RISING STAR: Eilidh Patterson

Derry folkstress on her faith, working with the same soundman as U2 and the importance of an online presence

Your first experience of singing in public was as a member of the Patterson Family gospel trio. What made you decide to embark on a solo career?
It was an accumulation of songs I’d written, encouragement I’d received and opportunities I was given to perform. I decided I wanted to be a singer-songwriter approximately eight years ago, but it seemed like an intangible dream. Now I’m living the reality of it and loving every minute.

In reference to your 'gospel' roots, is your faith still as important to you? Has it informed your approach to the music business?
Absolutely. My faith in God is what keeps me sane. I don’t know where I’d be without Him. I approach the music business the same way most people do – with caution. I have to say, though, it’s comforting to know that no matter what happens God is always there.

You grew up in Derry and were involved with the Foyle Folk Club. How important has Derry – ‘the Music City of Ireland’ – been to your development?
The Foyle Folk Club was my training ground for performing as a solo artist. Until then, I had been singing mainly with my family. It was terrifying at first. I remember literally shaking with nerves. However, the people who attended the Foyle Folk Club were so welcoming and appreciative that my confidence gradually began to increase. I’ve always been a fan of music which is stripped back to vocal and guitar, and I used to watch Paul Casey – also from Derry – at gigs and think to myself, ‘I’d love to do that.’ Now we regularly perform together across Northern Ireland.

You recently released your debut album, the much-anticipated When the Time Comes. Are you happy with it, and how would you describe your music?
It’s hard to pigeonhole your own music, but I would describe it as contemporary folk. The album is something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time, and now that it is in the shops it’s definitely something to celebrate.

When the Time Comes was produced by U2 and Van Morrison soundman Alastair McMillan, who also worked with you on 2007’s Still Learning EP. What did you learn from him?
Alastair is a fantastic engineer and a wonderful person. He heard me sing live on the Gerry Anderson programme about five years ago. A few minutes after the song had finished, he phoned BBC Radio Foyle to enquire about it. From then, we developed a working relationship. He encouraged me to sing from the heart, and to keep an open mind in terms of song arrangements. Alastair is a busy man, but somehow he found the time to invest in my music and that’s something I’ll always be grateful for. He is currently on tour with U2 in the States, recording all the shows and working on Bono’s monitor sound.

You launched the album at Belfast's Black Box. Do you prefer performing live or is the studio your natural environment?
I love to perform live. It is by far the more enjoyable of the two, for me. That’s not to say I don’t like recording, but I think my problem is that I put myself under too much pressure to get things technically perfect – when really it’s the mood and emotion of the song that tends to affect the listener. The launch gig went so much better than I expected. It was my first time playing with a full live band and I enjoyed every minute of it.

You were invited to sing in Nashville to promote the Sister City link between Belfast and Nashville. You also performed in Seattle and at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Have you been surprised by how warmly the Americans have received your music, and what are the main differences between playing in the USA and at home?
I have been to Nashville quite a few times in the last couple of years, and what has struck me most is the instant acceptance I have received on the Nashville songwriter scene. People are willing to go the extra mile to help each other and I love that. There’s a real sense of community. I haven’t noticed any real differences between performing here and in the States. Despite the recession, people on both sides of the Atlantic are still coming out to hear live music and buy CDs.

Now that the album is out, what are your plans for the coming months?
Next thing on my agenda is to get my online presence up-to-date. The internet takes up a huge chunk of the lives of independent musicians these days. It’s not my favourite part of the business, but I recognise that it’s necessary to help develop my career.

Tell us about the track ‘Moving On’, which you have given us to include with the article.
‘Moving On’ is the first single from the album. This song came about when I was thinking of moving from Derry to Belfast a few years ago. It’s a song about being content with change – something I’m sure a lot of folks can relate to.

Andrew Johnston 

When the Time Comes is out now, available at HMV and record stores as well as via www.eilidhpatterson.com