Out of hiding: Lisa Lambe is finally expressing herself
She's best known for singing with Celtic Woman and playing Mrs Ross O'Carroll-Kelly but with the release of her solo album, Lisa Lambe is finally getting the chance to express herself
You may not be familiar with the name Lisa Lambe, but chances are you've already encountered the 31-year-old in one of her rather diverse roles.
There's her serious theatrical turns at the Abbey and the Gate, followed by playing Sorcha in all three Ross O'Carroll-Kelly plays, not to mention more than three years she spent as a member of international singing sensation Celtic Woman. Whatever the guise, it would be hard to forget the talented singer and actress - and her riot of flowing red curls.
We're meeting today to talk about new adventures - namely the release of Lisa's debut solo album - Hiding Away - but I begin by asking whether she feels that the Irish public realise how phenomenally successful Celtic Woman is abroad.
Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the all-female musical group has played sell-out shows across the globe as well as recording several specials for US TV. Celtic Woman's first album spent a record 81 weeks at the top of the Billboard world music charts, and seven more albums of traditional ballads followed - several of the covers of which feature those decidedly Celtic red curls.
Lisa says that Sky Arts showing of Celtic Woman's DVDs in recent times has made it more real for people back home. "Even relations that know you're abroad and touring with the show, and they know how fabulous an experience it is and how great a show it is, for them to really see the stuff come to life on Sky Arts has brought it home a little more," she says.
Having left the group to return to acting last year, Lisa keeps in touch with the other Celtic women - the line-up of which has included, at various points, Twink's daughter Chloe Agnew and Susan McFadden, sister of former Westlife star Brian. "They're great girls and it's amazing what they're doing," Lisa says. "I'm excited for them this year, it's the 10-year anniversary of the show so I know it will be a big year for them."
It's a big year, too, for Lisa with the launch of Hiding Away.
"The album has been in my mind for a long time and now that it has been released into the ether, I've become very excited about it. It's a labour of love for me," she says, adding that going solo wasn't a difficult decision.
"I've always listened to my gut with everything I do, any roles I've taken.
"I think you have to do everything for a reason, if you feel that it's right. It wasn't very difficult for me because I knew the project was ready to have a life of its own." Hiding Away was recorded in Nashville over 10 days and Lisa wrote two of the tracks on the album. Paul Brady, who is both a friend and a mentor, wrote another two. "He's a huge hero of mine," she says. "He's just one of the most amazing poets in music."
If comparisons were to be made, whom would Lisa liken herself too?
"I think it's Norah Jones probably meets Alison Krauss - somewhere in between there," she says. "They're two artists I love and have listened to for a long time. I think when you're creating something, it's necessary for people to say 'Oh that sounds like…'
"That's the kind of the feedback I'm getting and I'm very happy to hear. They're two very, very amazing artists."
It's clear that Nashville made a huge impression on her. Is it her spiritual home? "I think it really is. Nashville is just such a relaxed sort of place. Everyone is so super talented and everywhere you go, you just hear the most amazing music in bars and restaurants," she says. "You go to the bar, you have a beer, there's some cowboy boots on sale so you come out with a pair of cowboy boots and you've heard some great music. It's perfect!"
Musically it's had a huge impact on her. "When I was putting this album together I realised the sound that I wanted to create. Even though I am Irish and it's essentially a folk album, it has a lot of touches of country in it. I just felt it would be very fulfilling to go there and record it."
With Celtic Woman, Lisa performed in venues like Radio City in New York and the 9,000-seater Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, where U2 recorded Under a Blood Red Sky.
As a solo artist, she's due to play Whelan's on Dublin's Wexford Street in March, an intimate venue which she says is more suited to her own sound. "I love venues that are intimate and close and personal. I think my music is very soft, mellow."
Given the diversity of her back catalogue, is this album a reflection of the real Lisa?
"There's no mask, there's no character, there's just me and that's a lovely and very liberating thing," she says. "And kind of strange, because you're growing up in theatre, where you're always behind a character or a wig or something so it's very liberating to just be myself. And just a little bit daunting as well."
The youngest of 10 children, she grew up in Fairview in Dublin and knew from an early age that she wanted to perform. "I'm the only one involved in theatre and music but I just had a great time growing up. Our house was always busy and great fun and lots of cups of tea. They're really supportive."
She attended the Billie Barry Stage School and fondly recalls the eponymous founder who died last year. "I was at her beautiful send off," says Lisa. "An amazing woman… I think that's where I learnt all my craft, from her. Her discipline and just her love for her children and how she just looked after us in so many ways - I learnt so much and made great friends. It was a big part of my childhood for sure."
Lisa adored Trinity College, where she did a Bachelor in Acting Studies, which prepared her for her road ahead, not least in dealing with criticism. "In the industry I'm in, it comes with the job and during my training in Trinity, I had a lot of fantastic tutors who would never praise you just for the sake of it," she says.
Her numerous nephew and nieces keep her grounded these days, she says. Are they impressed with having a famous aunt? "I think they still see me as Lisa but it's great, especially when I'm away, they'll ask me questions about where I am. I'm more of a travel documenter than anything else!"
Travelling is a bit of a bug for her but no more non-stop touring with Celtic Woman at least means she doesn't have the same packing conundrums that being away for four months at a time brought. She also gets to spend more time with her family.
Home is a house in Blackrock, which she shares with her husband of two years, Dubliner and classical singer Simon Morgan, and she claims never to forget her northside roots. One wonders how the acutely southside Sorcha O'Carroll-Kelly would feel about that? "I think that now she's a human rights lawyer, she'd see it in a very fair way!" Lisa laughs.
Breaking Dad, based on Paul Howard's best-selling series of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly books, is currently enjoying a rerun at the Gaiety Theatre.
It's the third time that Lisa has played Ross's long-suffering wife on stage since 2007. "Sorcha is kind of part who I am now, a little bit, even though we are complete opposites. Obviously I'm a northsider for a start."
One similarity between the pair, Lisa says, is their appreciation of fashion. "I'm always given the most amazing wardrobe in it so that's always the dream. It's a real moment to feel glamorous. A lot of the time, especially if you're touring or you're creating something, you're not in your high heels. You're in work mode, so it is lovely escapism to walk on stage in a pair of Jimmy Choos every night."
In Breaking Dad, herself and her stage daughter, Caoimhe O'Malley, get through an extraordinary amount of fake tan for their roles during the four-week run at the Gaiety. According to Lisa, Sorcha's preferred brand is St Tropez. "She's tried them all but she keeps coming back to St Tropez. It's a lovely shade!"
Breaking Dad sounds like great fun to do. "Sometimes you can't get through the lines because you're laughing so much yourself," says Lisa, who says that writer Paul Howard has become a great friend over the years.
"He's just a genius, he's in with us all the time during rehearsals and he's very hands-on with the script and very, very open and generous to tweaking things. I'm in awe of what he does."
The audience also plays a huge role in informing her acting. "You have to be very open and be in the moment, especially with comedy. I think we've all learnt how to deliver stuff because you can't just barrel through it - they need to get the joke, and to realise that they want a little moment to giggle. You have to be on your toes."
The album tour and Breaking Dad will certainly keep Lisa on her toes until March. After that, there's some more theatre (not officially announced yet) and she'd like to play some folk festivals this summer.
Lisa gives the strong impression that while commercial success would certainly be welcome, it's not the main motivator. "I've never made any career decisions coming from a fame point of view. With this project [the album] it's very much a labour of love and that's why there's a heightened sense of what other people make of it, I suppose."
Her main hope is that people enjoy the music that is so personal to her. "It was a fabulous process to make it. The whole Nashville experience was amazing, it was a very happy time and the whole process has been like that.
"I think that now that I've handed it over to the public to hear it, the main thing is feedback, that people would enjoy listening to it. All the acclaim would be amazing but it's not the reasons why I made the album. There have been so many lovely moments and I want that to continue."
Lisa Lambe plays Mick Lally Theatre, Galway, March 2; Whelan's, Dublin, March 4 and Coughlan's Live, Cork, March 26. 'Hiding Away' is out now
Photography: Mark Nixon, 62 Clontarf Road, Dublin 3, marknixon.com
Styling: Bairbre Power.
Clothing: Brown Thomas and BT2, Grafton Street, Dublin 2, brownthomas.com. Jenny Vander, Drury Street, Dublin 2, (01) 677 0406. Om Diva, Drury Street, Dublin 2, omdivaboutique.com
Hair: Ciara Farrell, Lunatic Fringe, Liffey Street, Dublin 1, lunaticfringe.ie
Make-up: Paula Callan using the Callanberry range, callanberry.com