NORIANNA KENNEDY, the Galway based singer-songwriter, whose music embraces Irish folk and trad as well as country, roots, and Americana, is about to take the next major step in her musical journey.
In March, Norianna, along with Tuam singer-songwriter Noelie McDonnell and Gráda vocalist Nicola Joyce, leaves for Australia for four months of gigs and performances.
In preparation, the trio have been playing a series of shows around Galway city and county with the final show being in Campbell’s Tavern, Cloughanover, on Saturday February 25 at 8.30pm.
So what is leading Norianna ‘down under’? The Australia tour came about through the offer of a record deal with ABC Australia, an exciting development which has already led the singer to be included on a compilation album of leading Irish and British folk singers.
“After releasing my solo album, Ebb’n’Flow last year, ABC got in touch with me regarding licensing tracks from my CD for a compilation they were releasing,” Norianna tells me. “The album includes Eddie Reader, Cara Dillon, Lumiere, and Karen Matheson. I was more than thrilled to appear alongside them.”
The compilation was commercially successful and encouraged ABC to create an Irish female singers show, which will include Norianna, Nicola Joyce, and Lumiere, and for them to record another album to promote with those shows.
“I recorded five tracks in January and it will be released in Australia in May,” says Norianna. “The music includes Irish and American songs similar to Ebb’n’Flow, but one is self-penned.”
The tour and albums are a major opportunity for Norianna to establish herself further afield and create new audiences. However this is certainly not the last Galway audiences have seen of the singer-songwriter.
“It’ll be the longest I’ve ever been away from Ireland but we’re only away for four months,” she says. “I’d never leave Ireland for long - I’d miss it too much. We’ll be back in time for mid July, tail end of the Volvo Ocean Race and the Galway Arts Festival.
Nonetheless the upcoming Campbell’s show will be the last occasion until the summer that Galwegians can see and hear the three, and Norianna is excited by the possibilities of what they can do together.
“I can’t imagine going on tour with anyone else,” she says. “We all share the same idea of what good music is to us and we all respect each other’s talents. Last February Noelie began doing the regular Salthouse sessions with me on a Sunday which has been a staple in building our style of playing together. The Gillian Welch Tribute gigs we did last year really kicked it all off with Nicola too.
“To be honest it was only a matter of time before we ended up playing as a group. In sessions and gigs our harmonies and styles click in so well together. The sound from the trio is distinct because essentially we’re all lead singers.
“I provide the material, the banjo, and the lead voice, Noelie is the musician and songwriting mentor, and Nic is great at arranging the material and picking out the best,” she says. “It takes the songs from Ebb’n’Flow and a load of new songs, buries them in harmonies, banjo, and two guitars. It’s about the voices and the song.”
Norianna was born in Dublin to a father from Limerick and a mother from the Philippines and her parents played an important role in their daughter’s musical development.
“My mother is certainly influential,” she declares. “She taught me how to play guitar when I was 12. I know she’s a good singer too but she rarely takes the time to sing except at the odd party. She taught me how to cha cha and tango in our kitchen as a young girl. It was from her I get good rhythm although my father would probably argue.
“Myself and my brother Paddy weren’t of one of those families that were ‘schteeeped in tradition’ as they say. We listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, reggae, soul, funk, punk, and in our late teens we got hooked on Paul Brady, Planxty, Dervish, The Bothy Band. This led us into learning Irish traditional songs and tunes and then playing them in our back shed with a gang of friends over beers at the weekend.
“My father was surprised we ended up getting into trad as he’d tried to encourage us to play since we were eight or nine. He bought us fiddles and accordions but we never stuck at them. Classes would end up getting skipped and instruments ended up gathering dust. Funnily enough my Da gave away one of our redundant accordions to a friend of his to give to his twin grandsons - who turned out to be ex neighbours of ours - Jedward!”
Norianna has been living in Galway since 2005 and is very much part of the city’s music scene, but what led her to locate here originally?
“Seven years ago I went to New Zealand with the intention of staying to work there for a year,” she says. “After three weeks of sightseeing I kinda said, being here is like being in Ireland except without the music and the craic, I better go home. My two friends, a banjo and a flute player had recently moved to Galway so I followed them over and we started the first folk traditional group that I was in - Nábac.”
Nábac enjoyed five years of gigs and festivals and released an album. They called it a day in 2010 and the following year Norianna released her debut album, Ebb’n’Flow, which revealed the increasing influence of American roots and country music on her style.
“I find in Irish folk the best songs are the slow and sad ones,” she says. “I started looking to the American tradition in search of raucous, howling, upbeat, songs to get a crowd hopping. American folk music is just great fun to play. Harmony is one of my most favourite things about music and oldtime and bluegrass are full of i,t and American music also suits my voice.”