My part in the Paisley for UK City of Culture campaign began in the latter half of 2016, when I was awarded a grant to produce my first EP, including Paisley themed song Hearts of Gold. The EP was released in April 2017 and the following six months saw a flurry of activity designed to promote both my music and my town. From national and international TV and radio appearances, performances at many local festivals and events, to the recording of the Hearts of Gold video with hundreds of locals around the town, I think I did my bit to put Paisley on the map.
Highlights of the bid campaign included performing Free Spirits live for the first time at St Mirren FC to around 4000 fans, featuring in an article in the Times about famous people from Paisley and getting a namecheck from Jean Cameron the Campaign Director at the Scottish Album of the Year awards as one of the artists showing that Paisley continues to “punch above its weight musically”.
Few people were more disappointed than I was that Paisley didn’t win the bid. The campaign team did an amazing job and really stirred up hope and pride in the town. I feel a great personal benefit from the activity and financial support I received for my music and will always identify, no matter how far along the road I get, as a Paisley artist. I intend to make sure, as my journey continues, that the Paisley 2021 legacy continues too.
My second EP is currently in the making, this time without a grant from the town but with my own hard won prize money from the Salute Music UK competition. The songs, like those on first EP, very much reflect my personal experiences in and around the town and will be recorded and produced in Paisley. I have a lot of hope that the EP release will get my name and my music out to more people and bigger influencers. As a good few people keep me telling me, I have the talent and I have the dream, now I just need the break. If I can get there, I’ll be taking Paisley with me!
Well it isn’t actually. I also absolutely love the buzz of live performing and being able to tell the audience, whether its three people or 3000 people, are enjoying your songs. I do think a natural ability to write a good lyric and melody is what gives me a little bit of hope of getting somewhere in music. In 2016, I had the pleasure of working with established Scottish musician James Grant at a youth song writing workshop in Paisley. I played him the songs I had written over the last couple of years and he said I was “a songwriter of great maturity and poise”. That gave me huge confidence and a belief that people could enjoy my original material as much as the pop covers set I had mostly performed previously.
Everyone knows the music business is crowded and competitive and comes with no guarantee of a steady income or recognition. Even at my age, with low overheads and some parental support, it takes a lot of determination to keep following the dream. In Glasgow particularly, there is so much talent, so many bands and artists applying for the available gigs and showcases and vying for attention.
I’m actually quite a shy person when I’m not performing and have also suffered from anxiety, which means I am really not very good at networking and getting myself in amongst the right people. My Mum has picked up the slack with that and together we knock on lots of doors to see if anyone is answering. Inevitably, we get ignored, we get told to come back next year, or we get told we just don’t quite fit. It can become demoralising but I have been very lucky since the release of my EP in 2017.
While there are many thresholds still to cross, “Free Spirits” has certainly opened a few more doors. People have listened, liked what they heard and given me huge reassurance and encouragement, a virtual hug and pat on the back which has given me the incentive to keep putting time, effort and money into the musical journey. Its really useful for someone like me to be able to gain the following awards and achievements at this stage based on my song writing ability and not on having the right connections or a certain in demand sound:
- Renfrewshire Live and Unsigned Winner 2017
- Radio Wigwam Female Artist of 2017 Nominee
- Salute UK Music Maker Top 6 2017
- Jim Diamond Radio Clyde Award Runner up 2017
- Song Academy Young Songwriter Finalist 2018
I have also been delighted to be picked at a number of emerging artist showcases this year, at Celtic Connections, the Killin Music Festival and Dougie Maclean’s Perthshire Amber festival in November.
Performing at New York Tartan Week has to be one of the most exciting and newsworthy events in my musical journey so far.
A young song writer from Paisley with a bunch of songs written from age 14 to 16 really didn’t expect to be invited by the American Scottish Foundation to represent Scottish youth music in the Year of Young People 2018. After a few emails over a number of months with the American Scottish Foundation, I suddenly found myself planning hotels and flights to get myself to New York for 6thto 10th April 2018, with several performances and a collaboration with established Scottish musicians Hannah Reid and Craig Weir planned.
The trip was a great adventure for me and everything I had hoped for and more. The parade was led by KT Tunstall this year but unfortunately after a day of performing, jet lag caused me to rain off the after-party where we could have met. However, I made lots of other connections and met some wonderful people. I also discovered that I really enjoyed singing well known Scottish songs, such as Caledonia, as they get such a great reaction from the crowd.
There were three performance highlights. Firstly, on day one in Bryant Park, where I sang Flower of Scotland with Hannah and Craig on guitar and bag pipes to locals, tourists and VIPs. Representatives of the Scottish Government office in America were there and tweeted the following about my performance:
“From busking on Paisley High Street to singing in Bryant Park on #TartanDay, 18 year old Lisa Kowalski doing Scotland’s youth proud”.
On the day of the Parade itself, I had been told I was singing on a bus which I should pick up at a hotel and should have prepared a few well known songs to sing with backing tracks. Needless to say, I was blown away when I realised my stage for the next hour or two was an open top tour bus parked outside Radio City on 6th avenue with mics and speakers, shared only with the parade MC and a couple of journalists. After my performance I then got to watch the parade from our birds eye view, waving at the clans and the Scottish pipers and dancers, the Scottish dog breeds, businesses and Universities and even the roaring Shetland Vikings like we were the VIPs!
My final performance was back at Bryant Park where I was honoured to perform alongside the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band from the Island of Benbecula , after their incredible effort to raise £40,000 to get the youth band and their instruments to New York. Eilidh MacLeod, who was tragically killed during the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, had been part of the Band and I sang One Last Time in her memory. The Forest Legion Pipe Band from Canada also shared the Bryant Park plaza with me and invited me to perform at the Fergus Highland Games in Ontario next year. Tartan Week will be a very hard act to follow but that’s a trip that might just match it!
All in all, it was a wonderful experience, with friends, connections and wonderful memories made.