LIKE most entertainers, Norma Manly couldn’t wait to get back to singing in front of a live audience, writes Dan Danaher.
The Ballina singer/songwriter had to be content with online performances during the Covid-19 lockdown.
However, she feels there is no comparison between performing live and online.
“Watching lockdown sessions on line was fantastic. However, you have to be at a live gig to experience the atmosphere and the energy. When I am buying music, I want to listen to live performances.
“You can’t beat a live gig. I have met so many people at live gigs who are now lifelong friends. You share a lovely bond, even though people have different tastes. I love being introduced to new music.”
She says the return of live audiences is very welcome following Covid-19 restrictions that were previously imposed since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
“When you are singing, you are trying to create something. You can feed off the energy from the audience and give so much back to them.
“Hopefully, it gives them something to remember and brings them back for more.
“When I create music, I am not trying to please anyone or to try and get a hit. I have to like what I am singing.”
The former St Anne’s Community College student returns with Brendan Pooley on guitar as one of the four acts for a live fundraising concert in St Flannan’s Cathedral this Friday night.
Norma isn’t a stranger to St Flannan’s Cathedral, having performed virtually with Brendan on guitar during the Féile Brian Boru Festival.
“The acoustics in Killaloe Cathedral are incredible. The cathedral has so much potential as a music venue. Tommy Fleming and Jack L have played in St Flannan’s Cathedral. There is a lovely atmosphere there. Rev Paul Fitzpatrick is very open minded and has some very good ideas.”
Recently, Norma performed as a support act for Mick Flannery at a music festival in Cloughjordan before raising the curtain for Ryan Sheridan in Dolan’s bar, Limerick.
“Mick Flannery is a lovely guy. I am a big fan of Mick’s music. Mick stayed around for our performance and was very encouraging and supportive.
“Mick Dolan has always been very supportive when you want a gig.”
Two years ago, her band performed in Whelan’s for the Dublin Blues, Roots and Brass Festival.
Born in near Tountinna, Ballina, Killaloe, Norma (36) attended Ballina National School and St Anne’s Community College.
Her involvement in talent shows at primary school, secondary school and the church choir fostered a love for singing.
Following a breaking from singing, Norma resumed performing about four years ago thanks to open mic night in the Washerwoman’s Pub, Ballina, which has been very helpful to local performers.
She started socialising with singers and songwriters again and began writing original songs about life experiences when she joined her band called Norma Manly.
To date, she has written 18 songs.
Like most bands, musicians come and go. Originally, Norma started off the band with Mike O’Brien from Newport on guitar. His brother, Andy, on bass guitar, Ian Connolly from Dublin now living in Ballina, on drums, also joined the group.
When Mike O’Brien left the band, Brendan Pooley, Garraunboy, Killaloe took over on guitar.
Norma’s first two back-to-back gigs were in the Washerwoman in December 2017.
She admits it is difficult trying to juggle a singing career with a full-time job, working as a support worker for the Brothers of Charity.
She says her day job is very fulfilling and gives her an appreciation of the value of enjoying the simple things in life.
Occasionally, Norma sings for the service users and at least one of them is planning to attend the fundraising concert.
“The clients love music. When they hear I am on YouTube or Spotify, they get excited. Music is a big part of their day. Music can lift mood and have a calming affect. It is a mutual interest and is very therapeutic. You could spend an hour on a session with them and you wouldn’t even feel it.”
Recently, the band started recording in Ballyhane Studios outside Birdhill, with the aim of releasing a single next January before an album. The band are hoping to perform a bigger gig with all its members in the cathedral next year.
She admits the pandemic is very challenging for full time musicians, singers and actors.
“I was very fortunate I had a full time job. I know a lot of artists who weren’t in the right head space to create anything.
“They were worried about their future and how long the pandemic would last.
“Even though I had more time during lockdown, I spent my time in other non musical ways. I didn’t create anything until the later stages of lockdown.”
She find its hard to categorise herself into one particular musical genre.
“People say I fit into the jazz/ blues. I don’t know if I do or not because I am inspired by so many different types of music. Some of my songs have an element of rock and trip hop as well. I also like the electronic scene as well.
“I was inspired by Nina Simone. She was raw and had so much passion. She may not have been the best singer, but she had a way with words and how she used them. Sinead O’Connor, and Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries are quite delicate in terms of how they sing.
“When Sinead sings, she closes her eyes because she really wants to connect with the song.
“They choose their words wisely and display great emotion. I am a great fan of Beth Gibbons from Portishead. She has a phenomenal range of vocals and raw emotion that stops you in your tracks.”