The release of singer-songwriter Emily Maguire’s fifth album, A Bit of Blue, earlier this year was never a sure thing.
Following the release of 2013’s Bird Inside A Cage, things were going well until she suddenly came down with tendonitis leaving her unable to play music. And as a result she was plunged into a deep depression.
The new album is markedly less bombastic than its predecessor.
‘I knew that I wanted to call the album A Bit of Blue,’ explains Emily, ‘and I knew that I wanted it to have this very minimalist sound. That was because my last album was this massive production, multi-layered with a really rich sound, so I wanted to do something different.
‘I wanted to go more back to the sound of my first album, Stranger Place, and just make something that was quite raw and very pared back and stripped down.
‘And because I’d been through this very difficult depressive episode, I wanted it to reflect, in a way, a bit of where I’d been. I wanted the sound to be a really haunting and as beautiful as it could possibly be.
With bipolar disorder, the mood goes that much lower, so it goes deep. You have the highs as well, it’s certainly an interesting ride, a bit of a rollercoasterEmily Maguire
‘I was working with Nigel Butler who did my last album – he’s the most musical person I’ve ever met and he just gets me with my songwriting. When we gave him the brief, we were very clear about what we wanted and he came back with exactly what I was after. I was lucky to have that.’
Describing the incident that laid her low in every sense, she says: ‘It was chronic tennis elbow in both arms, so I didn’t have a good arm to do things with. I ended up just not playing for two years.
‘I had just done a really intensive tour and I was rehearsing for an instrumental album I was doing, and then one day I woke up and they were hurting. Then they got worse and worse so I had to stop playing at all.
‘I’ve been playing instruments all my life – I started playing the recorder when I was three, it’s what I do, so it was like having my arms cut off. And because I’m bipolar I went into a really deep depression.
‘Anybody in that situation would have been depressed anyway – you’re very restricted in what you do, but with bipolar disorder, the mood goes that much lower, so it goes deep.
‘You have the highs as well, it’s certainly an interesting ride, a bit of a rollercoaster.’
But thankfully, Emily is now back on an even keel and her arms have recovered.
‘Now, I’m out of it, I have to say the great thing about going through these difficult times is the feeling you get when you come out of them, you’re so incredibly grateful for being able to work and function normally and appreciate the sun shining.
‘It makes it that much more special.’
Having bipolar disorder, Emily is acutely aware of her own disposition, but she believes that also helps her songs connect with a wider audience.
‘I take a lot of medication and I do a lot of meditation, I watch myself like a hawk – I’m quite aware of what’s going on, so I try to pull myself down if I’m going too high, or the other way.
‘I’ve been to the end of that road, and it ends in a complete car crash. I’ve been through psychosis in my life and I don’t want to go there again.
‘But everybody has highs and lows, and everybody goes up and down has intense moments of happiness and sadness and I think that’s why my songs connect with people, because that’s what I write about.
‘People can relate to them, very few of my audience are bipolar but everyone can relate. It’s universal experiences.’
With the current tour coinciding with the end of a bout of writer’s block, Emily’s in a positive frame of mind. She’s also an advocate of playing in mental health facilities, and tries to fit these shows in where she can too.
‘I’m delighted to be out there touring and playing music again – it’s what it’s all about.
‘And I’ll be playing in some hospitals too.
‘I think you need to give back, and I know that my songs can be helpful to some people.
‘People who are in a mental health hospital are at absolute rock bottom in their lives, I know from experience. But if someone rocks up with a guitar and they stand there and tell you they’ve been there, and now they’re singing a song and talking and looking like they’re leading a normal life, it has a big impact.
‘I’ve had a lot of feedback from NHS staff and service users and the kind of impact it has. And it’s music – music just generally makes people feel better! ‘If it’s songs that are relevant to where they’re coming from it can be cathartic.
‘Wherever I am, I want to be doing the odd gig in an NHS hospital, and besides everything else, it’s very boring being locked up all day, there’s nothing to do, hardly any art or music therapy. just for diversion it’s nice having someone turn up and sing some songs!’
Emily has also had her second book published recently – Notes From The North Pole, a collection of her prose, poetry and song lyrics. A lot of the poetry was written during her depression, something she started at the suggestion of her cousin who could see her frustration at not doing anything creative.
‘I decided to start writing a poem a day.
‘The poetry in them is all stream of consciousness, all off of the top of my head. I would get up in the morning, do my meditation practice, have a coffee and write a poem. I wouldn’t edit it, it’s just how it came out. Quite a few of those have ended up in Notes From the North Pole and then lots have been written which are going to be in another book, probably next year.’
Given how they were written and her state of mind at the time, does she recognise the person who wrote those poems?
‘It’s really interesting. I can’t quite believe it came out of my head, because it’s not thought through or intentional. You think of a sentence and let your pen write, it’s almost automatic, but then the stuff that comes out can be very relevant.
‘When you read it back a few months later you think: “Oh, that’s interesting...” It was like a part of my mind knew what was going on, when the conscious part didn’t.
‘I find that with songs as well, sometimes I’m not sure what they’re about, and then sometimes even years later, it’s like wow, oh, that’s what they’re about!
‘With the good songs, particularly, it’s like they come from somewhere else, or someone else. I don’t feel like they’re really me. But I’m writing at the moment – I’ve had a bit of writers block for a few years, I didn’t make my first album until I’d been writing for seven years, so I had and I still do have masses of material, but I’ve had a real blockage, and over the last couple of months that’s gone.
‘So I’m touring and writing and I’m as happy as a pig in poop.’
Hanger Farm Arts Centre, Totton
Saturday, July 29