Having begun singing lessons shortly after she learnt how to walk, the Kerry-born contralto Grace Foley clearly has music embedded deep in her DNA.
All those years of study – including five years at the Royal Irish Academy – came to fruition on her 2016 debut album, Home To Kerry, and blossom even further on her soon-come second album, Unleashed, as Foley embraces new sensations.
That hunger to push the boundaries and to break new ground sees Foley collaborating with some of Ireland’s finest musicians, whether it’s acclaimed session players in the contemporary world such as Niall O’Sullivan, James Nash, Rod Patterson and Guy Rickarby, or the equally curious and eclectic classical young gun, Wayne Woodman, a GG favourite.
Coming together for A Touch Of Classical, Foley and Woodman are about to play The National Concert Hall. Which is, of course, just a warm-up gig for their appearance at The Whale on Saturday, August 31st.
In the meantime, we asked Grace for those songs that have shaped and shook her over the years, and, firstly, how the hell she got into this ridiculous line of work…
Well, I got into this crazy business quite simply by singing!
There is no music whatsoever in my immediate family or close relatives. My parents have always liked music but the voice seemed to be a special gift just for me! I began singing while sitting in the back of my Dad’s car. I started taking singing lessons with the legendary Aine Nic Gabhann [right] because my Aunt Marian said I should definitely do something with my voice – and that’s where the madness started!
I was geared down the classical route by the simple fact that my singing teacher trained voices in the classical style. Before I knew what was what, I was being told that my voice was a very unique and special one. Before I knew it, I was studying at the Royal Irish Academy of Music alongside all the best up-and-coming performers in Ireland, and I was being tutored by some of Ireland’s most respected musicians.
After a break from singing my love of contemporary music took me on a slightly different path, and I returned to the songs I loved when I was a teenager. Glen Hansard’s Falling Slowly and Damian Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter are very close to my heart, and I think it is songs like these that renewed my love of music.
Glen Hansard Falling Slowly I have loved this song since long before it appeared on the big screen and I was thrilled to recently see Glen performing this wonderful track live at Vicar Street. This song has been my guide ‘home’ to music.
Damien Rice The Blower’s Daughter This song was a very big turning point in my singing career. Singing this forced me to strip back to bare notes and raw emotions. It is probably myfavourite trackfrom my new record, Unleashed. I have been a huge Damien Rice fan since I was a teenager, when Cannonball could be heard blaring in my bedroom into the wee hours!
The Celtic Tenors Remember Me The first time I realised that I wanted to be a classical crossover singer was when I witnessed The Celtic Tenors perform at the INEC Killarney. They lit up the stage. I have been incredibly fortunate to have Celtic Tenor James Nelson feature on 2 of the songs on Unleashed. Childhood dreams can come true!
Michael Buble Feeling Good Michael Buble is such a great example of a performer who has it all. He oozes charm on stage. He is very witty and he pulls the audience in with his beautiful voice and big performances. He just has ‘it’, the X Factor, whatever you want to call it. I saw him perform in Croke Park last year and I was so impressed to see him take charge of that big stage after taking a break from performing while his son was sick. You can literally feel his love of performing from your seat.
Josh Groban To Where You Are Josh Groban’s voice is pure magic. He has the kind of voice I could listen to all day. I first saw him sing on the TV show Ally McBeal back in the ’90s, and it has been fascinating to see his journey since then. My Dad is a huge fan of his, so I have purchased a number of his CDs for Christmas presents over the years! I love this song in particular, as it reminds me of my late grandmother.
Christie Hennessy Roll Back The Clouds I think this song is the most special song I have ever heard. Back in 2016, I was planning to record my first album, and I wanted it to be a collection of songs all relating to County Kerry. This was my first step back into music after a long break. I was travelling to Cork one day and was discussing song options with my husband, John. I wanted a song written by someone from Kerry and John suggested Christie Hennessy. I was left in floods of tears when I played this song the first time… And the second… and the third. I went on to record the song for my album, Home To Kerry. I was so thrilled to meet Christie’s son, Tim Ross, this year at the NCH; it was such a lovely experience. This song and I have made a big connection.
Kathleen Ferrier Che faro senza Euridice A lot of my inspiration has come from music outside the classical idiom but I have to say, my biggest musical inspiration was my singing teacher, the late Aine Nic Ghabhann. Aine was an outstanding teacher and an incredibly powerful woman. When she left this world, she left a huge void behind. During my studies with Aine, she taught me the beautiful aria Che faro senza Euridice. It terrified me back when I first learned it. It is a huge song and a song that I feel a huge responsibility for when singing it. Every time I hear it, I think of Aine. This version is by one of the world’s finest contraltos, the late Kathleen Ferrier. There are not too many true contraltos in this world and I am proud to be one.
Baz Luhrmann Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen My Mom bought me this single when I was finishing primary school. Little did I know at the time that this song would continue to teach me lessons throughout my life. It was her gift to me. It said all the things she wanted to say to me, both as a child and as an adult. Wear sunscreen!
Josh Groban O Holy Night During my time away from singing the most difficult aspect for me was not performing O Holy Night on Christmas Eve at my church. This is another song that I feel a huge responsibility for when I sing it. It truly embodies everything that is good about Christmas and I always feel honoured to perform it on that very special night.
Slade Merry Christmas Everybody If I want to escape life in the middle of July, or April or anytime really, I turn this song on. Everyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with Christmas. I love nothing more than the festive season and I use this energy to give me a lift whenever I need it. It can be Christmas any day you like!
Handel HWV 56 Messiah/Part One: Air I have such great memories of this song. This was the first song that I sung where I began to make my mark as a classical singer. I won Killarney Rotary Young Musician Of The Year with it, and also sang it on RTE Lyric FM for their competition Divas and Divos. It was my go-to song, and I sang it at many events and concerts, and also on RTE Radio One with Myles Duncan.
You can grab your ticket for Grace Foley and Wayne Woodman’s A Touch Of Classical at The Whale on Saturday, August 31st right here. You can also find out more about Ms Foley right here.