Melia Naughton is a busy woman. She sings, acts, composes and plays music. Melia has her finger in many creative pies around the Shire. Here she tells Lyn McCarthy all about her current projects and her very first triangle solo.
“I think a lot of people were told, when they were kids, ‘oh, stop it … you’re singing flat,’ or urghh you’re out of tune, maybe you should mime?’ But it’s just not true. In becoming a Natural Voice Leader I’m reminded of the vitality and uniqueness of our voice and to celebrate each voice, however it shows up, wherever it’s placed, whatever it sounds like… it’s your birthright to use it. I get goosebumps just talking about the power of that.
I love performing but I’m also deeply passionate about sharing the fact that we’ve all got a voice and we can use it. It was the inspiration for both the Shire Choir and the Singing Circle, a one-hour weekly session for women that I’ve been leading for five years. We gather and express ourselves, learning songs from around the world; lots of rounds, lots of harmonies, improvisation and exploration, trying out different colours and textures. the palette of the voice and the different shades that we can use.
Shire Choir is such a lot of fun. Usually because alcohol is involved. Well, it is held at the pub! But really, it’s such an uplifting community event. So non-threatening, so joyous. You’re in a room full of other people, just like you, there are no solos and you can’t actually hear your own voice in the mass of the collective voice. It’s safe and I think people love the experience of just using their voice in a big room of other humans. It’s a pop-up so whoever is in the room is the choir. We choose songs that you probably know from your own back catalogue, rock and pop songs that are familiar. We arrange each song into three parts and make it our own.
It’s all about community. That notion is really important to me actually, because I’ve been so supported by the local community. I feel like the Choir is a beautiful giving back, a really nourishing interaction, because I’m getting so much from it too. What I understand from people who come along is that it’s a great reason for them to be with other people with a connecting common purpose and to just enjoy themselves.
We’ve just received a grant from Byron Shire Council for a ‘Community Feel Good Tour’ with the idea of uplifting our community post floods. It’s so good that Council recognises the value and the power of singing together. We’ll be backed by a live band, the Birrell Bros and we performed at Eureka Hall and Newrybar Hall in September, with dates at Coorabell Hall and the Brunswick Picture House in October, and it will all be free. So, it’s really exciting that we can do this for the community.
I’m also loving an extension of The Shire Choir that we’ve created called Sounds of the Shire Choir. It emerged because we did this dynamic collaboration with DJ Groove Terminator at the Byron Music Festival. He works with the Soweto Gospel Choir and he told us he wanted something like that. I’m like, ‘Well, we’re not the Soweto Gospel choir, but we are a great collection of local voices.’ We performed a medley of five songs while he was live DJing. That was a brilliant experience. We closed the recent Cabaret BanGala with one of the songs Love is in the Air by John Paul Young.
Besides the Choir work, I recently co-wrote the musical score for the Spaghetti Circus show Monumental at the Brunswick Picture House, with an amazing musician called Sue Simpson. I learned a lot from her, she’s really incredible. I loved the buzz of performing every night and how I had to stretch myself as a musician and collaborator. I play piano, guitar and sing but for Monumental I had a triangle solo (!) and I played percussion which I’d never done before. Performing alongside trapeze artists was a first for me. We’re hoping to remount the show next year for the National Circus Festival.
There’s also a murmur about a return season of New Blood the musical. Five of us (Anouska Gammon, Joel Cooper, Mikey Bryant, Elodie Crowe and myself) wrote a musical from scratch which was a pretty bold thing to do. We had sold out seasons locally and we were invited to perform at the Adelaide Fringe. I feel that it’s a really powerful work that speaks particularly to people who live around here. It’s all about development and progress and being local and belonging, and what it means to be part of a community.
And then there’s The Gumboots, which is an original band entertaining kids and their adults led by me with Elodie Crowe and Ben Cox. We played at Little Splendour and a few other local festivals. It’s a three piece and we’re all wearing gumboots, of course. We perform funny songs about cockroaches and leeches and ticks and fire engines, songs that I’m getting a big hit of satisfaction out of as a writer and performer, because I love playing with lyrics. And I get to play guitar. An electric guitar!
Melia Naughton getting into character Photo Hamish McCormick Carnival Cinema