Lindsey records a slice of life
As a slightly shy teenager Lindsey Powling loved to sing. She loved listening to Kylie Minogue, dancing around her bedroom and singing into her hair-brush as countless teenagers do. She had ambitions to sing professionally but the day to day demands of school and exams meant that for a long time, a professional singing career was just a dream.
Jump forward ten years, the now married Lindsey Cleary, is saying don’t give up on your dream. She has been working steadily as a solo artist, session singer and backing singer for the last decade and has just finished putting the last overdubs onto her debut album, This Is Lindsey, which she describes as catchy, upbeat, feisty pop with a mature insight.
Asked to elaborate, she explains that the phrase mature insight refers to the subject matter of the songs – the lyrics deal with such surprising subjects as eating disorders, self-esteem and the ultimate taboo, death.
“The songs are very up-tempo and catchy, very easy to listen to but my idea was that on the third or fourth listen, when people start really hearing the lyrics, then they will realise that these are songs with something to say, something for people to think about – songs with a little bit of substance.”
Although her musical roots take her all the way back to Kylie in her “I Should Be So Lucky” phase, more recently performers like Beverley Knight and Natalie Imbruglia have informed her work and her singing style.
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Although she gained a music degree from Sir Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts, her education up until that point was very mainstream. She attended Great Cornard Upper School – her parents Richie and Elaine still live in Boxford – and she did her A Levels at Colchester Sixth Form College.
“You don’t have to surrender your childhood and go to stage school in order to make it. You have got to have faith and you have to pursue your dream with a passion.”
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This is what Lindsey has done and with a solo album under her belt, she is hoping that her songwriting as well as her singing will now get people’s attention.
“I have always wanted to be a singer, ever since I was five. At first it was just kids stuff, a love of showing off, then as I got older, I became aware that there was nothing else I wanted to do. My parents were always very supportive, my Dad was: ‘Yeah follow your dream’ whereas Mum was more down to earth and said: ‘Yeah, follow your dream but get a good education as well.’
“So after sixth form I went to LIPA – which is the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts – and did a degree in music. The experience in Liverpool crystalised in my mind that music was definitely what I wanted to do.”
She said that the good thing about LIPA was that they were not looking for stage school students with performing qualifications, they were open to all talented youngsters who passed their entry auditions.
She said that although it sounds too good to be true, there was a Kids from Fame style atmosphere about the college. “It sounds strange but it did have elements of Fame. I remember being sat in the canteen when someone started banging on a table, to be joined by someone singing. I remember thinking ‘this is just like being in a movie,’ it felt really strange, almost unreal. I tried not to get too involved in that.
“But because there were actors, dancers and musicians all at the same institution, you couldn’t escape that Fame feel. But, fortunately musicians are little bit more down-to-earth, a bit moire grubby, a bit-more rock’n’roll, so we kind of did our own thing.”
As far her ambitions were concerned being in a musical has never interested her. “Someone said to me once ‘Oh, you should try out for a musical, it’s great, you go on stage and you can be someone else for two hours’ and I thought that was a really odd thing to say. I never wanted to do the acting side of things I just wanted to be me. I wanted to get on stage and show people who I was.
“Also I love pop music and I knew I had to be involved in the making of some sort of pop or commercial music - rather than singing stage music.”
She said that music for her was making a connection. She could relate to pop music in a way that she couldn’t to a stage musical. As she has grown more confident in her musical abilities, performing her own songs has become an important part of who she is as a performer. “I do like singing other people’s songs and I always will providing I can connect with it but you do get a thrill about singing your own material.”
She said that it was as a direct result of being at LIPA that she gained the confidence to start writing her own songs, which in turn have led to the recording of her album. “I enrolled on a songwriting course and that gave me the confidence and the skills to put my own thoughts down in a song.
“I wrote all the songs on my new album, either solo or in collaboration with such leading names as Nik Kershaw, Rob May, Simon Parkin and Shane Beales. I think that it is important that I write about things that I am passionate about.
“I don’t want to sing songs, or write music, that doesn’t have any substance to it. I want to do something, create music, that has some purpose to it. I suppose that’s why I write my own stuff. I like writing about my own experiences and what I see around me.
“Sometimes I love that you can lose yourself in pop music. You stick a song on and you feel good about yourself and the world and that’s great. That serves its own purpose, but I don’t just want to make music like that but I want it to be more real. I want to talk about what I am going through as a 20-something woman and hope that people connect with that.”
She said that the secret was mixing meaningful lyrics to a tune and arrangement that was bright and bouncy. The first couple of times people are just caught up in the music but after a while the lyrics start seeping through the feelgood atmosphere and provides some insight or food for thought.
“I love that about songs. You get past the initial catchiness and then you start really listening to it and you think ‘wow’ and you find yourself thinking what’s it about. I like listening to songs like that myself. The catchy melody draws you in and on the fifth listen you’ve started listening to the words and you find that they have got something to say.”
She credits LIPA with providing her with the skills and the technique to help her earn her living in what can be a quite perilous real world. “I spent three years writing and performing - just making music - it gave me an opportunity to try things out, make mistakes, and just get better at my craft – learn how to present yourself on stage – give a performance.”
She said that while she was studying for her degree she started doing session work to build up contacts within the industry and to give herself experience. She soon found herself backing some entrants for the Eurovision Song Contest and performing on Top of the Pops, singing jingles for a studio in Manchester. “I was aware that I needed to get my name and face known and start getting things in place for when I graduated.
“When I first started I won’t lie it was tough. You do have bills to pay and you do whatever work comes along. But at the same time you do want to sing your own stuff and start making a name for yourself, so it’s a question of balance.”
She said that one of the great developments of the last decade has been the internet and the rise of digital technology because it has meant that it is easier to be an independent artist and get your music heard by the public.
“There’s not that artificial divide any more between the signed and the unsigned artist – we’re all musicians and singers trying to make a living. It’s a whole new ball game now. You still have the major artists on the major labels but there are many more independent artists now who are not reliant on record companies for their livelihood. Being an independent artist is great because you can get your music out there, globally, thanks to i-tunes. You don’t have to rely on a record company any more but the big problem is money. If you have a band, you still need a recording studio. You can’t mike and record a drum kit in someone’s bedroom, it just doesn’t work.”
This was the problem that Lindsey faced when she first looked into the possibility of recording her own album This Is Lindsey. It was her husband Tom Cleary who came up with an innovative way of raising the necessary money to pay for studio time. The idea was dubbed POP – otherwise known as the Pick an Orange Project. The album was divided into segments. An investor could either buy a whole orange for �1,000, which paid for one song or a �100 segment which was part of a song.
“Over the years I had developed quite a following and a lot of fans had been asking me when I was going to record an album of my own. There was no way I could afford it by myself and Tom had the brilliant idea of getting the fans to invest in the album. We put demos of the tracks on You Tube and fans could choose which songs they liked and wanted to help me record.”
She said that everyone who invested in the project will received 1% of Lindsey’s first year profits.
“It was a great way to raise the finance because the fans chose the songs for the album. It was a great way of doing some very reliable market research. Some songs didn’t get any money allocated to them, so they didn’t make the album.”
She described the launch party in Liverpool as very nerve wracking and at the beginning segment sales were fairly slow but within five months they had raised an astonishing �12,500. “Once the word got around, people were incredibly enthusiastic. I even had cheques arriving from people who had not been to one of my gigs or seen me perform but wanted to invest because they liked what they heard on You Tube or just liked the idea of the project. One person sent me a cheque for �2,000. That was a wonderful day.”
She said that the most amazing thing was that all this has happened during the worst financial crisis since the Wall Street Crash in 1929. “People have been amazing and it gives you, as an artist, a tremendous boost. It’s a fabulous feeling to know that people believe in your work.”
Lindsey has just finished tours with Scottish singer-songwriter Sandi Thom and Australian Pink Floyd, singing backing vocals. She said that she’d like to do more solo gigs in the near future and perhaps gigs with a full band. “I’d love to come back to Suffolk, so my family and friends can see what we are doing. I’ll have to start searching for a venue.”
n This Is Lindsey is on TLC Records and can be bought and downloaded from her website www.thisislindsey.com