The 26-year-old rising jazz star from Magheralin, who has performed at the Royal Albert Hall in London, has just been awarded a place at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, New York, to study for a Masters in jazz voice. He sings at the Black Box in Belfast next month What is your earliest memory?
It’s quite hard to place my first memory ... but I remember quite early on picking potatoes with my father. I didn’t like getting my hands dirty. They knew then that I wasn’t destined to be a farmer. I also remember one Christmas getting a toy jungle from Santa. On Christmas morning I lamented that I didn’t get the toy cheetah I had specifically requested. A few days later we noticed something stuck in the chimney, it was the cheetah! It must have got stuck on Santa’s way down. My faith in him has never wavered since.
Who is the most important person in your life?
There are a lot of people who are important to me. I have friends, family and colleagues, all of whom inspire me in different ways. The idea of a co-dependent life doesn’t appeal to me particularly. I heard Whoopi Goldberg say that if someone tells you ‘you complete me’, run! I think that might be good advice. There isn’t one person at the centre of my universe, at least for now.
Shock us — tell us something surprising about yourself.
People are pretty hard to shock nowadays. I’m sure I could make a good effort, but I don’t give away those kinds of secrets so easily.
What is your greatest fear?
Losing my voice. Singers get a bad reputation for being overly precious about their instrument. But the possibility is real and frustratingly the list of things to avoid reads like a what’s what of life’s simple pleasures.
What makes you most happy?
Singing. Creating great music requires you to delicately balance a range of different variables. But when you get the recipe right: the best musicians, the right environment, an easy state of mind, a secure technique, then it can be intoxicating.
And your biggest regret?
I’m sure I have done lots of stupid things, but I don’t regret any of them.
How do you chill out?
I am the most chilled person you’ve ever met. I could chill for years and years and do nothing, there’s no trick, it’s not difficult. Weirdly it’s when I want to get stuff done that I need to meditate or do some yoga to centre myself.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned in your life?
That happiness takes a little bit of hard work.
The book, the song and the film that means the most to you and why?
I must admit, I’m not a voracious reader. But I was intrigued by Billie Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues. Apparently it is riddled with exaggerations and untruths, but I think that reveals a lot about her and her life experience. You can’t ask a singer to pick a favourite song, it’s impossible. The Flower of Magherally is a song that my father sang a lot. The lyrics are beautifully constructed. Also Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me will always be important to me. Amy Winehouse’s rendition is the reason I started singing jazz. I watched Call Me By Your Name last year and was overwhelmed. It is unashamedly beautiful and sensual. I saw it three times. The music is stunning.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
I think you’ve got to work to change the things that you can and accept the things you can’t. I want to strive to be healthier, fitter, better at music, but we have to come to terms with our limitations too.