Classroom to concert hall

Orla practises her origame skilles

Shelley Marsden talks to Orla Gartland about the life of an eighteen year old music star

“I’m technically on a gap year. It might turn out to be a gap decade, we’ll see how it goes”, says the witty redhead, who finished school last summer.

The 18 year old singer-songwriter, who is fresh from performing live on RTE’s The Saturday Show, has already made a splash with the quirky folk pop of her infectiously melodic debut EP Roots.

Quite the social media queen, she has racked up over 10 million hits on Youtube, 49k likes on Facebook and 18k followers on Twitter.

Last June, Orla – whose main influences are the equally eccentric Regina Spektor and Imogen Heap – swapped the classroom for the concert hall as the confident teen set off on her first headline tour of the UK and Ireland (it sold out just two weeks after going on sale). But she only booked it to avoid the traditional big “post-exam piss-up holiday in Ibiza or Magaluf”.

“I’m really boring. I thought it was a bit of a waste of money and didn’t see the attraction. I booked the tour March of last year with zero expectations, just to look forward to something when things got bleak with the studying. I was almost selfishlessly booking the tour instead of doing the holiday!”

Orla reveals she was quite a “nerd” at school, and it wasn’t out of the question to go on to university – but she ended up opting for the music, telling her parents that she didn’t wsnt to find herself on TV doing an X Factor audition in fifty years’ time, telling the camera she wished she’d just “followed her dream” when she was eighteen.

She’d have gone on to study graphic design, another famously stable career choice her parents must have  been over the moon about: “Haha, you can imagine them shaking your heads, can’t you – our daughter wants to be a musician or a graphic designer. Excellent…”

Mum and dad have slowly come round to the idea of their eldest becoming a singer. Orla has a younger sister and brother who, she says with a giggle, she’s not setting the best academic example to – but mum and dad now proudly come to every gig she does in her hometown. Sometimes they even bring Orla’s granny.

You have sixteen-year-old New Zealander Lorde who has shot to number one across the world, but age-wise she’s the exception. By anyone’s standards, 18 is still pretty young to be heading out there on your own, is it not?

“I’m pretty small, yeah”, concludes Orla. “I think I’ve had to grow up quite fast. Even before I finished school last summer I was to and forth between home and London working on the music. But though I feel more mature than 18, I’m still very naïve. There’s a lot I don’t know about a lot of things… People have been doing this for 20 years; I’ve done it for one.”

She’s grown up as a performer too, having dipped her feet in the live scene with a lot of support gigs as well as her first solo tour, but says she has friends that have gone straight into “mad, crazy 30-day tours – how the heck do you do that?”

Good friends with Irish indie band Hudson Taylor (they busked together back in Dublin) Orla will regularly crash at one of the band-mate’s houses when she’s in London.

“I distribute myself”, she says. “I think I’ll have to get a flat over here now because it’s where I need to spend most of my time writing and in the studio.”

She’s also pals with the very successful 21-year-old Bath singer Gabrielle Aplin (she sang on the John Lewis ad last year; the one before Lilly Allen’s): “We’re like a little gang that I’ve kind of stumbled into. I’m the youngest of all of them, so I feel extra supported.”

Is it still scary playing live? The more the nerves peel away, says Orla, the more she can enjoy the experience. Before the summer, she had more nerves than enjoyment, but all the gigs she’s done since have redressed the balance. She relaxed into it so much, it nearly became ‘routine’ (yeah Orla, try the office job!).

For the full article, see this week’s Irish World (issue 11 Jan 2014).

Orla has UK dates coming up in February, including a headline show at Dingwalls, London. See and





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