Last November, I was lucky enough to see Café Spice perform in East London and it was magical ✨. This band is made up of a wonderful trio of musicians from three corners of our small isles; Scotland, Ireland and Northern England.
Now based in Manchester, Georgia, Eleanor and Niamh each bring their individual styles spanning from jazz to country, traditional folk to funk, resulting in a new sound woven from singing, harmony and clever songwriting. Recently joined by their drummer Sophie, they’re well on their way to shaping the ‘ultimate girl band of their childhood dreams’!
“Sewn out of vocal harmonies so closely knit that the listener could curl-up under them like a blanket.”- Earthly Pleasures sums up their music perfectly. Hopefully their effortlessly subline harmonies will keep you grounded through the lockdown.
Here’s Café Spice and all things nice!
Interviewed by Sophie Ogunyemi
Let’s start from the top! Can you recall the moment you decided to pick up an instrument?
- G: We had a piano in my house for as long as I can remember! I remember bashing about on it trying to play tunes – I think the first tune I learnt was Frère Jacques.
- N: Luckily, I also grew up with a piano in our living room. I was inspired by the music of none other than Kylie Minogue and decided to have a go at playing the melody to “Can’t Get You Out of my Head” on our piano.
- E: I don’t remember making the decision of learning the violin, but all I can say is: I’m sorry Mum and Dad, but thank you for your patience and support!
Who was most influential in your musical education?
- G: When I was very young, we would drive from Edinburgh to South Devon and all the way we’d play The Seekers – a kind of turtle-neck wearing folk/pop harmony group from the 60s. I still love singing along to their songs today! After that, it was Elton John, Nancii Griffith, Travis and Dido.
- N: I started violin lessons at the age of 10 with the most wonderful violin teacher, Niamh Crowley. She inspired me hugely and her style of teaching meant I had lots of fun playing violin growing up, both in our lessons and playing in the orchestra she directed. I also had a brilliant choir director, Emma Purcell who led the choir I joined as a teenager; that choir helped me gain a lot of confidence as a singer.
- E: There were quite a few people in my late teens that really made an impact on me. One of them was my school’s jazz band leader and an incredible trumpeter, Paul Norman. There are a lot of things that he taught me that still ring in my ears today. Another was actually one of my dance teachers, Emily Campbell. Her choreography and methods introduced me to new ways of understanding music through movement.
When did you write your first song/piece?
- G: I distinctly remember being 8 years old at my grandparents house in the summer. I wrote a song that I can still vaguely remember, about someone saying goodbye. I think I’ve written the lyrics down somewhere… My Dad helped me. I got home from the holidays and sang it to my friend and she told me it was basically the Titanic theme song. I swear to this day that I hadn’t seen Titanic when I wrote it.
- N: I wrote my first song aged 11 years old in the car with my Dad driving through the Peak District to visit my grandmother. It starts with the inspired line “Boring classes, boring teachers”, thank God my songwriting has improved since then! Having said that, my Dad still thinks it is a cracking song, (liar).
- E: I distinctly remember writing a play when I was 8 with the intention for me and my friends to perform it. The moral of the story was conveyed through the feature song: ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’. Unfortunately, the play was never performed, but the song remains very much alive in my memory… I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes hum it to myself.
Being in lock down has thrown into light what gives meaning and substance to my life; music is definitely one of those things. – Georgia
I’m sure it has, but in what way do you think music has impacted your life?
- G: It sounds cheesy but music makes up a big part of my life. I’ve met some of my best friends and had some of my best times through music. Being in lock down has thrown into light what gives meaning and substance to my life; music is definitely one of those things.
- N: Music has massively impacted my life, it’s my hobby, my job and the industry in which I’ve met the majority of my friends. Making music, especially singing, has brought me so much happiness and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to say that I love going to work.
- E: Music has 100% impacted my life. I probably had no chance of avoiding music since I was hearing my Mum sing on stage even in the womb! And though I’m not exactly following in her footsteps by being an opera singer, music is undoubtedly a major part of my life in that I perform, teach, listen, escape and relax to music.
What piece of advice would you offer to aspiring musicians?
- G: Don’t wait around to be swept up by some serious music industry person in sunglasses desperate to give you a record deal, it probably won’t happen. Figure out which bit of music is your jam. Is it performing? Solo or in a band? Maybe you’re an instrumentalist? Maybe your playground should be totally online? If you can find what avenue you’re great at, add some brilliant ideas and creativity into the equation as well as some hard work and at least you’ll have a good time whilst climbing the ladder. If you want to make your income from music, bear in mind you have to be ready to wear your business hat quite a lot of the time.
- N: My advice would be to work hard and play live as much as you can to build your confidence. Collaborations with other musicians are great fun and can inspire new ideas for your own music.
Notice, experience, feel, play, write, collaborate, practise, perform, record, upload, share. In no particular order. – Eleanor
Tell me about your favourite instrument – it’s often said to be an extension of you/ an extra limb…
- G: Mine is my fiddle. It’s a beautiful mahogany thing. My Grandpa played the fiddle and he had a small collection. One day he let me choose my favourite one and gave it to me! For that reason, it is very special and I would be devastated if anything should happen to it.
- N: My favourite instrument is the piano in my parents’ house, it makes a beautiful sound. I spent many a late night writing songs on that piano as a teenager. Playing that piano is always the first thing I do when I fly home to Ireland and it’s one of the places where I feel most relaxed.
- E: Probably the guitar. We had to teach ourselves some chords in Year 7 music class and I got completely swept up in learning how to play. Everyday after school I’d teach myself more and more chords by learning Beatles songs, whom I became equally as obsessed with! I was like a little 11 year old mod.
Do you think you have to study music to get into it?
- G: If by study you mean A-levels and a degree then I think no, not at all. I did music at school but then did a Physics degree at uni. However, I would say that listening to a range of styles and genres opens up a world of inspiration. I like to listen to other artists and take the good bits that I like and mash them into my own, totally different creation.
- N: Definitely not, music is all around us and there are so many success stories of well-known musicians who taught themselves. There are a lot of online resources including fantastic YouTube tutorials and luckily there are a wide range of music programmes that allow people to experiment with software & create music from their bedrooms. It is, of course, a privilege to be able to study music at university but in my opinion, it is often the experiences outside the lecture theatre that make you a better musician.
- E: I think all you need to do to get into music is to listen. And explore. And create. I’m a big believer in instinct and while it can be great to understand what it is that you’re doing, why it makes sense etc., if you feel that something is right, then just play it.
What effect do you want your music to have on your listeners?
- G: I want it to bring them joy and relaxation and occasionally a bit of dancing around the bedroom.
- N: I often get obsessed with a song and play it incessantly for days on end, it would be amazing if someone felt the same way about a song we had written!
- E: I’d hope that our listeners are able to relate to our lyrics, and that our harmonies can make them feel warm and fuzzy inside.
For the musicians whose lives have been turned upside down, don’t lose sight of the vital role that the arts play in society, especially during a global crisis like this. – Eleanor
We’re always looking for recommendations! What’s your favourite track at the moment?
- G: I’m obsessed with AURORA right now, especially her album A Different Kind Of Human – Step 2 and the song Apple Tree.
- N: My favourite track at the moment is ‘Garden Song’ by Phoebe Bridgers, it makes me feel very emotional but relaxed. I love the sound worlds she creates in her music.
- E: In the morning: ‘Sky Above’ by Jacob Collier. In the afternoon: ‘Todolist’ by Camille Bertault. In the evening: ‘Fog’ by Cécile McLorin Salvant.
And if you could do a collab with any artist, who would it be?
- G: Ugh, AURORA (at the moment) for sure. Or whoever produced her latest album (if it wasn’t her). It’s a masterpiece.
- N: Definitely Jacob Collier, I’m a bit obsessed with him at the moment. I watch his NPR Tiny Desk performance at least once a week and feel a little bit more inspired each time. His music is so joyful and creative, I think he’d be incredibly fun to collaborate with.
- E: Christine and the Queens. I just want to sing and dance with her 🕺
We can’t go without avoiding the elephant in the room – what tips can you share for supporting musicians like yourselves through the COVID-19 pandemic?
- G: Use this time to write and produce! It’s a gift! It’s a strange place, it’s as if time has frozen. We’ll all come out the other side of it very ready to go to gigs and live performances, make sure you’re there ready and waiting with a bunch of brilliant songs up your sleeve.
- N: This is an incredibly difficult time for musicians, our income and future performance plans have been completely wiped and many are facing real financial hardship. My advice would be to try as best you can to use this time to create new music, finish that song you’ve been trying to finish for the last six months, work on your instrumental skills and do lots of listening to new music. That being said, the stress and worry that this crisis is bound to cause for musicians is undoubtedly going to affect the mental health of a lot of people. If you don’t have the mental energy to create, that’s ok. Many musicians are sharing their high productivity levels on social media which can be a huge pressure, everyone is doing their best and no one is expecting you to come out the other end of this crisis with a whole new album written!
- E: For the musicians whose lives have been turned upside down, don’t lose sight of the vital role that the arts play in society, especially during a global crisis like this. Italy singing from its balconies, the explosion of streamed gigs on social media… and don’t forget that when this is all over, people will be craving shared social experiences. There’ll be an influx of visitors to art galleries, theatres, bars and restaurants. All these cultural places that we’ve been deprived of. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it certainly helps to remember that during this struggle. Also, while it’s important to stay in the loop, try to limit your time spent checking the news and social media. Maybe keep it to once a day?
What would be your advice for young people just getting into music?
- G: Instrument lessons are great but can be expensive and I think there are more fun ways to be introduced to music. You can start right at home! Sing songs with others, do some clapping games to work out rhythm and make instruments out of things you can find in your kitchen. Local groups like choirs, salsa bands etc. can be a good intro. Try as many styles/instruments as possible! You’ll know when you’ve found one you truly love, then it’s time to save up for some lessons.
- N: If you have an interest in music, my best piece of advice is to get singing with a group like a choir. There are lots of different choirs out there and group singing is so much fun and a fantastic way to learn about music. Listening to as much music as possible around the house or on the go will help you find your favourite styles of music.
- E: I love Georgia’s idea of making instruments. Singing along and playing songs with other people is a great start. My Dad used to quiz me on what music was playing in the car. I was probably better at recognising different artists back then than I am now!
Playing that piano is always the first thing I do when I fly home to Ireland and it’s one of the places where I feel most relaxed. – Niamh
Do you think a scheme like Take it Away is beneficial to young people interested in learning an instrument?
- G: For sure! Music should not just be for those who can afford it. Learning to play an instrument can teach you a lot of lessons other than your do re mi. When I was growing up in Scotland, there were a lot of opportunities for free music lessons with instruments provided. I had free violin lessons for 10 years!
- N: Absolutely, it really saddens me that many children don’t have access to musical instruments or instrumental lessons. I think the Take It Away scheme is wonderful and does great work to give each child an opportunity to realise their musical potential and enjoy the beauty of playing music.
What’s next for Café Spice? What’s coming up in the next few months that we should watch out for?
- G: We’re on track to release our 4th single; we’re in the midst of preparing for launch!
- N: It’s our first release with our drummer Sophie and I can’t wait for our listeners to hear it!
- E: I hope you love it as much as we do!