First Published, March 2021
This year’s series of The Voice UK came to an end last weekend, with the Scot Craig Eddie confirmed as the winner. Last year’s victor, Blessing Chipata, also returned to the show to perform her new single. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not, and have never been, a huge fan of shows like TheVoice anyway, and this is one more reason why. While the show would never be on my must-watch list, I do tend to have a fairly good idea of what’s happening in the music world. And yet, I have no idea who Blessing Chipata is. No offence to her personally, of course, but nothing about anything she’s done before or since winning has ever registered with me. And, sad to say, I think the same thing will happen with Craig Eddie.
His debut single will do well, and maybe the follow-up if the song choice is right. Chances are, though, by the time a debut album is ready to hit the streets, the shine on the title of The Voice UK Winner 2021 will be starting to dim. And that’s not necessarily a reflection of Craig Eddie’s talent in any way at all. The problem is that The Voice as a brand, as a TV show, will need to redirect the spotlight to its 2022 series. With very rare exceptions, a career built on being the last one standing on a show like The Voice almost always limits the winner to that fabled fifteen minutes of fame. And as if that wasn’t bad enough in itself, that clock starts counting-down as soon as your name is announced as the winner. The one thing that being this year’s ‘next big star’ guarantees, is that you have less than a year before you’re officially out of date. And good luck to you after that.
From that perspective, CHANTELLE PADDEN – in the long run – has probably had a lucky escape. The Mayo woman, who first came to national attention here in Ireland when her golden, lucious voice saw Irish country star Johnny Brady choose her as his contestant on the TG4 show Glór Tíre, wowed judges Olly Murs and Will.I.Am earlier in the series. With both men wanting Chantelle on their team, she opted for Olly, who went on to describe her as a “superstar.” A few weeks later, however, when the ridiculous ‘battle’ stages arrived, Olly’s enthusiasm had waned and Chantelle’s journey was at an end. But only as far as The Voice was concerned. For Chantelle, bigger things, moments and achievements – ones that won’t come with a best-before date on them – are on the way. Her journey, the real journey, the one with music and not a TV show at its heart, goes on. And central to the next chapters of that story will be her manager Jeremy Medcalf, and her label, Legacy Records.
In fact, it’s a pretty amazing story as to how Chantelle first came to Jeremy’s attention. And not only that, but also about how the pair turned out to be living only twenty minutes away from each other after she moved to Cambridge, even though at the time, Jeremy wasn’t even aware that she had moved to the UK. As we begin Part 2 of our chat, Chantelle picks up the story…
“Well, the kind of frame of mind I was in, I wasn’t expecting anything to come of music. I was just like right, I need to get a day-job now, I need to start making some money. I can’t live on fresh air! [laughs]. I applied for a job in Boots, went through the whole rigmarole that we all have to do with interviews, and I got it anyway. I remember going in on my first day, it was a Monday, and I went in at 8am or something like that. I was sitting at the computer screen where we had to log in all our details, and I was like, uuugh…what am I doing?! I’m working here in Boots, when all I’ve ever wanted to do was sing. How did I get to this point? It was coming near the time of my break, so I remember getting up, grabbing my handbag, went down the street, saw H&M, and I said I’m gonna go shopping! Whatever money was in my purse, I said I was going to go shopping with, and it would cheer me up. Typical girl! Shopping solves everything [Laughs]. Went in, did a load of shopping, came out, and my partner – who was working in Cambridge – came to collect me when he finished. I’d have stayed shopping the whole day otherwise! I had to go down to Boots because that was where he was collecting me from, and I got into the jeep with a load of bags. And he just looks at me and goes, ‘Emmm….how was work?!’ He was looking at me as if I had two heads! I just said, ‘Don’t even talk to me!’ [Laughs]. I just said then, ‘Ah, it’s not for me’, and he burst out laughing and said, ‘I told ya so!'”
Chantelle continued, “But while all of this was happening, me having my little meltdown and wondering what was I going to do, a video of me singing at my going-away party was going viral. There were people from Egypt messaging, from Australia, it was very surreal. I’m not sure if it’s still online, it was on my local pub’s page, so I’d have to go back and look, but I think the song was about a hundred years old! A random song that someone had asked me to sing. But yeah, didn’t it start to go viral. And at the start of the video I was like oh please don’t go ‘live’, just because I was in such bad form, ya know, I didn’t want to be online. And you can actually see it, I wouldn’t look at the camera because I was thinking she’s goin’ ‘live’! [Laughs]. I was just down in the dumps that day, but it’s the reason why the song grabbed everybody’s attention, because it was a very sad, Irish folk song that I was singing. And that’s how Jeremy saw me. There’s no other way he could have seen that video [other than it going viral], because we had no mutual friends, he had no connection to Belmullet whatsoever. That video came up on his timeline, and he ended up reaching out to me online. There were messages over and back with him explaining who he was, and I was asking questions too, just to make sure that it wasn’t some randomer that was raving who was messaging me! [Laughs]. He asked me was I represented by anyone or did I have management because he would be really interested in arranging a meeting to talk over some ideas. I was like management, representation? What are you raving about! I’m currently working in Boots at the minute! [Laughs]. It was so crazy the way it happened.”
While Chantelle was by now almost resigned to the fact that a career in music may have slipped away, Jeremy, thankfully, had other plans in mind…
“He was talking about arranging a flight over and we’d meet at a place of my choosing and all the rest of it. But I had to tell him, sorry, I’m not actually in Ireland anymore, I’m over in the UK, and I’m not really doing anything music-wise, but thank you for reaching out. But he was persistent, he was like what do you mean you’re not doing anything music-wise, I think you’re phenomenal. But then he said, well actually Legacy Records is based in the UK, that’s where I’m living as well, and he asked me what part I was in. I said I’m actually in Cambridge and he was just like…what? I think one of his messages was just, ‘Are you having a laugh?’, he thought I was messing with him [laughs]. He happened to be living in Willingham, and I was in Harleston, literally twenty minutes away from each other. Absolutely crazy.”
When she and Jeremy met, Chantelle wasn’t actively doing anything anymore as far as music was concerned, with no real contacts to speak of, and no idea about how she might even record anything. Having grown convinced that she didn’t have a chance of making it as an Irish country artist, she had been hesitant to even think about going near a recording studio. But by reassuring her that commercial country was the lane Chantelle should actually be in, Jeremy helped to change that. And, as Chantelle was about to reveal, Jeremy actually had very close personal links to the Irish country music scene himself…
“Now a lot of people don’t know this, but Jeremy’s mother worked on the Irish country scene, she toured with Foster and Allen, Daniel O’ Donnell, Philomena Begley. Michelle Calaz was her stage name. She even performed on Live At 3, a show I’m sure some people will still remember fondly. So he has some idea of how the Irish country scene used to work back then. And he was very surprised to see that it’s still working that way, with a lot of the same people who were heading the shows back then are still the main headliners. His idea was well, ‘Why don’t you try to bring something different to the table?’ Now obviously, I respect anyone I grew up listening to. Philomena Begley rang me the other week, and I was starstruck! The only time in my life I’ve ever been starstruck! [Laughs]. I wasn’t even starstruck meeting Sir Tom Jones, but when Philly rang me I was like WHAT is goin’ on?! [Laughs]. But I still got what he [Jeremy] was saying, and I explained that they were all still pulling in the crowds. But Jeremy suggested that maybe it was because no-one has tried to actually do something really different. That got me thinking. And I asked him if he thought that where I fit in the scene, would that work in Ireland? He was like, well, there’s only one way to find out! Lo and behold, the first album we released with Legacy was called Let’s Begin, and it went to #1 on the Irish charts on iTunes. So that was a sign that ok, I have some hope. My only problem is getting my name out there. I knew that I needed to be seen on certain platforms, be it a talk-show, or performing somewhere on stage. I went on tour with Nathan, which was amazing. He brought me on his 2018 summer tour. Phenomenal experience for me. A few things started happening when I got with Legacy, because I had the right kind of input, and they offered me great advice on how to approach things. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m always trying to improve and stuff. Legacy helped me to realise that if I don’t take the risk, I’m just going to be like everybody else. And I’ll keep slipping through the cracks, ya know.”
Moving slightly away from the music side of things for a moment, one of the things I really love, and admire, and respect about Chantelle, is that she’s so open about having the same kinds of insecurities as everybody else. She acknowledges that what people generally see online – from most people – is usually made for online, it isn’t real-life, so it’s not always going to reflect real-life. One of the reasons why I think all of that is so important about Chantelle is because – certainly on the outside – her, and her life, seem pretty much perfect. Now, she could just let that perception be the only thing that anyone knows, but she doesn’t. I asked her why she felt it was the right thing to do, to say, as she has done, “Hey, I love my coffee, I love my chocolate, I love my filters, and I sometimes don’t love myself as much as I should…”
“I think back to my younger self, and if there had been more public figures who had been more open and more real, I don’t think I would have felt so self-conscious. Even though it [social media] wasn’t really a big thing when I was in my teens – it’s only after exploding now in the last while – but I’m well aware that I have a lot of younger followers. And they message me a lot of the time to tell me if they’re insecure about something, or if there’s something bothering them. And I always would keep that kind of connection with…I don’t even like calling them just fans, to be honest with ya. I’d be nothing without the people that follow me. Fans is kind of a basic word used by everyone. But I want them to feel like I can be a friend as well. An awful lot of younger people, and even people older than me, reach out. Everything we see online can be very…[pause]…edited! [Laughs]. It’s made to look perfect, and we only post the good parts of our lives. But ya know what? That’s not the way life works! Oh Jesus, when I say I went through an awkward phase, I mean I went through an awkward phase! [Laughs]. And I’m still insecure. But I’m open about it. Yes, I wear make-up, and I put on big lashes to try and make myself feel good, to feel ‘pretty’, whatever that is. I’ll never be perfect, and I don’t try to be. I can be the world’s worst! I’ve done shoots working with The Voice and I’ll be like, make sure you get a good angle on me now! [Laughs]. Part of me is making a joke, but a part of me is saying, oh Jesus, do I have to suck in now when I’m speaking here! [Laughs]. But that’s real-life, though. No matter whether you’re a size-zero, or a size thirty, whatever, you’ll always have different insecurities. It might be that you don’t like your figure, or you don’t like your hair, or your skin. I’ve always been open about the fact that my weight fluctuates. If I want to be good, and tone-up, and lose weight, I’ll just cut out the crap and try and be strict on myself. But then there’s another part of me that sees my skin flare up all the time from wearing make-up, your typical first-world problems [Laughs]. But I don’t see the problem in making those things known. We’re only human. And it might help someone else feel normal by doing that.”
Chantelle has described her musical journey as feeling like “a never-ending road of potholes” sometimes! Apart from her love of music itself, and of performing, what else has given her the strength to keep going on that road?
“Do you know how some people can work in a job that they may not necessarily like, but they still do it because they need to? Well, it’s kind of like I need to keep doing what I love because I know I won’t like doing anything else. My journey has been literally like a never-ending road of potholes [laughs], there’s always set-backs, there’s always knocks. But do you know what? I can honestly say that any knock or set-back – and there’s been a few – I’ve grown from them. Sometimes, if you’re not good enough, you need to take it on the chin, and you need to work on it. I’ve always had that mentality. Whatever is not going my way, I figure out where it’s going wrong, try and resolve the issue, and then crack on again! And if it keeps happening…well, your luck has to change some day! [Laughs]. Anyone who’s ever had longevity out of their careers has to do that. Look at Sir Tom Jones, for instance, he once had to work on a building site for years before he had his first number-one hit at the age of twenty-four. I’m only twenty-four, so hopefully I have some hits coming [Laughs]. But people like him, like Dolly Parton, they grew up in hard times, they’ve definitely had set-backs. Shania Twain has had set-backs. Even our own Margo. I actually had a conversation with that lady recently too, lovely woman. And she said to me, ‘Don’t let it hold you back, that you come from a small town, I’m the same. I come from the middle of nowhere too!’ [Laughs]. If I give up, then it will all have been for nothing. And someone that never gives up, will never fail. If you keep on tryin’, you’ll never be a failure!”
~ CHURCH BELLS, the latest single from CHANTELLE PADDEN, is OUT NOW, available on all platforms and to request from radio.