There are some occasions when an artist starts to sing and you simply have to stop and listen. And that’s exactly what happens when the hugely talented Ella Shaw appears on stage.
With a voice which captivates – powerful, soulful – she has wowed recent audiences at festivals at the Lowry as well as with two shows at the Clitheroe Jazz Festival fronting the outstanding jazz band Breaking Jazz.
But filling an audience with awe is nothing new for the 18 year old from the Ribble Valley, who has been performing gigs since the tender age of 14 and found the quality of her performances leading to more and more bookings. “When I was 14 I started gigging” she says. “I never went out and got my own gigs and so many people saw me, and one gig lead on to another. I was constantly busy.”
And when the opportunity came to enter a competition to perform at the Manchester Arena with Key 103, she jumped straight in – “When I left school – I absolutely hated school and couldn’t wait to leave – I entered a competition with Key 103 and went around performing, trying to get enough votes to perform at Manchester Arena. I won and opened Summer Live in 2013 – it was amazing.” It was a performance which had industry figures raving about her ability, earned her further gigs and gave her a taste and a drive to deliver such performances in the future.
The inspiration to pursue her dream came from her grand-father and particularly his dedication. “My grandpa, who died a couple of years ago, was in a Cathedral choir for 60 years” she comments. “It was major dedication as he never missed church or an event he had to sing at.” And this enthusiasm serves as an inspiration to the singer, continually striving, performing and, most importantly, enjoying every moment of it. “It was so inspiring to me that he could dedicate so long, so much time. He was so gutted when he had to retire, but he just couldn’t physically carry on going – it was hard for him to stop” she adds. “That’s my biggest inspiration – that he could dedicate so much and enjoy something so much. He always said to me ‘never give up on something that makes you so happy’ and that is my everyday motivation.”
Surrounded by music from an early age, Ella quickly realised that it was a route she wanted to pursue, loving the experience of being on stage. “Music was always around me as a child – my grandpa had eight grandchildren, all girls, and at Christmas he’d play the grand piano and all my cousins would be around, just like the Von Trapp family! My cousin would sing, I’d want to sing. I then got into musical theatre and was centre stage and absolutely loved it. When going through things as a teenager I’d start to look to music more, rather than listening to it, singing it and I just kept going and never lost the spark.” And that first experience on stage sealed it for her as she appeared in what was to become her favourite musical – “I was Annie when I was eleven. That was my first big thing, my first front of stage thing, and that’s where I see it all started. It will always be my favourite.”
When it comes to musical taste, her pallet is certainly varied. “My music is such a mix – I listen to Barbra Streisand, I listen to jazz, and then I listen to dance tracks.” She adds, “My playlist is bizarre – you’d sit in my car and be amazed. I don’t like to stick to one type of music and I think that helps me musically as well, to incorporate different aspects into my own songs.”
Whilst her early gigs may have seen her performing covers, she is now looking to focus on singing and writing her own material, and her diverse taste in music is following through into her creative output. Ella Shaw is drawing musical inspiration from all parts. She is keen not to be pinned down into a genre, although she does see herself as a popular music artist. “I’ve been working on original songs for a while” she says. “I’m definitely a popular music artist, that’s where I see myself. I enjoying singing other genres so much that I want to pull them all in to pop. I want to bring every aspect of different music into it. In 2013 I did a jazz song, but made it dub-step – it was something different. I want to be a popular artist and in the charts, but I want to bring jazz chords, blues melodies, make something different but still popular music.” And she also talks of wanting to work alongside a rapper at some stage, “I like to rap, but I’m not very good at it, so I’d like to work with a rapper, somebody who understands me.”
And the enjoyment of a wide spectrum of music extends to having recently performed with jazz group Breaking Jazz, who thrilled fans of the genre at the latest Clitheroe Jazz Festival. “I like [performing at the jazz festival] because it’s so different to what I do on a day to day basis. It’s out of my comfort zone and different to my day to day gigs, and it helps me musically as well. I really enjoy it.”
When it comes to writing, the keyboard playing singer, draws upon her feelings and uses music as a release. “I have a music room in my house, with my keyboard set up – if I’m feeling angry, sad, happy or just don’t know what to do with myself I’ll go in to my music room to write a song about whatever I’m feeling. There are lots of songs which I haven’t shown to people as they are so deep or meaningful to me and I want to work on them until they are perfect so that I can release them. I love writing.” And she has a plan for this, although she coyly can’t reveal details, but teases that a big announcement will be coming soon.
But wherever this announcement takes her, it’s clear that the incredibly talented artist isn’t going to forget her local roots. “I’ll always perform locally as I’ve had such great support. But as I study in Manchester (she is currently completing a course in producing and sound technology at FutureSkills Mediacity, where she cites her tutor as a great support), and I love the city so much, I think Manchester will almost become my musical home.”
Ready to launch herself, she is filled with determination and drive and has the talent to match. “I want to keep building myself as an artist and playing at different places” she adds. And her desire to be on stage is clear – “I just want to be on stage. When I’m watching somebody, I don’t like to be in the audience – that kind of upsets me! I’m driven to keep going and make a success of it.”
And whilst music may be calling, she hasn’t ruled out a return to the stage – “I think my main focus is music, but at some stage I’d love to go back to musical theatre. I loved it so much – I’m such a drama queen!”