First Published November 2022
AS GOODE AS IT GETS
Sitting down for a chat with the supremely talented songstress RACHEL GOODE is the same kind of experience as listening to her sing: a pleasure from start to finish. If there are more technically accomplished voices on this island, then you can probably count them on one hand. And any list that doesn’t include the Galway woman will have a massive hole in it, simple as that.
On December 2nd, Rachel will be one of the very special guests of Larissa Tormey for Larissa‘s IN THE GLOW OF A WINTER’S EVE concert at the Tuar Ard in Moate. With James Kilbane also on the bill, that trio are certain to put on a show that will keep the season’s light aglow until well into the new year. With an eye on that date, I had the pleasure of catching up with Rachel for a chat about her musical life and career to date.
Now, to call Rachel a very busy woman seems so wide of the mark as to not even come close to describing the reality of her diary. She is, after all, a teacher, a student again herself too, a much sought after wedding singer, and of course, we can’t forget the recording artist side of her life as well…
“Yeah, that’s it all! At the minute, I’m in the middle of doing a Master’s, well, a PME – a Post Master’s in Education – basically to be a music teacher at secondary level, because my degree is in music. It’s funny, because growing up I always wanted to be a teacher, but I wanted to be a singer as well. But ya know when you’re young and you see singers like Britney Spears or Shania Twain…that’s being famous. But you don’t realise that there’s other ways of being a singer, you don’t have to be THAT big to be a singer. When you’re a child you don’t realise that. So I always wanted to be a teacher. When Covid happened, obviously I lost all my work, all my gigs went, everything. I was left in the lurch, and that got me thinking that maybe now was the time to go back and do this, just so I’ll have that there to use. Whether I will use it straight away or not, I don’t really know all that yet. Because I want to sing. But that’s the reason I went back [to studying again]. So that’s one thing I’m doing at the moment. And then I’m juggling all my other work. I do wedding ceremonies and the drinks reception, I don’t have a band. But I absolutely love weddings, they’re so nice. They’re lovely gigs as well because they’re kind of during the day, so you’re not home super-late at night, which is nice [laughs]. During the summer I had about three a week, but it’s quietened down a bit now, November isn’t a busy time for weddings as such. I still have a few, but there’s not as many as during the summer. Then on top of that, I’m obviously trying to get my profile out there as a recording-artist, trying to share my music and my voice with the world. So yeah, that’s kind of the three different things I’m at at the minute. While trying to do-up a house as well! [laughs]”.
Earlier this year Rachel seemed to come out of nowhere in some ways, to suddenly be everywhere, appearing as both a contestant on the long-running TG4 show Glór Tire and as a contestant in the Eurosong final as well, a combination of events that I’m pretty sure has never been done before. I asked Rachel to take us back to that period of her life and talk us through how everything seemed to happen all at once…
“Yeah, it was actually…crazy! [Laughs]. Well, I’ve sang ever since I was a child, and I grew up singing three main genres: classical, Irish folk, and country, that’s what I always had the grá towards. When I went and did my degree, it was a classically based degree. On the side of that, I gigged. I had a band going, I had a social-dancing band as well, this was years ago – I’m old now! [laughs]. Then my teacher said, ‘Right, you really need to delve into this world of opera, I really think you should be an opera singer’. But I said I didn’t really know what that entailed, I didn’t know if I’d like it, ya know. She said go and do a Masters and see how you get on. So that’s what I did, I went to Wales and did a Masters in Opera Performance, and I absolutely loved it. To be honest, it helped me in so many ways, not just in terms of classical singing, but in terms of performing. Because I had to do acting courses, and you had to think about every single line you sing. So that helped me in all genres that I sing, and it helped me become a better performer. I came out of myself as a person as well. It just helped me in so many ways. I was gone for four or five years, but still coming back and forth, but mainly based in Wales. Then I came back to Ireland, and because I hadn’t really been gigging in Wales – that was really college based, singing lessons, coaching, acting classes, all that – so when I came back, I was really missing the part of me that would sing the other genres, like the country and the Irish folk. So I went back on the gigging scene while also still doing the opera stuff. I was a young artist with the Irish National Opera when I moved home. Then the pandemic came around, everything stopped, and we were all kind of at a loose-end.”
Rachel went on, “What got me by was actually recording things at home, so I started posting a lot of videos on Facebook, mainly country and Irish folk. And, aah, I just loved it! I had really missed it! People were going crazy on my Facebook saying, ‘You’re so good at the country and the folk’. I had been thinking a lot about releasing something, but I wasn’t sure about where to go. Would I release something classical? Would I do something country? It was so hard because I love all three genres. But there’s something about the country and the folk that I always was pulled towards. Even when I’d be in a practise-room in Wales, practising for an opera, I could be going for half-an-hour and then I’d get bored and sit down at the piano and start playing something completely different, something country or folk. There was just that pull all the time. Someone actually phoned me and said that I really should release something, and that’s how that happened. So I released ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, that was my first record. And I wanted to make it different, because it’s such a popular song. I always wanted a kind of folky sound in my tracks, folky, bluegrass. So I really wanted to put my own slant on it, to make it different from all the others that are out there because there are so many covers of that song. I did that, and things kind of went crazy then. My name was getting out there a bit in the country world, and then I got a phone-call asking would I go on Glór Tíre. It all spiralled from there!”
“But the Eurosong then was a completely separate thing altogether! [laughs]”, explains Rachel.
“They – Joakim Ovrenius, Johan Mauritzson, Thomas Karlsson, and Anna Engh – [the writers of ‘I’m Loving Me’] found me on Instagram. When I post up videos of wherever I sing, I always use hash-tags, and one of them is #IrishSinger. So what happened was, the group from Sweden had submitted the song in the Irish competition and it got to the final six, but they had no Irish singer. RTE told them they needed to go and find a singer so they started scouring the net and they came across me [laughs]. I got this message one day and it was like, ‘Hi, we’re from Sweden and we have a song, and it’s got to the final of the Irish Eurosong. We love your voice, your look, and your vibe, we think you’d be an amazing fit for the song.’ So, I actually thought it was a scam at the start [laughs]. But I replied and was like, ‘Oh that’s great, amazing, congratulations. Maybe send me the song and we’ll go from there’. So they sent me the song and I soon realised that it wasn’t a scam! [Laughs]. But at the same time, I thought, well, they’ve probably sent this message to a hundred singers, ya know? So if I get back to them again, they might not get back to me. But she was straight on, saying, ‘No, no, no, we want to hear you! Can we set up a Zoom call? ASAP! Let’s do it tomorrow. Do you think you can learn the song by then?’ And I was like, yeah, I can learn it by then, that’ll be fine. So we set up the Zoom call, I met them all on Zoom, sang the song for them. I think it was the 23rd of December, maybe the 22nd, but it was nearly Christmas, so I said, ‘I’ll probably hear from you in the new year? I’m sure you’ll have to have a conversation about who you want’, but they were like, ‘No, we want you!’ And I was like, oh… really?! [laughs]. I walked out into the kitchen after it, because my mum and my granny were here, and I said, ‘I think I’m going to be on The Late Late…!’ [Laughs]. And that’s how THAT happened! [Laughs]. It’s funny because that didn’t happen because of what I had released, it was a totally separate thing!”
Rachel’s aforementioned appearance with Larissa Tormey and James Kilbane at Larissa’s In The Glow Of A Winter’s Eve concert on December 2nd won’t be her only magical moment of the festive season. On December 15th, she brings her own show – The Magic of Christmas – to her hometown of Ballinasloe…
“I’ve actually organised this same concert now, I think this is the third or fourth time? I did it a few years ago, it might have been 2016 or 2017, and I did it for the Galway Hospice that time. It was in the church in Ballinasloe, and we raised, I think, four-grand. I did it again in 2018, after my mum, Caroline, was diagnosed with cancer in August of that year. I think it was the Christmas of 2018 that we did it, that time it was for the East Galway/Midlands Cancer Support Centre, which is here in Ballinasloe. It was in the church, but we had no admission fee. There were no tickets or anything, so it was slightly worrying, ya know…will people turn up?! [Laughs]. They didn’t want to do tickets because it was in the church, so I said that was fine. We didn’t want to put people under pressure either, if they didn’t have the money. They could still come along and put a few euros into the bucket. We raised six-and-a-half thousand euros for the charity, it was amazing. They were supposed to have a fundraiser in October, but it ended up being cancelled, and when that happened I asked if they’d like me to do a concert. Because I’d like to do something, and I was going to try and organise something for Christmas anyway. So yeah, it’s for the Support Centre here in Ballinasloe. It’s such an amazing facility! They have a gym there, and my mum used to go to it after her treatment, just to try and build herself up again because she lost so much weight when she was sick. She loved it up there. I’ve even been for treatments up there. They do healing treatments like acupuncture, and healing-touch, which is what I’ve had. They cook up there for people, it’s just amazing. They do so many different things, they had a choir as well, a Cancer Choir. And they have a bus as well that goes from the Support Centre every day into the clinic for people who are having treatment and maybe can’t drive. They’re amazing, and the work they do is really, really great. I’m delighted to be supporting them with the concert. I have the wonderful Sean Keane joining us on the night, and also Eleanor Shanley, and my local school choir. I went to school in Ard Scoil Mhuire, so it’s the same school, the girl’s school here in Ballinsloe. I was also in that choir. And we have a trad group on the night as well. And, I have a fantastic band backing us on the night too. So I’m really, really excited!”
I asked Rachel how her mam was doing now…
“Mam is grand, she finished her treatment, I think, in January of 2018. It took her a long time to regain her strength. My mum has always been very slim, so when she had treatment she lost so much weight! She was far too thin. So she always says to me that sometimes you’re better to have a little bit of weight on ya in case you ever get sick [laughs]. Because she was just so thin. And at the time, it was very scary. We didn’t think she was going to pull through it at all. She ended up in hospital and needed blood transfusions but because her temperature kept spiking, she couldn’t get them. It was a really, really horrible time. I’m an only child as well, so it was just me and my dad, David. And dad was..oh! Disaster! [Laughs]. I was trying to keep it all together in the house and keep everything going. And I was working at the time too, and driving her into treatment every day, then drive to Dublin for work, cook dinner for dad, just make sure everything was ok, ya know. So it was a very hard time. I think I kind of took everything on myself. But thankfully she’s still here, and she’s so much better now. There are a few side-effects from the treatment, but she’s still here, that’s the main thing!’
Going back to Rachel’s time on both Glór Tíre and Eurosong earlier this year, I wondered how she found both experiences, given that they are, after all, two quite different genres!
“Well I knew about Glór Tíre first. So when I was asked to do Eurosong, I slightly panicked and thought, oh God! Two completely different genres, people are gonna be totally confused, ya know! But then my mum said, if other singers were given the opportunity to sing, and possibly represent their country in Eurovision, do you think they’d turn it down? And I thought, yeah. And people were saying to me that you can’t buy that kind of exposure. And, I love a good challenge as well [laughs]. Although I’m classically trained, and have the grá for folk and the country, I do sing a bit of everything. Because I feel like – especially in this world – if you’re not the likes of Nathan Carter, or Mike Denver, or Sean Keane – artists with really big names already – you have to be versatile enough to get work. As a musician, you can’t just rely solely on concerts. Even Mike and the likes of Derek Ryan, they don’t rely solely on concerts, they still do the dancing shows as well. And I loved both of them, Glór Tíre and Eurosong. Again, both very different. For Eurosong, I was nearly channeling my inner Celien Dion [laughs] and Beyonce [laughs]. Because they were saying to me as well, ‘We need you to dance!’ I was like, ‘Me? Dance? Hmmm…not sure now!’ [Laughs]. Now I’ve danced for years, I love dancing, and I actually go dancing with my grandad. He’s eighty! He’s some man. He’s fitter than me, I swear. And Eurosong as well was only one night, whereas Glór Tíre was a continuous thing for a few weeks. With that, I went in with no expectations. I didn’t go in thinking, ‘Right, I need to win this!’ I went in just embracing the whole experience. I had only just released one single, so I was thinking, ‘Oh God, here’s me going on with one single, and everybody else with way more done than me!’ I was feeling a bit panicky, thinking no-one was going to know who I was. But I said I’d go in and stay true to myself, sing the type of country music that I love, and that I grew up listening to and singing. And I did that for the whole contest. I was absolutely thrilled to get to the final. It gave me another opportunity to sing.”
Is there any one thing that Rachel learned from each of those experiences, being in the final of Eurosong and reaching the final of Glór Tíre, that she knows she’ll take forward with her for the rest of her career?
“From Eurosong, one thing was that the song was in a slightly higher key than I would have liked. In singing, there’s a head-voice and a chest-voice. Now, I belt! But I only belt to a certain height and then I switch into a head-voice. But they kind of always wanted me to belt, belt, belt the top, but I’m not a high belter. So maybe next time, I would stand up for myself a little bit more in terms of that. Which I did, but I was still kind of being pushed. They were like, ‘No, you can do it, you can do it..! [Laughs]. And it’s funny, because on the night, I actually cracked on one of my notes. It was when the wind-machine got turned on! This gush of wind went down the back of my throat, and when I flicked into my head-voice, between the flick from the chest to the head, and the gush of the wind that went down my throat…my voice cracked! And it was mad, because I’ve never cracked in my life, ever. And I cracked in my head-voice, which would have been my stronger asset, up in that register. So, I don’t know…maybe no wind-machines?! [laughs]. It was frustrating because I’ve never, ever cracked…ever! In all the singing I’ve done, and ‘live’ performances’, and I’ve sung with a live orchestra and no microphone, but never cracked. But then I crack on ‘live’ TV on ONE note! And it was all over Twitter, about that one note. I had to have a thick skin for that! I just stopped reading [laughs].”
And what about Glór Tíre?
“I don’t know. I just loved it! I loved the whole experience. I think from both of them, what I would take is just to embrace the experience. Try and enjoy it. Don’t go in with any over-expectations. If you do, you just get disappointed. With both shows, I went in with no expectations, just to embrace the experience, and enjoy it, and take from it what you can. That’s the mentality I went in with for both.”
~ RACHEL GOODE will be a very special guest of LARISSA TORMEY at Larissa’s December 2nd concert at the TUAR ARD in Moate, IN THE GLOW OF A WINTER’S EVE. Larissa and Rachel will also be joined by James Kilbane. Tickets are ON-SALE NOW from the Tuar Ard box-office at 090-648-2042, or www.tuarard.ie
~ For more information on Rachel’s December 15th concert, The Magic of Christmas, visit her official Facebook page, Rachel Goode Music.