Glasgow born Lisa McHugh is one of the big success stories in the world of Country and Irish music over the last few years. She headlined at the Irish World Awards in October 2012, so we thought we should catch up with her to talk about her remarkable progress since then, writes Michael McDonagh.
Brought up in Glasgow, at the age of 22 Lisa moved across to Fermanagh.
“I’ve been here seven and a half years and I absolutely love it and the people are so nice and have made me so welcome. Everybody is so friendly and Enniskillen is such a lovely town. Being here makes all the travelling so much easier and I have not looked back since. I love it.
“My mum and dad are both Irish and when I grew up in Glasgow I was not a stranger to Ireland, as my parents would have brought me over all the time, so when I moved over here it was not a huge culture shock for me personally.
“I decided to move over as there was not a real country scene in Scotland but there was a really good Country and Irish scene here. It is huge in Ireland, so I decided that if I was going to try and make my music anywhere I might as well do it somewhere it was popular and where I could make a full time living from it. Where there would be better opportunities if I came over here.
“So I decided to come over and give it a shot and see how it went and thankfully it was the best decision I ever made.”
Why did you choose to be a Country singer, given you grew up in such an urban environment, Glasgow?
“As I said my parents were both Irish so growing up in our house they loved Country music, Irish as well as American. So I grew up listening to that. It was second nature to me and although I did try different genres at the beginning, like in my teenage years I’d be singing along to Britney and I did try a few different things but I always went back to Irish Country. It seemed natural and as American Country particularly seems to suit my voice best I try to marry the two and thankfully it has worked so far, fingers crossed it will keep going.”
Who are your biggest influences?
“I’m a huge fan of Dolly Parton and Martina MacBride, The Dixie Chicks, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette there are so many of them. Also there are more modern artistes like Kacey Musgrave, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and I really like them as well.”
Do you think the big ballrooms will ever come back?
“Nobody has a crystal ball so I don’t know about that but there has certainly been a huge resurgence of fans over the last six years especially amongst younger people. There’s a lot younger people coming out and enjoying Country Music than there would have been seven or eight years ago, which is great for us.
“Part of that is to do with the fact that there are younger artistes that have come on the scene with the likes of Nathan Carter and myself and Derek Ryan and there is a good few others coming on.
“When a younger person is singing the song then a younger audience can relate to it, it goes hand in hand and we have seen a huge resurgence in the popularity of Irish Country Music and for our fans and it does not seem to be taking any turn, which is fantastic for us, so we keep trying to be bringing out the music that people like”.
Is sourcing new material to record and play difficult?
“I am continuously listening out for new songs but I am also writing more of my own material as well but a good song is a good song no matter where it comes from. No matter what I record I always try to put my own stamp on it to make sure when people hear it they always know it is me. That’s always been my goal and if it is a success then it is an added bonus.
“My latest is album is called Who I Am which was released last October. We’ve been lucky with airplay as because the popularity of country music has gone through the roof here nationally it has thrown a bit of a spotlight on the scene and genre that has been hugely beneficial to people like me or Nathan who are on the scene and are trying to get that National exposure.
“Collectively it has opened a lot more doors than would have been available a few years ago.”
Which do you and your band play these days, concerts or dances?
“We do both. I love the concerts and we do a lot more concert tours than I have ever done and I love concerts but don’t get me wrong I love the dances as well, but the dances are a completely different show than the concert show would be and at the minute we are doing both.”
Is your audience young? Or older people looking for opportunities to dance like they used to?
“To be honest it is a real mix of both, we are doing concert tours throughout the year but also continuing playing the dances and we are working three or four nights a week. It is busy but it is very fortunate to have that work there”.
What have been the highlights?
“Oh for sure it will always be the Grand Ole Opry. It is the biggest stage in Country Music anyway and there are so many great artistes that have played there so playing there was definitely my highlight.
“I had done a tour with American country singer Gene Watson in the UK and I had asked him if he wanted to do a duet with me and he said he would love to, so I thought I’d make the most of the opportunity. I went over to Nashville to record the duet and after a few days he came into the studio and asked me to appear at the Grand Ole Opry with him and it was a huge surprise and such a special experience for me to do it. Hopefully one day I’ll get to play there again.”
What plans for this year?
“We are over in Scotland in March and then we will be in the UK for concerts in August or September time, we are also excited to be going to Spain for some festivals and we are going back to Nashville in June. We have some exciting things coming up which I am not allowed to mention yet but it will be a very exciting year.”
“Everything has its plus side and its negatives. I suppose the push and drive that you would have with a big record labels like a big machine, that can certainly help with your career but I am very lucky that I have managed to achieve all that I have done by myself on an independent label. I have learned a lot about what needs to be done to get that machine going and get the ball rolling. It has been a huge learning curve for me and a huge achievement to have got so far and done this on my own.”