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A lot of twenty-somethings can sing behind a piano. But few can do it like Bernadette Ryan. We introduce a rising star.
I go to a lot of gigs. At some I’m squeezed amongst hundreds of eager fans. At others it feels like there are two people—myself and the musician—who didn’t get the memo concerning the pending apocalypse. Whether in quiet pubs, at in-store promos, old churches or arenas, the search for new music is always on the agenda.
And even now, when it seems so many people have a tune to play, new and exciting artists couldn’t be harder to find. Harder still is to find that special kind of new artist. The type that stops your heartbeat with a simple vocal.
Whether you’re an industry professional or a fan, it’s a quaint feeling that any music head can relate to. A moment so rare you can count them on your fingers, when hairs stand on end, surprise follows and speechless is actually a medical condition.
On a chilly night back in February, one such moment struck. Upstairs at the prestigious and world renowned Ronnie Scott’s club a young, well-mannered lady gracefully offered her new music to the unexpecting crowd. Bernadette Ryan was merely billed to play a few songs in support of then just-signed To Kill a King, but by the end of her first verse she had commanded everyone’s attention through voluntary wonder and delight.
As she went through a handful of her songs with a voice that seemingly jumped out of her petite five-foot stature you sensed something special was in motion.
Bernadette’s songs are based around strong harmonies, usually accompanied by a piano, which she also plays. Honest and relative, her song writing grips, while her powerful vocals tighten its hold. It was as obvious then as it is now that a new soul star is about to make her mark.
Five months on, and having seen her live a few more times, I hit Bernadette for an exclusive interview. Surprisingly, this would be the first interview and photo shoot Bernadette has ever done, so we had to do something special. In a West London park, just as Beatnik’s contributing stylist Sam Weeks and Nadine prepared to transform Bernadette, captivating all her petite beauty in a new and creative way, I got to know this very talented young lady.
Having lived most of her adolescence in Ipswich—she proudly claims to be the biggest football fan of her local side—she also spent years of her younger life raised on a military base in Germany, where her father was positioned.
In Ipswich Bernadette, the middle child of four siblings including an identical twin-sister, nurtured a passion for the piano and violin with the help of her supportive parents. In her teens, she learned to express her feelings through pen and paper.
“I love the Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke stuff. The old stuff. Writing about pain comes from that school,” she says with her own reasoning for writing in mind. “The problem is a lot of people try to recreate that now and it just comes out as a copy.
“My are very supportive of me and both think they should be my manager, but it’s not quite that Beyonce situation,” she laughs.
During a live performance you will likely be treated to Bernadette’s song writing. Gems like the powerful ‘Angry’ and uplifting ‘Satellite’ exemplify her gift for sharing personal stories strengthened by infectious choruses.
“With ‘Angry’ I came into the studio one day so frustrated with certain situations out of my control. Some of them where personal and others where just about bad things happening to good people. ‘Satellite’ is simply a happy-with-life and in-love song.”
21-year-old Bernadette is certainly full of life. A smile from ear to ear, she is self-deprecating in the sweetest of ways and to get her to stop giggling is a welcomed challenge. But underneath this carefree attitude is also a deep desire to succeed.
“My parents always gave me a good work ethic and I remind myself where I’m from. I know where I want to be is just a journey away.”
But that journey is not necessarily paved with gold. Since her recent move to London—Bernadette still lives out of a suitcase—she has experienced her fair dose of struggle.
“I’ve had my purse nicked and there has been some deeper ups and downs about moving. I’m sure I’ve got a few more songs to write about them though, ha.”
Unsigned and without a manager as of yet, it’s all down to her. But she unlikely to let that phase her one bit.
“I manage my dairy and everything else at the moment. It’s hard.
I’ll have three gigs in a week and work four ten-hour shifts. I also have to rehearse. And then life can get in the way too!”
I admire her determination but more so her positive outlook. Her current story is similar to that of many aspiring artists. Extraordinary is the day you are whisked under the wing of a trustworthy A&R and sign a six-figure contract and go platinum on the Wednesday.
We’ve heard similar tales from now-established artists Andreya Triana (the mundane insurance job) or Oddisee (couch surfing with benevolent friends), Bernadette’s hurdles are overcome with commitment and an unquenchable love for music.
“I definitely think I’ve had some set backs but I look at them as opportunities. I know unless it’s in ink it’s nothing.
“I’ve probably only been going hard at it for the last three years. I even got offered the opportunity to support Pink on her European tour. I was suppose to sing for a supporting band but then the day I went to sign the contract they had chosen a guy instead because I wasn’t the height.” She pauses.
“I can get excited but you should never believe your own hype. I’ve always known where I’ve come from. The experience has helped me get to this point but I still have a long way to go.”
But the distance to go is getting shorter by the day. Soon you will be seeing a lot more of Bernadette as she prepares her online campaign with an EP in sight. Majors have also been keeping a watchful eye open too. In the meantime you can expect more great music stemming from her journey.
‘All That I Am’ is about staying strong and true to myself. It’s so easy to change with the wind in the music industry or to be who someone else wants you to be. I want to be honest in my music and so write what I feel and experienced.”
Bernadette is destined for pop chart dominating success. I’ll bet my house and entire Alicia Keys-collection on it. What’s refreshing is how she plans to shake things up when she lands.
Apart from the majority of vile and talentless pop manufactured caricatures, murmuring themes of materialism and sex along to the current trend of euro-trash beats there have always, and more so in recent times, been exceptional acts offering a pop antidote. Alicia Keys, Adele and The Weeknd spring to mind.
And whether it’s drawing similarities between Bernadette’s and Alicia Keys’ piano arrangements or Adele’s heart-wrenching soul, or even the excitement of hearing something new like The Weeknd’s new wave of rnb, it is glaringly obvious Bernadette Ryan’s brand of popular music is sure to buck the trend.
“I want longevity. Adele smashed it with her new album. A timeless release with a grand piano.
“I always want the ability to say what I want with a good song. I love melodies, I love harmonies. You can change a look and alter a style but if you haven’t got the melody it’s over.”
But before she gets carried away with dreams of grandeur and what could be Bernadette sets a refreshing reminder that her heart and voice in the right place.
“I wake up everyday wanted to grow and add something. Of course I would like to be recognised for my music. But if other people can take something from it and if that song inspires them or helps them through a bad time then that’s the thing.
“I know a lot of artists may say that and it’s cheesy, but I remember I always had that one song. So I want to write that for somebody.”
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