You know how upsetting it is when a singer has the temerity to cover your favourite artist? And they do such a bad job with their ‘interpretation’ that it taints the song forever? Yeah, you know. But sometimes, hardly ever in fact, a musician takes on a classic tune and does such a great job that it invites you to reconsider it in a bright, shining new way. This was my experience recently when I heard Shauna Mackin’s version of River, one of Joni Mitchell’s most famous compositions.
Manchester-based Mackin is a young woman from Dublin. If I had to describe her, I’d posit a heady mix of Mitchell, Dusty Springfield and Norah Jones (but Jones in a good way). And then add in a sprinkling of Irish humour and sparkle. Mackin journeyed over to the University of Salford back in 2009 for a music degree and has never left. Now the 24-year-old singer-songwriter is gigging around the city and winning support from, among others, BBC Introducing and BBC 6music. Northern Soul predicts big things for this prodigiously talented musician.
While she teeters on the edge of proper fame, Mackin told Northern Soul about her love for Manchester. “It’s the people,” she says. “There is a real sense of community in Manchester. There’s a really friendly and comforting feel about Manchester and, when you’re away from home, it’s great to be in a place that I feel very comfortable in. And it’s been my home for five years now.”
With early ambitions to become either a nurse or a vet, Mackin studied healthcare before her dad said, “well, what about trying the music thing?”
She says: “I was always interested in music and always singing at family parties. I studied music all through school. But I was going to become a midwife until my dad said, ‘do you really want to do this?’ There were only really classical-based courses in Dublin then. He said, ‘what about going further afield?’ I applied to Salford University and was offered a place. It was the best decision I ever made.”
According to previous interviews, it was thanks to her university lecturers that Mackin overcame her initial lack of self-assurance. She says that joining the university big band was a key factor in getting her to where she is today.
“There are so many venues and great promoters in Manchester,” she says. “I’ve been gigging for about two years now and we’ve played so many great places.”
Mackin and her guitarist Johnny Lewis write all of their own songs, allowing for the odd cover (Johnny and drummer Alex were in the same year at university as Mackin and her other guitarist James and base player Zoe were two years below).
She says: “I’m inspired by a lot of older music. My dad is a big Peggy Lee fan. Dusty Springfield was always being played in our house, The Beatles as well. The majority of my influences have been female. Joni Mitchell, for example. If I met her now I don’t know what I would do. But there have been so many. Amy Winehouse, Adele, they are all fantastic people. If I have a quarter of the success they have had then I will be absolutely flying.”
Images by Chris Payne
For more info about Shauna, click here
To hear Shauna chatting with Lucy McNamara, the producer and presenter of the Northern Soul Podcast, click here