Aoife: "I come from the Black family of singers, but I get so shy on stage"
Aoife Scott has just released her debut album to rave reviews. She tells Una Brankin about coming from musical royalty, why she gets so nervous when she is singing and the lessons her mum Frances taught her
As a child, Aoife Scott would spend every Easter on Rathlin Island, where her grandfather Kevin Black was born and brought up on a farm.
Mr Black eventually moved to Dublin in search of work and raised a musical family, including singer Mary Black and her sister Frances, mother of Aoife, who still regards Rathlin as her spiritual home.
Now following in her famous family's folk footsteps, Aoife will stay in the old homestead in early June when she returns to Rathlin to perform at the island's maritime festival.
"I claim the whole island as my family," she laughs. "I have loads of cousins there. We went there every year as far back as I can remember and it's amazing to come back and play there.
"It's great to go up for a week - no TV, no internet, just walks and reading. You take enough food for a week over on the boat and then just retreat from the world, and relax."
Now 33, the attractive singer/songwriter recently released her first album, Carry the Day, to glowing reviews. "A fiery passionate young talent springing from a fine musical family," declared Hot Press magazine, while the Chicago Irish American News described her as "a terrific singer who has given us a gem of an album - the songs are wonderful and so is she".
Produced by her older brother Eoghan, a psychology student, and featuring her boyfriend Andy Meaney on guitar, the album is something of a family affair. Aoife and Eoghan are Frances Black's children by her first husband, Richie Scott. The marriage ended when the children were small, and Frances went on to marry Brian Allen, who Aoife is very close to and who has been in her life since she was four.
Aoife goes under her father's surname, rather than trade on her mother's better known family name.
"As a singer, I can't deny who I am," she says. "Sometimes the teenage head comes on and I won't want to talk about the Blacks, but they are my family and I'm very proud of mam.
"I'm similar to her in personality and vocals; they're genetically the same, so it's inauthentic to try to pretend I'm not related. I don't make a big deal about it or boast either, but it's all about the love. I'm upfront about it; people can get embarrassed about not knowing.
"And people say I do resemble mam, but I'm a real Scott, in fairness. Same skin as dad, and shape of head. I do see a lot of granny Black in me too."
Granny (Patty) Black helped raise Aoife when her mother Frances, a newly elected Irish senator, was going through her past battles with depression and alcoholism. Frances was close to her mother and relapsed into alcoholism after Patty's death in 2003, after 14 years of sobriety.
"I wasn't aware of mam's depression when I was younger but I knew she had given up alcohol," Aoife recalls. "It was only when I got into my mid 20s that I started to understand certain things. We were all sad when granny Black died and I'm aware mam relapsed then, but she went on to train as an addiction counsellor and she set up a charity to help families affected by addictions, and now she's been elected to the Senate.
"It's incredible to see her go out dressed up every day to go to her work at Leinster House. I'm so proud of her. She wants to give a voice to the people she has worked with over the years; the homeless, too."
Describing her mother as beautiful - "but doesn't know it" - Aoife is grateful for the lessons in life Frances has passed on to her.
"She has taught me a lot about awareness and how to look after the self; how to check in on yourself and not to get overwhelmed, and that includes exercising and eating properly. It has made me stronger.
"You have to train yourself on how to look after yourself properly. It should be taught at school. It's as important as any other subject."
She has found another role model in the witty Newry-born singer/songwriter Kieran Goss, her mother's musical collaborator in the 1980s and 1990s. The pair reformed as a duo in 2014 and are going on tour again this summer.
"Kieran is so supportive of me. I'll email him and he'll come back with a whole list of contacts, gigs and promoters and so on," says Aoife. "He tells me exactly the way to go about everything in the business. Sometimes we'll get him down from his house in Sligo and book him into a hotel so we can have him all day to tell us his secrets.
"He's full of information and so helpful. I'm lucky to have him on board. It's great to see him and mam touring again together. It's nostalgic for me - I grew up with that. It's a great show to watch. Kieran is so funny and has such great stage presence. He's a master of the music business."
Frances Black has been very open about the crippling shyness and lack of self-confidence that she suffered throughout her life. Her only daughter admits to similar traits, although to see her relaxed performances in front of the camera for her single, Along the Wild Atlantic Way, or her Sean Nos dancing on stage, you'd never guess.
"I'm slowly getting the confidence to dance on stage. Actually, I get more nervous about performing in sessions, singing in front of others without a mic. I had a massive meltdown when I had to do that last year.
"I learned from Granny Black and her musical household that you have to sing in company, no matter what. So, I'd go first and get it over with, and then relax. But I was very shy in my teens, up until my 30s. It took me a while to have the confidence to sing, yet being on stage feels natural to me. The mic is a protective barrier, in a way."
Aoife got her first taste of showbusiness at 10, when she accompanied her mother and auntie Mary on tour for their A Woman's Heart album, a compilation of 12 tracks performed with Eleanor McEvoy, Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon and Maura O'Connell. The album was released in July 1992 and sold over 750,000 copies, more than any home-grown album in Irish chart history.
"The whole Woman's Heart tour experience was great fun," she recalls. "It's only now that, oh my God, I realise how amazing it was. So exciting. They were so successful. The girls -Eleanor McEvoy, Dolores Keane and everyone - were so much fun and they all minded me. I used to get up for the encore, Moondance, and sing a bit, and dance to Stayin' Alive.
"I got to meet so many celebrities, but never Steve Martin [a fan of Mary and Frances], whom I'd love to. But mam would be on the Late Late Show quite often and I got to meet people like Jean-Claude Van Damme in the RTE canteen and get his autograph.
"And I got to go to Ronan Keating's 21st birthday in the POD nightclub. I was such a teenybopper then, totally into boybands. Mam dressed me up to look a bit older for it, but we only stayed for an hour. I was so star struck - there was Ronan on a Harley Davison in the middle of this club. I met Louis Walsh too. I was in my element, but very shy at the same time."
It was a touch of rebellion, rather than shyness, however, that sent Aoife in a different direction to the family business when it came to choosing colleges. Like everyone else in her family, Aoife inherited her love of singing from her late grandmother.
However, while she has a beautiful voice like her mother and auntie Mary, she was unsure about choosing music as a career, as she saw first-hand that life on the road can be hard. She decided to go into the TV production industry instead, completing a course in communications and media at Colaiste Dhulaigh, followed by a digital media degree at the University of Wolverhampton.
"I was trying to be a rebel," she admits. "Everyone in my family sang and when it came time for college, I had the choice between music or media. I was very interested in media so I thought I'd do that, and then music after that.
"I went into digital editing and just kept putting music off, but after a while I found that I didn't like the medium of TV. I'd spend two years making a programme, then it would be aired and over and forgotten about. I couldn't handle that; I wanted to do something more lasting."
While Aoife worked successfully in TV production for years, she still felt the lure of singing. The turning point came when she was working as production manager on the IFTA award-winning Irish language TV series 1916 Seachtar na Casca and was asked to fill in while the crew was working late on a scene. A singing actor had to leave, and they wanted to keep the atmosphere going.
The reaction to her effortless voice was so positive she was asked to sing on all seven episodes of the landmark TV series.
"I got the confidence by singing on that soundtrack and it got a good reaction. I began entering competitions, and won a few, so I decided to leave my TV job. It was scary at first - I was well-paid and comfortable, and the idea of not knowing when your next gig was just freaked me out at first. When you're young and driving around in a convertible, you think you're great, but if you aren't happy or doing what you want, it isn't worth it. Now I'm happier because I'm doing what I dreamed of, even though I'm a bit poorer. I don't mind that, as once I can make a living at it, I'm happy and I prefer this way of life, performing and making music full-time now.
"I'm finally here now, with my first album. The feedback has been brilliant - people are singing Along the Wild Atlantic Way back to me. I included all the places I'd been on holidays, so it's infectious. No negative reactions at all."
A fluent Irish speaker, Aoife met her boyfriend Andy (30), from Dublin, while touring in Germany. He now plays with her and is also in a well-known traditional group, FullSet, and plays guitar and accordion. The couple have been together for two years and they're fully committed. Aoife even introduces Andy to people as the man she's going to marry, and she's bringing him to Rathlin.
"I'm so lucky to have found a fella that can play music with me. I won't have that pang of missing him when I'm on tour. I don't really care about marriage, but I just know I'm going to be with Andy for the rest of my life. There is no other way around it."