The Journey of a Young Irish Singer
By Megan McGovern
Timidly she flips through the stack of sheet music at the corner table of Gildernews, an Irish pub located in the heart of Armagh. Her cautious eyes evaluate her environment and audience safely behind the strands of her fuchsia and lime green- highlighted hair. The elevated sounds of the pub go on as usual with orders of Guinness, laughter, and chatter. The girl begins to strum her guitar, and some heads turn. But most of the customers go back to their banter unaware of what lies ahead.
Softly she sings her own version of “Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland’s signature piece from The Wizard of Oz. But as she approaches the chorus, Leah Jordan turns up the volume. Her voice rising above the din, she takes everyone to another place. All eyes are fixed now on this shy 17-year-old and the yearning in her music.
Jordan, a favourite among Armagh locals, is a rising vocal star. She has a powerful and, as yet, self-trained mezzo-soprano voice a native ability to turn other artists’ songs – rock, folk, American Broadway – into a unique listening experience. Although Jordan is just beginning, reaction to her music has been astonishing. Those who hear her agree she has the potential to put Armagh on the map for more than just its churches and tourism.
Busking and Crooning in Belfast
The ambitious girl first decided to try her luck at busking (singing on the street) in Belfast at the age of 15. She was playing no more than an hour when the bar manager of Bellevue Arms asked her to play in his pub, and so began her adventures in the music industry.
Agatha Jordan, Leah’s mother, is a school teacher at St. Patrick’s Grammar School. But she made the 45-minute drive to Belfast three times a month for six months so that her daughter could perform at Bellevue Arms. Agatha reminisced that it was a tough time because Leah was performing so late on Wednesday nights and they both had school the next morning. “She is good and she deserves all that she gets so…encouragement all the way,” her mother says proudly.
Seeking more local bookings, Agatha approached the owner of Gildernews, a local pub in Armagh to see whether her daughter could be booked to perform. Leah Jordan got her first chance on Halloween night 2004. The Jordans filled the pub with friends, family, and neighbors for the turnout. Since then, her parents have been behind Jordan’s career 100 percent, supporting her at performances. She regularly thanks them for the musical gifts they’ve bestowed: her mother, Agatha, plays the piano and violin while Philip, her father, plays the Scottish bagpipes. “I tried to get her to play the violin, but she never took to it,” Agatha says. Leah Jordan has charted a course all her own with the guitar.
Since her first performances, the young singer and guitarist has had regular bookings at restaurants and pubs in Armagh such as The Stage, Gildernews, Rafferty’s, and the Shambles bar. Her audience usually includes her friends, family members, and her mother’s former students. She is often asked to sing at weddings, wakes, funerals and parties, which are sometimes on the same day as her other performances and are not always local.
In search of new and unbiased audiences, Jordan has travelled to Leister, England, to perform at The Shed bar earlier this year. She recalls how nervous she was before the performance, but the audience was pleased and she was back in school on Monday.
Not all of Jordan’s performances have been successful, though. On one occasion she was practically dragged on stage to sing a version of “Stand by Me,” meant for a voice much deeper than her own. Once she got to the chorus she couldn’t hit one of the notes, and she ran out of the pub in tears. “It was absolutely horrific,” Jordan says.
Jordan sings a variety of music ranging from songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Jackson 5, putting a special imprint on each that only a true artist can. When asked if she had ever written any songs herself, she casually replied, “Oh yeah loads of ‘em, like maybe 400 to 500.” However, she feels reluctant to share them at this point, feeling much more comfortable performing her own interpretations of songs by other singers.
“Once I save up the money for recording equipment I can record a demo tape with my own songs on them,” Jordan says. And when she has completed a successful demo tape, she plans to further pursue her dream of becoming a recording artist, perhaps travelling to England or the United States in search of agents and contracts. Her mother, however, insists that her daughter finish her studies. “She’s a smart girl and knows that her education comes before her career,” Agatha Jordan says.
Where the Road Rises to Meet Her
Although somewhat reluctant to acknowledge their likely separation at some point, Agatha Jordan mentions that her daughter’s moving out of Northern Ireland would probably be a necessity in the future. Until then, the singer plans keep performing and finish high school like any other 17-year-old.
“She is good and she deserves all that she gets so…encouragement all the way,” Agatha Jordan says.
Although her age may restrict her from entering all the clubs and pubs here in Armagh, she has charged ahead with her musical career. She feels most at home shuffling through her music, picking a song, and then just doing it. Her mother feels confident that with maturity and more experience, Leah Jordan will become a professional musician and maybe even a celebrity.
“Maybe you’ll get to be on her chat show some day,” Agatha Jordan says.
Story by Meagan McGovern
Photos By Jane Koelle
Video By Alexandra Cavallo
Web Design By Laura McKean-Peraza