Monday 23 July 2018

Waking Hours: Cliona Hagan

Cliona Hagan (29) is a country singer. From Ballinderry, Co Tyrone, she still lives with her parents in the family home. She has a degree in music and is a qualified teacher. She will perform in 'Country Roads', Vicar Street in November

Cliona Hagan
Cliona Hagan

I still live with my parents. I'm the youngest in the house, but I'm never really there, because I'm up and down the country, singing. This morning, I wasn't home until 6am, and some days, I don't get home until 8am. I live in Ballinderry, Co. Tyrone. It's a really nice place, and it's where I grew up.

During the week, if I haven't been singing, I get up at 9.30am and make a nice breakfast. I love porridge, but it has to be covered in blueberries, with a little bit of sugar. Other days, I like pancakes. It just depends on how I'm feeling, really. Sometimes I get tired because I travel so much. Anybody who sings with a band knows about this way of life. Your sleep is completely all over the place.

The other day, I was wide awake at 6am, and couldn't get to sleep. That is the only downfall of this lifestyle, as a singer. Otherwise I love it.

When I can't sleep, I'm always going over my performance - things I'm not happy with and want to change. And also, I'm full of adrenaline. I'm doing something that I love to do and am passionate about it, so I'm high afterwards. Then I go through social media and Snapchat. I know that this isn't an ideal way to send me to sleep. It probably winds me up instead.

If I'm not out on a Sunday night and in a better routine, I go to the gym for a workout in the morning. I'm not trying to lose weight, but I just want to be as healthy as I can. When you are on stage, you have to be fit to do a performance. It's only two hours, but afterwards, you are talking to everybody; to all the people who have been good enough to come and see my show. When I'm eating healthily, I have more energy and can give a better performance.

I've just finished my second album. I think it's going to be called Secret Love. I'm constantly practising and recording new songs. It's very hard to know what makes a good song. You can't beat the classics. Last year, I released Let Him Go, Let Him Tarry. Bridie Gallagher used to sing it, and we did really well with it, too. A lot of country songs have great stories and people can relate to them. I have a band, and I perform with the same musicians all the time. They are a great team, and we work well together.

Music has always been in my life. As a kid, I was singing songs at home all the time. Aged 13, I was on the Late Late Toy Show, and eventually I went on to study music for a degree. I went on to become a teacher, but the plan was always to be a performer. Being on stage was my first love. I really wanted to do it, but I didn't know if I could make a living from it.

I studied in Scotland and I was teaching over there, but I came home to be close to my family. When you're away, you can't pop around and have a cup of tea. My sister had a baby boy and he was the first grandchild. I felt like I was missing out, so I came home. It was wonderful to be back home.

My parents told me that if the singing didn't work out, I could always go back to teaching. They were marvellous. They knew that I wanted to sing, and they encouraged me to follow my dream. It was scary, but I knew that I had to take the risk and just do it. For the past few years, I've toured up and down the country, showcasing my talents. It's been tiring, but thrilling.

It's been a long road. I saved up all my money and recorded two singles. Then we did videos, too. It was very expensive. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, looking up radio stations. I went to the post office to send out my CDs, and I nearly died when I found out that it cost £300 for postage. I worked hard, and I've never stopped. I just want to become better and better.

Unfortunately, some people sneer at country music, but I love it. This type of music is very homely and you get to build up a rapport with your audience. People are so grounded, and there is a huge dance scene with country music. I grew up listening to American country music - people like the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. But I'm influenced by Irish performers, too. We are very close and people are so supportive. It's like one big family. Philomena Begley is very supportive, and her son is my manager.

On a day of a performance, I try not to talk. Then I do my vocal warm-ups. When you've been around the circuit, you get to know your audiences, and you know the type of songs they like. I vary my set list accordingly. It's very important to think of your audience.

In the beginning, I used to get nervous, but not any more. I cried when I got my first standing ovation. There is no better feeling. People don't realise all the passion and drive that you put into the shows, but when they clap and shout, I get goosebumps. I cry like a baby, and the mascara runs down my face.

I don't even have time for sleep, never mind relationships. My priority at the minute is music. If Mr Right comes along, I'll be smiling like a Cheshire cat, but right now, music is going to take first place.

Sometimes I have a four-hour drive home, and I tiptoe around the house, making sure that I don't wake anybody up. Finally, I go to bed. I'll be honest, there are some nights when I just go straight to bed. There is make-up all over the pillow. But I go to sleep smiling. I'm following my dream, and making it happen. Nothing beats the feeling after a show.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

'Country Roads' is in Vicar Street on November 26 and 27

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