Singer Amanda St John has been in the music business most of her life having collaborated with some of the biggest local names in the industry. Known as one of Northern Ireland’s leading female singer songwriters Amanda has fought hard to get to where she is today.
But things haven’t been plain sailing for the Derry singer, she has fought many battles including a near fatal car accident, a painful marriage separation and a forced break from music after over-performing caused damage to her vocal cords.
Now she’s back with her own music and looking for her Big Strong Man. Amanda, 34, explained: “I have been singing and writing songs for as long as I can remember. I started gigging at the age of 14 in local bars and concerts.
“My parents would sit next to me and keep a tight eye on me. I went to music college at 18 and that is when I joined a cover band and started on the local circuit.”
“I did this for over 12 years and worked with some of the country’s best known musicians including Ciaran Gribbin (INXS), Duke Special, Ben Glover, Simon McBride and Linley Hamilton among others. Although back then I was a confident performer I never had the courage to sing my own songs.”Then in 2005 after working solidly for over a decade Amanda’s music career hung in the balance. Following a series of problems with her throat she found out she had nodules on her on her vocal cords. Amanda had worked so hard to pursue her dream that she had potentially caused permanent damage.
The nodules, although non cancerous, were growths that appeared on Amanda’s vocal cords. Experts say they are caused by vocal abuse over a long period of time.
As a result Amanda was forced to take a break from music.
She said: “I took a break from singing for a few years and in that time I got married and had a baby (Sophia, now aged six). But my marriage didn’t go very well, I had a very painful separation.”
“I lost everything with the breakup as we had a business together, so I had to rebuild my career. I was determined for something positive to come out of the experience so I poured myself into my song-writing.”“I threw myself into my music because I knew this is what makes me happiest. I then re-trained so that I could be a music coach. I work with various charity and community groups and the bulk of my work is on a music course for people who are long term unemployed.”
However, the vocal cord nodules and bitter separation weren’t Amanda’s only hurdles. In October 2011 she had a near fatal car accident.
It was this incident that finally gave her the push she needed to make her dream of becoming a songwriter a reality.
“My car went 300 ft down the side of a mountain near Ballycastle in County Antrim” she said, adding: “I was unconscious and had no pulse initially and suffered quite a severe head injury.”
“But I had one of those ‘seize the day’ moments and vowed that if I got out of it alive I would finally commit to myself and my music.
“Once well I started rehearsing with local session musicians and went into the studio as soon as I could. I released my debut EP in May 2013 and since then I have had a great response from radio and critics.”Amanda used her experiences to write and release her debut EP Where Is The Man in June 2013. The EP included songs such as Come Back To Me which she said was “very personal” to her.
She added: “A lot of my songs are personally revealing as I tend to write to express an emotion or a situation that is happening. Come Back to Me is about feeling a person’s love slipping away from you and you are standing there watching it all happen.”
“The song is almost like a pleading with them to ‘come back to me’. It is very vulnerable and it was difficult to share myself like that.”
“The whole song just came out of nowhere and I loved the simplicity and rawness of it when I listened back to it. I really struggled with letting people hear the song as it is difficult for people to know your innermost thoughts and feelings and show your vulnerability, especially when there is pain there.”
Amanda now juggles being a single mother and a songwriter and performer on a daily basis and admits that there are times when even that seems hard. She said: “The hardest part of this business is definitely balancing a day job with being a mother.”
“At times it feels hard to justify the expense of recordings and all the time away from my daughter that it takes. I know that it’s investing in our future though and I’ve never been happier in myself so that impacts positively on her.”
Having turned a corner in her life Amanda is now looking to the future. In March she released her first single Big Strong Man off her forthcoming album.
“I find music very therapeutic, all of my songs come from a feeling that I have. If I am emotional about something it is all just bubbling inside me and writing songs and singing releases this. It helps me make sense of things too as in forming the sentences to explain the story I am getting it clear for myself” she said, adding: “My life really wasn’t working until I started writing and singing my own songs.
I finally feel that I am doing what I am meant to do and this sense of fulfillment and achievement is just a lovely experience. I really am the happiest I’ve ever been in my life and have a new sense of pride in myself.”“I suppose I feel my story is more about fighting back and creating a life that you love. Sometimes being in a very low place gives you the breakthrough you need to push through negative circumstances.”
“My new song Big Strong Man is an upbeat rockabilly, jazz shuffle style song, kind of Imelda May meets Ray Charles. I launched it with a headline gig at The Belfast Nashville Festival.
“My first EP was three songs about the break up and another song. With this new song I wanted to show the more playful, lighter side of my character. It’s about listing the qualities that I do want in a man – instead of complaining what I don’t want. It’s kind of like the conversations I would have with my girlfriends.”
Amanda St John, ‘Big Strong Man’ is out now.
Exclusive by Tina Calder ©FAMEMAGAZINE.co.uk