L: Music’s my thing. I used to play the cello and I taught myself a few chords on the guitar. I used to write songs. I’ve sung in choirs, chamber choirs and singing groups and acapella stuff.
J: Great. So why do you do art? Why do you sing and do music?
L: Music has been part of my life ever since I was little. I’ve always sang and always had the radio on in the background so I was always surrounded by music. My mum used to sing around the house. My parents don’t have any musical qualifications at all but I got into singing at primary school. In assembly I would sing the hymns the loudest, which was very uncool but I just loved singing! In all music classes, I’d always sing and generally be in the front and annoying! My teacher picked up that I really loved music and encouraged me to sing and told my mum that I could sing really well. She encouraged me to go the local youth choir – the Enfield Junior Singers – at the time. So I entered the Junior Singers when I was about 10 and was part of the Enfield Symphony Orchestra as I used to play the cello. I did ballet as well and I think that’s how I got into classical music because they aren’t really into classical music. Although they did have a big collection of Reader’s Digest Classical Greatest Hits and I was the only one who listened to them so I would put them on in the back room and pretend I was a ballerina and dance around to that. So I suppose with encouragement from my school, I got into music.
J: And why do you continue to do music? What motivates you to continue?
L: It’s just such a part of me. I get really fed up and get really glum if I can’t sing. It’s such a cathartic thing to sing on my own. I wander down the road singing very quietly. I’d really like to wander down the road and sing very loudly but everyone would think you were mad. It’s such a nice thing to do. My head is always full of music. I sometimes sit at my desk and hum to myself. The arts is something I’m really passionate about. My whole life is spent doing something artistic or viewing something artistic or generally being creative. I couldn’t imagine any other way. My friends generally aren’t like me; they think I’m mad. At university in my first year, when we met a group of friends, they’d all introduce me to everyday else as “This is Lynsey, she’s the really cultured person!” Which surprised me but I just thought it was perfectly normal to be so into the arts all the time.
J: What does it bring to the rest of your life? What do you get out of being an artist?
L: Particularly with choirs and vocal groups and singing with people, there’s a massive buzz that you get from doing that and sharing that experience with people, And harmonizing – so when we did the close harmony thing with me and my friends – we were all so in sync with each other. That’s a fantastic feeling. It’s like being part of a team and really producing something brilliant. You’re all relying on each other to do your part. It’s a real buzz. It was funny – this gig I just did on Saturday where I was just singing with a guitarist – and at some point I just lost my voice. Then I went and sat down and was just playing the tambourine in the corner instead. But it was so nice then, I hadn’t realized how much of an effort it had been to be singing and performing. Then I sat down and enjoyed my friend Pete playing guitar and singing and thought “this is really great too! This is so much fun.” It’s fun both ways but I hadn’t realized how much effort it was taking from me.
J: Do you reflect on your practice? Do you think about the process or is that something you just do?
L: I think when I’m in the moment; I’m just doing it. There are singing projects, which I’ve been involved in before, which I found quite easy and then I get a bit bored. So now because I’ve had so much experience in different singing projects, I’m able to pick and choose rather than do all of them. So I am now more choosey and the vocal group I’m in now is actually really difficult and the arrangements are quite complex and there’s beat-boxing. It’s all sort of off-beat acapellas synchronized stuff. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something where I’ve had to practice before. Normally I’ve just been able to wing it and it would work out. Also, sometimes in some of the choirs I’ve been in, people have said “Go and stand next to Lynsey as she always gets the tune” or “She’ll sing really loudly in your ear and you’ll get the right part”. There is a sort of synthesis going on. I know with singing, I’m much more confident with performing on my own than I ever was playing my cello for example. Just because singing is something I’d always done and is an inherent part of me as it’s just me and my voice. Whereas somehow putting an instrument in there made it all become a bit more awkward. I’m much more relaxed when I’m singing. People at this gig on Saturday where saying, “Oh, you’re so brave!” Well, it’s not brave. I was saying yesterday to my boyfriend that in between songs I don’t have any witty repartee. I don’t know what to say and get really embarrassed. He said, “well isn’t it more embarrassing for you to stand up there singing?” I’m like “No, I’m perfectly relaxed when I’m singing.” I’m absolutely in the moment doing my singing. When I stop singing, I go “Oh god, what do I do now!”
J: To what extent are other people important in your practice? How important is it to be in front of an audience for you? How important is it to collaborate for you?
L: What’s been really nice about working with this guitarist is that he’s been doing gigs with bands and on his own for a really long time so he’s got a set repertoire. Then I came along and was making up harmonies to the work he was doing. Then I was saying, “oh, if you sing this bit and I sing this bit”, so that’s a real creative process. We had a rehearsal last Saturday and had some new songs and thought, “let’s do a Take That chorus, and you sing that and you sing this and we’ll do our own version”. For me, that creative process is really interesting and I think it’s really important for him too to have someone to bounce off. I know when I was writing songs and I participated in an ENO song-writing course for a while. That was a few years ago and that was working with an amazing jazz singer ‘Lackadee’ and Suzy Zimpa who’s an amazing trained soprano. They were setting us tasks about song-writing and I’d only written a few songs myself but suddenly you get into a whole different zone and everything becomes the potential for a song. I would walk to work and lyrics would pop into my head or a song and a tune and I’d have to go into a meeting room and just record them into my phone so I wouldn’t forget them. It is a bit of a zone that you get into where you think, “Oh, this has potential to be a song!” Then every week we’d go back and either have exercises in the class to collaborate writing things or present the things we had done. One of the things I found quite hard was that you write a song that’s quite personal; I wasn’t being flippant but personal in expressing my emotions. Performing that in front of someone or trying to win someone over with basically your heart on a piece of paper is really hard. It did make me think about the artistic process and artists. Because normally I’m just singing covers of things and it’s not my work so I’m not being judged on that. That was very interesting and a different experience for me. The live audience are great and really good fun. I’ve done quite a lot of pub gigs where they’re a little bit drunk and really enthusiastic and like “Come on, sing another Johnny Cash song!” or waving and clapping their hands which is really nice. Although, again with the whole witty repartee thing, I just stand there and get a bit shy. The barbeque thing I did Saturday, there’s a whole bunch of fans and they’re really lovely and supportive people so I’m quite relaxed in front of them. I think what’s really great with this new vocal group that I’ve joined, we formed in September and did our first gig Christmas time and had people dancing in the aisles. We were doing acapella versions of Stevie Wonder and funky things and people would clap and dance. To get that feedback, to the see the real impact on other people was fantastic and really drove us forward. It made us realize what songs were good and what didn’t work quite well so we need to do more of these. We sang as part of the chorus at the Royal Festival Hall a few months ago and again we had this big crowd gathered round the marquee and they were cheering and wooping and came over afterwards to say how we great we were. It’s a whole different experience having an audience there but I would quite happily sing all the time. The audience is great and it’s a different experience, but it’s just the love of singing. Singing rather than playing an instrument, for me, is much more of a physical thing. It’s great for my brain and you just feel such a sense of joy afterwards and buzzing from adrenaline.
J: Brilliant. Finally, if you were giving advice to someone who wanted to be an artist, whether that’s being a professional artist or just being an everyday artist who’s doing it for the love of it, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about that?
L: I sometimes wonder if I hadn’t been academic at school, whether I’d just have gone into music but then I do wonder whether I would have liked it as much. If I turned it into a profession would I have found it as enjoyable? Because there’s things that artists need to do to make their bread and better and earn money. And the stuff that they love to do, which they can’t always do, because it’s not that high-income stuff. So I suppose my advice would be to think about that and whether it’s best to work part-time and do something you really love in your free time and use the money you earn from the job to pay for you to do what you really love or whether you think you can turn it into an art from. My boyfriend’s a graphic designer and he’s absolutely brilliant at drawing and he does use a lot of those creative skills in his work. I asked him if he ever draws for pleasure and he doesn’t do it any more because he uses it so much in his work. Sometimes he draws little sketches for me and they’re brilliant but most of the time he doesn’t do that. Whereas, I think I sing or don’t do anything musical for my job particularly, then that frees me up to have that fun outside. So I think my advice is that.
J: Brilliant, thank you.