Echoing the classics in her new work

  • 2013-04-17
  • Interview by Steven G. Traylor

March 8 saw the presence of Scottish singing sensation Maggie Reilly, and her Troubadour band in Ventspils for a one night concert that had the locals singing along as she serenaded the sold-out crowd through some 30 years of her musical heritage. Ms. Reilly has produced and released some 10 albums in her singing career as a solo artist, and preformed with the likes of Cindy Lauper, George Harrison, and Art Garfunkel to drop a few names, along the way. Little Ms. Reilly started out as a child performer, following her father on the pub circuit, first as an observer and, eventually, as a singer. In 1980, she met songwriter Mike Oldfield, who saw in her a star to be born, and immediately hired her for his upcoming tour. The Baltic Times was able to catch up with Ms. Reilly during her visit to Latvia and get her to respond to questions about herself, about Oldfield’s famous ‘Moonlight Shadow,’ and what’s up next for her.

Tell the readers what influence your family had on your musical upbringing – and how they may have encouraged you (or did you decide on your own) into a musical profession?
My father sang with ‘big bands’ when I was very young. Later he and my mother sang in clubs around Scotland. I went along and would sing, perhaps, two songs.

As a young girl, was there any formal training that you were exposed to… possibly brothers or sisters, that you might have sang with, that helped you develop in the early stages of your musical career?
I was always encouraged by my father in anything I wanted to do; [he] would always help me any  way he could. My father loved to buy recording equipment and would show me how to use it.

How was it, as a young girl, traveling the ‘pub circuit’ with your father? For how many years was that, and how did you balance that in relation to school requirements?
I considered training, but instead I joined various bands and got my training by doing. I traveled with my parents and enjoyed that; clubs are different to pubs so it didn’t seem to be a problem.

At the tender age of 14, you went to London to record your first professional single, ‘Imagine Me.’ Did you write the song yourself, create the melody? Tell us how you developed this first professional composition. And what was the net result of this first work?
I had a friend who wrote songs; he asked me to sing some that he was sending to a London publisher. They called me and asked if I would go to London for a meeting; they wanted to record me. My mother and I had the meeting and agreed to give it a try. I recorded three songs for them and returned to Scotland, where I met and started working with Stuart Mackillop; we formed the band Joe Cool. In time, with some changes, this band became Cado Belle.

So you have considered yourself a ‘professional singer’ since the age of 14. Then your next real gig was with Cado Belle, you as lead vocalist. Tell us how that came about, and ended with band members Gavin Hodgson off to Ireland and Stuart Mackillop off to ABBA. Where did that leave you, and what did you do between the band’s breakup in 1976 and your meeting Mike Oldfield in 1980?
Stuart and I formed Cado Belle with Gavin Colin, and Davy Alasdair was a school friend of Stuart’s; he came in with some lyrics and he suggested a guitarist he’d met at university, Alan, that completed the line-up. We worked with this line-up for about four years; then Stuart and I continued touring bringing in new musicians at different times (Jim Mullen and Neil Hubbard from Kokomo to name but a few). We did this till about 1978, I think. Then Stuart went to work with ABBA and Colin and went to work in Ireland for a year.

Tell me a little about Mike Oldfield. What lead to you meeting with him? Were you required to audition? How did you agree to corroborate with him. [Was it] based on your professional musical skills?
I came back to Scotland in 1980 and went to visit Stuart, and all my old crew, they happened to be starting a tour with Mike. Sally Cooper, Mike’s girlfriend, saw me there and she had been a Cado Belle fan; she suggested to him that he should get me to sing with him. He came over and asked if I would sing that night. We went over some music with an acoustic guitar; I wrote down some notes and performed that night. Then he asked if I would go on tour. That the start of us working together.

One of Oldfield’s hits, of course, is Moonlight Shadow, which you sang in 1983 and you continue to sing today. It has been reported that this song was a tribute to John Lennon, who was shot and killed in New York City in 1980. Did you have any input into the writing, or composition of this song?
Stuart and I asked Mike if we could use his studio to work on some songs we had written. He came in to have a listen. I think it was the first time he’d heard me sing anything other than his music. It must have triggered something as sometime later, when we were recording the next album, instead of the vocal parts we usually worked with, Mike handed me [different] lyrics. As I started to sing it the first time it made my skin prickle and I shivered. Mike asked what was wrong and I said it made me think of John Lennon (I was a huge Lennon fan). From then on it became the John Lennon song.

It seems there have been two, possibly more, parts to your musical career. From an early age up through your time with Oldfield, you are best known as a vocalist with various groups. Your first solo album was in 1994 with Echoes. What is the basis of your musical heritage, your Celtic upbringing that directs and leads you as a solo artist?
I love music and how it can make you feel. Music is a very important part [of life] in Scotland, so that was obviously a huge influence as I was growing up and I was so lucky my parents were so great. I was not so keen to be a solo person. I really like being in a band.

Your discography speaks of a string of solo albums, again starting in 1992 and continues through today. As an experienced solo artist, are you bringing new talent along with you, such as you were brought along by Cado Belle and Oldfield in the early stages of your career?
As for “bringing along people” I don’t really think like that. I would with people I like and appreciate, for what they contribute; we all learn from each other and that makes the music so much better. If I heard a band I liked and can give them a support gig, then of course I am happy to let people hear them; that’s what music is about for me.

Tell us how the creative process works for you as a songwriter and composer. How and what ideas come to mind when you are thinking and creating a song? Does today’s musical technology have any relationship to the materials that you write?
Writing is different each time. With Stuart, he usually comes up with a musical idea and then I write the lyrics, but sometimes we collaborate on both. Sometimes I write the lyrics to a subject, like on the Leisium Project.  There’s no one way. I am lucky that I work with people who are very keen on technology. I am hopeless.

Some of the artists you have worked with include George Harrison, Art Garfunkel, Cindy Lauper, and others with international experience. Are there any possibilities that you will travel out of Europe, such as to the U.S. or other parts of the world?
I am really fortunate to have worked with many fantastic musicians from many areas of music. I’m happy to travel worldwide to work. At the moment I am finishing my new CD in Scotland; it should be out around April. It’s called Heaven Sent and I think it might be the best I have made so far.

Your recent performance in Ventspils saw a warmly received sold-out crowd experience a medley of Maggie Reilly works that you have written and performed, including a smattering of Oldfield and Lauper songs.
Tell us a little about your relationship with the other great musical artists you know and have worked with over the years, such as Garfunkel and the late Harrison that Baltic fans may not know about? Maybe some insight and/or funny moments with Harrison you can share?

There are so many funny things that happen every day when you tour with musicians; one of the most recent which my band and I laugh about a lot is when our guitar player put a bag containing his stage clothes on the wrong tour bus as we were leaving a rehearsal room. This meant that his stage clothes did a world tour without him!
As you know, the Venspils’ audience went wild as you led into your signature song Moonlight Shadow. How does it feel to be type-cast by such a great hit, one that you helped to make famous, including To France, over the years?
I’ve been really lucky to have had a number of songs which have been popular over the years. It’s great that people continue to like them and I continue to love singing them as well as all of my new work.

A look at some of your music press write-ups in the past speaks to your albums that offer up rock-style ballads, light rock and your never-ending attention to your audience. With your latest labor of love - due out in April, Heaven Sent - what have you done here in the hopes of making this your best so far?
On the new CD Heaven Sent, the songs I’ve written seem to have echoes of all of my musical history running through them. They have a very happy energy. When we play them we just smile all the time!

When might we get Maggie Reilly & Company back in the the Baltics again?
Thanks to the likes of Juris Rudenko of L Tips Agency, we are schedule to be in Kaunas, Lithuania on May 25. We look forward to a return to the Baltic States, AND warmer weather!