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Best laid plans

Emma decided to have a cup of tea since she wasn’t going on tour. Pictures: Conor Kerr

Limerick songstress Emma Langford told David Hennessy about cancelling her European tour due to Covid-19, why she enjoys entertaining kids (as long as she doesn’t have to spend time with them) and why her boyfriend always reminds her of what she said on a South American bus journey.

Limerick folk singer-songwriter Emma Langford’s debut album Quiet Giant saw her described by Hot Press as ‘a beguiling, distinctive voice’ while Blindboy describes her as ‘one of the most talented people to ever come out of this city’. But she nearly packed it all in.

“I was travelling with my boyfriend for about six months in South America and he always reminds me of one of the bus journeys we were on,” Emma remembers.

“We were on this eight hour bus journey and he reminds me all the time of me turning to him and kind of going, ‘When I get home, I don’t think I’m going to go back into music. I don’t think I’m going to make a job of this. I think I might pursue something else. I don’t know what I want to do but I don’t think music is for me’.

“He was like, ‘That would make me really sad if you gave up’. And I was like, ‘I don’t see it as giving up, I just see it as a change of direction. It’s not for me anymore’. And then I got home and the world decided I was wrong.

“I had been doing okay, I had been playing pub gigs and been asked to support some really brilliant established artists but then I wrote and recorded Tug O’ War just in a home video that I put up online on a day when I was especially doubtful about this job working out for me.

“And people responded really well to that and I realised, ‘Okay, maybe there’s actually something here’. So I thought I’d give it a go.

“When I got home, I was asked to support a Canadian artist called Ben Caplan who is just brilliant and I came away from that gig just feeling really inspired and sort of feeling like I could write something. Then I had this bad day that was kind of a catalyst for writing this new song and my career just sprung from there.”

Emma was preparing to tour Germany and release her second album before Covid-19 and the lockdown put both plans on the back burner. She also had two UK shows planned for June which have now also been cancelled.

“It’s funny, the day I decided to cancel the tour was three or four days before everything really got serious. I could see things happening and it was a choice I had to make whereas in three days’ time, there was not a choice. Germany was on lockdown, all the borders were closed and flights were being grounded. It was the weird few days where I messaged the guys and had to make that call. Three days later there would have been no point.

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“It’s not just me I have to think about, I’ve got two bandmates who travel with me and one of them has small children and a partner at home. If we wound up in lockdown (in Germany), it wouldn’t just be us that was struggling. If we did wind up coming home and one of us was carrying the virus, there’s a million people that would be impacted by that. There was a lot to think about.”

Just last month Emma released Sowing Acorns, the third single from her forthcoming album. Although she does not feel sorry for herself, the coronavirus has negated at least some of her hard work that was leading up to the September release.

“It’s hard not to be a bit sad about it and not feel a bit burnt by it, but I have to keep reminding myself it’s happening everywhere, everyone is being burnt by this.

“The whole world has had to go on standstill and my album is pretty low down on the list of priorities in the big picture.

“You can’t replace the kind of PR that actually touring an album is going to do for you but it’s not the end of the world either. I’ll survive. I’ve always been innovative in how I promote myself so I’ll be grand.

“For me, it’s not so much that I miss going out as much as I just want everyone to be safe. I’m just looking forward to a time when I don’t have to be paranoid about giving someone a hug.”

Emma has been one of an army of musicians who have been taking to the internet to entertain fans while live concerts are impossible.

“The difference with a lockdown is you have a captive audience, literally everyone is being held captive. It’s a slightly different energy and vibe. Where previously we were asking people to stay in and watch our videos, now they’re home anyway and they have this ocean of noise to choose from online so it’s just a case of what they want to tune into.

“There’s ways and means of reaching new people just figuring that side of things out. It’s kind of a baptism of fire masterclass in PR in a way even though I’ve been doing it myself for six years, this is a whole different beast entirely.”

Emma has not just been performing her own material but also reading children’s stories to entertain those who watch her online.

What made her diversify into children’s entertainment? “”I’ve always been dressing up in costumes and playing with puppets and putting on shows, telling stories, that kind of thing. I suppose going into music and songwriting was as much about storytelling for me as it was about expressing myself musically.

“I heard a lot of people talking about their kids being really anxious and people themselves being really anxious, I love I wanted to read anything that had interesting voices in it because it’s engaging and interesting and I think it sparks people’s imagination and brings them back to that childhood state. I started with that and then decided I would try a few kids’ books because some of my adult fans wanted to hear some of their favourite childhood stories.

“Then I realised there was actually an audience there where kids wanted to hear these stories as well. I just threw myself into it and realised how much I loved it.

“I’m half thinking of looking at a course in child psychology so I could pursue it properly.

“I dipped my toe into the whole area of primary school teaching and working with kids but I’ve discovered actually spending time with children isn’t necessarily for me. I’m quite a low energy person so being around lots of kids, I find really draining.

“But if I’m just in front of a camera and can create content for kids and I can do it on my own time, it’s a bit of fun.”

Emma is seeing out the lockdown in Limerick where she lives with her parents and sister. Incidentally her other sister Clare lives in London and has been featured in The Irish World for acting in plays such as The Playboy of the Western World by Gavin McAlinden’s Charm Offensive.

Does Emma think of moving to a bigger city for her career? “”I’m happy in Limerick. I can see the draw for a lot of artists, there’s so much going on but I feel like I’d get a bit lost in the noise.”

Emma was in London in February to play London Irish Centre as part of the St. Brigid’s Festival: “That was amazing. I’m always really nervous about going places like London and Dublin to play gigs because I feel like such a little field mouse in those places but the response I got that night was absolutely gorgeous. I got to meet some really beautiful people and I feel like I built up my following in London a bit because I don’t get over to London that often not out of a lack of convenience, just that I’m afraid of the place. It’s just so noisy and busy.”

Sowing Acorns is out now. For more information go to her website.

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