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Coming out of the Darkness

Shauna Tohill of Rews told David Hennessy about the new album’s positive message for these times, working in a Bristol hospital during the pandemic and touring with the Darkness as their support band.

After the success of the debut album Pyro, Shauna Tohill and Rews are about to release their second album that has a very appropriate message for these uncertain times we are living in.

Entitled Warriors, the band’s sophomore collection deals with themes such as overcoming life’s battles and being true to yourself.

Shauna told The Irish World: “For me, I think this new album contains some of the most honest, painful and uplifting songs that I’ve ever written, and I feel that it is a pure expression of who and what Rews is. Each song on the album is a journey through a tough situation, all different and I want it to show people that no matter what they are going through, together, through the spirit of music, we can strengthen, we know that we belong and we can do this.

“The title track Today We’re Warriors says: Even though we’re going through this today, we’re warriors, we’re going to get through this particular day. Just take each day as it comes.

“I suppose the underlying theme throughout the album is everyone’s journey has different difficulties that you go through in life and just trying to put a positive spin on those things but also, it is about just calling things as they are. Like if you’re feeling quite low about something, it’s better to be able to say that you feel that way.

“I think it’s the sort of message people need to hear now to keep people positive and striving for the future.”
The band were in the middle of a tour when the country went into lockdown and had to cancel their March show planned for Camden Assembly.

“We were halfway through the tour and then it got called. It was a bit of a scary time to be honest. We were continuing to go along and do the gigs but it was just a really strange kind of atmosphere at the show. People just wanted to get out and go to the gig but there were other people who, although they had bought tickets, were really afraid to come out. It was a very surreal moment. There were mixed feelings about pulling the rest of the tour but we just felt it was the best thing to do for our fans. We didn’t want to put anyone in an unsafe position.

“I wasn’t thinking too much about myself really. My partner is a doctor so I was hearing a lot of information from that side of things. I was more concerned about the NHS and the strain it would be under if everybody got ill and also worried about my fans, especially older folks. That was the main concern for me. I just wanted to encourage people to take care of themselves.”

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Although she usually works as a massage therapist as a sideline to her music, Shauna joined her partner in working for the NHS during the crisis by taking a role at a hospital in Bristol where she is based.

“I started working at the hospital as well during all this. I’m working as a physiotherapy assistant. It’s a small community hospital nearby. It’s a brain injury rehab hospital. I wanted to help in some way. I really wanted to volunteer or something. Then I got offered this position.

“To be honest I think it’s given me a new perspective. I’ve never really worked in a hospital environment before. It is inspiring in some ways. I feel very lucky because I’m getting to work with people who have maybe lost the ability to walk due to brain injury. I get to see people taking their first steps again and get to work with them to make sure they recover. It’s quite emotional.”

Although Shauna is not working directly with coronavirus patients, she is inspired to see how the hospital staff have faced the virus: “It’s amazing to see all of the nursing staff pulling together. It’s given me a lot more respect for nursing staff and healthcare professionals and the amazing work they do.

“It’s a real privilege actually to be there doing that. I’m loving it. It’s opened my eyes a bit more.

“It’s really interesting. I’m really enjoying the job. It’s temporary for now, we’ll see what happens.”

It may feel like a lifetime ago but it was just late last year that Rews played support to The Darkness on their headline tour.

Shauna told us she enjoyed being on the road with Justin Hawkins and the lads: “I try not to put too much expectation into things just because you’re never sure what you’re gonna get. I was really excited about it. The guys were so lovely. Reflecting back, I have nothing but positive memories. It was such an amazing experience. Probably one of the most fun tours I’ve been on actually.

“It does feel like a lifetime ago but they’re very lovely memories. I’m just hoping we’ll be able to do some more stuff eventually.”

Shauna told us the support slot came their way from a cheeky question she put to guitarist, Dan Hawkins when they happened to be staying in the same hotel for a promotional gig a some time ago: “We became quite friendly with him and I just happened to mention one day, ‘Dan, are you going on any tours at the end of the year or anything?’ And he was like, ‘Actually yeah, we’re just about to announce our headline tour’. And I was like, ‘Oh, if you still need a support band, we would be totally up for it’. He was like, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool’. Didn’t think anything more of it and then about four weeks later, we got the offer.”

Shauna has previously recorded as Silhouette and the track Can’t Keep Up was chosen for a Northern Irish tourism campaign. She has also toured with Snow Patrol doing their backing vocals. She came to London in 2015 to start her new project and formed Rews.

“London gave me the inspiration to work my butt off and just make stuff happen. I really believe that if you believe in something enough, things work with you to make it happen.”

She was joined in Rews by drummer Collette Williams. The duo recorded the band’s first album Pyro which was released to critical acclaim in 2017.

The success of Pyro earned the band a spot at Glastonbury. How was that for an experience? “It was amazing, it was just class. We had done a gig at Glastonbury the year before but it was at like 2am and it was in the backstage area. To go from there to being on the John Peel Stage playing to an entirely full tent was absolutely mind blowing. It was definitely one of the memories I’ll have on my death bed, I think.”

BBC’s Mark Radcliffe gushed about Rews being one of the festival’s highlights and called them a ‘female Royal Blood’: “It’s nice to be compared to Royal Blood, it’s just the female thing sometimes is not great.”

This is something that Shauna has had to deal with since she started playing music. She has said before that she has been carrying in her gear to play when she has heard comments like ‘they’re girls, they’re going to be crap’: “It was certainly a thing when I was younger.

“I grew up in a predominantly female family. I’ve got three sisters and my mum and the whole stereotype thing was never really a thing for me because my mum was doing all the DIY and things that now I hear are more men tasks.

“I think for a long time, I was just learning from my mother basically so whenever I was walking into different bars with big heavy amps and people were like, ‘Oh, look, isn’t that cute? The girlfriends are carrying their boyfriends’ gear’. And I was like, ‘What? Why would you even think that?’ It just really baffled me. I wasn’t offended. I was more just like, ‘You’re obviously stupid’.

“It just became a bit stranger after a while. I was like, ‘Oh people genuinely believe this. Well, I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. Hopefully people will realise that girls do play instruments and carry their own gear’.

“I think there’s a lot more of it than people realise. I think you just have to get on with it because there are going to be people who have opinions about everybody and you have to keep doing what you do.

“There have been some people who are like, ‘Oh wow, you make a lot of noise for two little girls’. I’m like, ‘Okay, you make a lot of noise for one big man’.”

Collette left the band at the start of 2019: “Collette was in the band for four years and we had great times together. It was all amicable. We just decided to separate at the start of this year.” Rews then became a three piece with Ele Lucas on bass and Scott Hislop on drums making up the line-up.

From Magherafelt in Derry, Shauna had an early experience with TV talent shows when she was invited to audition for Channel 4’s Musicool but lost interest when they wouldn’t let her play guitar: “I think the music industry is not suited to people who want to do it just because they want praise for something, you have to do it because you love it and you have a real passion for it because it becomes more of a way of life.

“I think that’s the kind of attitude I’ve been going with the whole time, just working my butt off to hopefully spread positive words and music, that’s kind of my inspiration. I want to help people with my music so even if that is just a couple of people in the audience, that’s made my day but if I become successful, that’s even better. “

Shauna comes from a famous musical family with her maternal grandmother being the renowned traditional singer from Tyrone Eileen Donaghy. Eileen was known for ballads like The Oul Lammas Fair and married Tyrone footballer Pat Donaghy: “My grandmother was really well known. She toured all over America and everywhere. My mum and dad were in bands growing up. My mum is a wonderful singer and my dad is an amazing guitarist.”

Shauna has more relations who are well known from GAA. Her uncle Plunkett Donaghy won three Ulster titles with Tyrone. She is also related more distantly to Anthony Tohill who won an All-Ireland with Derry in 1991 and Anton Tohill who is in Australia with AFL Club Collingwood.

However, that doesn’t mean Shauna can play herself: “Unfortunately I’m really terrible, can’t play to save my life.”

The album Warriors is out now.

For more information, click here.

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