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Back in the family business

Majella Yorston told David Hennessy about her new EP, recording an album in Big Tom’s studio and returning to the music business after a break.

“It’s a celebration of the favourite songs that I’ve been doing for a long time and that people request,” country/folk singer Majella Yorston tells The Irish World of her new six track EP Majella which is released on St. Patrick’s Day.

A collection of her favourite country songs that she can often be seen performing live, the EP includes Dixie Road, You’re My Best Friend and Half of My Mistakes.

“They’re songs I love singing. I got to that stage again where people start saying, ‘Have you not got something (recorded)? I thought it would be good to do something. I’m hoping the EP just gives a flavour of some of the songs I like to sing.”

Majella says it ‘got to the stage again’ where people were looking for a CD of her singing because she is not new to singing or performing. Born in Surrey to musical Derry parents, Majella first became known as lead vocalist with the family band Majella and the Derry Airs.

This band would have great success, going on to support an array of great Irish talent: “We got invited to front a lot of the showbands who came over here and that’s how we got to know Big Tom, Johnny McEvoy, Brendan Shine, Dermot O’Brien and Dermot Hegarty. That was always exciting because obviously they tended to be the bigger venues. There was such a buzz of excitement because these were the big names that people had been waiting to see. That was great, it was a different experience for us but also it was lovely people wanted us to support them.

Majella and her sister Dawn with Big Tom.

“We were lucky enough to grow up watching these people perform and the fact that so many of them are still popular and doing it is a testament to how talented they are. We were very lucky to be part of that time and got to work alongside them.”

And supporting these show bands would give Majella an incredible opportunity as she and her sister Dawn (Hetherington, known as a singer in her own right) got to record their album We Should Be Together at the studio of a legend of Irish music: “We were in our teens and we did an album at Big Tom’s studios in Castleblayney. We halved it, did six songs each. It was a mixture of country and Irish and that really came about because we were on the circuit as a family band and people kept saying, ‘Haven’t you done something?’

“We had the opportunity and we had just the most amazing time really. It was just amazing. It’s a long time ago now but I think it’s something my sister and I are immensely proud of. Big Tom was incredibly encouraging. He was such a lovely man. He was so encouraging to us as youngsters.

“My mum and dad had a holiday home in Co. Galway so we spent a lot of our time there. Growing up with the band, it gave us an understanding and gave us the opportunity to listen and learn. I feel really, really lucky. I actually feel blessed I have the best of both worlds.

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Majella and the Derry Airs.

“My sister and I were born in England and grew up in Surrey but I’m blessed with the best of both worlds because all my aunts, uncles, cousins were all involved in music or performing arts in one way or another. Spending our holidays and going backwards and forwards to meet and learn from wonderful musicians in Ireland and then come back and do stuff here, we were so lucky.

“We had a family minibus, my dad drove it. My grandmother used to live with us so very often my grandmother would come to the shows as well. She loved being part of it.”

Majella laughs remembering: “My grandmother got quite well known as well and people would say, ‘We’ve kept a special seat for granny’. And they would go get her cups of tea and stuff like that. It was just such fun and we enjoyed being together and we met the most amazing people, most talented people.

“I just think it’s part of who we all are and I think it will always be there. I’m very thankful for that.

“I have had people over the years who remember us.”

The family band came to an end as some family members had other things to focus on like Majella herself getting married and starting a family. However, the act would always reform for one off charity events.

“Although it wasn’t as the family band, dad and I would get together or my sister and I would get together and we might do a little something or other to fundraise. We never actually stopped doing stuff together. We just stopped the formal band side of it and it became a lot more acoustic. Right until my dad passed away, bless him, he would get the accordion out.”

When the band became less active, Majella moved into acting and has performed on screen, stage and radio. She is now a drama teacher also.

On being back onstage with her guitar, she says: “When you’re up there and you can see people smiling or singing along or clapping or something like that, it’s just amazing. It’s just fantastic to be able to share that music and that enjoyment. Sometimes people are kind enough to come up to me at the end and say, ‘Thank you, I really enjoyed that’. Whatever else is going on (in the world), music is a great thing for uniting people, bringing people together.”

Majella’s EP Majella is released on 17 March. majellayorston.co.uk/

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