers like Christy Moore have created an ‘Irish Voice’ that has become an international standard. Moya Brennan has one of the purest voices to come out of the Tradition and her pitching and diction is almost flawless. An inspiration to anyone who sings.
What other projects / work are you engaged in at the moment?
As a contemporary songwriter I released a new album ‘Acrobat’ in 2012. Produced by Gerry Diver, it is a sideways look at London through the eyes of a long-term exile. I toured it in the Czech Republic during the summer and it’s enjoyed regular airplay on national Czech radio.
I also work in a number of other musical projects including a Traditional Irish duo with flautist Jacquelyn Hynes and the Irish/Jazz crossover band ‘Clann na Mara’ that play regularly in Europe.
One of the great things about the Irish Songs and Singing class is the friendships that have built up between individuals over the years and the sense of camaraderie that is shared by everyone who has been through the programme.
For me it is always a wonderful and very special moment when I see a new group simultaneously realise what they can achieve the first time they hear themselves singing in harmony.
For further information about the course visit our website.