The winner of the latest Singer Songwriter Competition held at the Rock on the Rock Club on the last Saturday of the year, as tradition wants, tells us about the inspiration behind her success and her forthcoming projects.
“This was the third time I entered the competition. Last year I came third, so I entered again for fun, but I wasn’t expecting to win this year. When my name was called out, it took a couple of seconds for my brain to compute it was actually me, and I remained seated for a bit longer than expected,” Gabriella Richardson describes her moment in the limelight. “The decision to enter was a spontaneous one, as I was in Gibraltar for the holidays and hadn’t much else planned, so I thought it would be nice to perform my music back home.”
As a music student, Gaby has written hundreds of songs, both for her coursework and fore her self-titled seven-piece band, but she selected the ones that mean the most to her and she felt could best represent her artistic personality when played acoustically without a band backup.
“It took a couple of seconds for my brain to compute it was me.”
“Band sound is not better than acoustic, it is just fuller, and this makes a big difference in delivery, especially to large crowds. Here, I wanted to perform tracks featuring momentous lyrics you want to listen to, word by word, and melodies than can be best conveyed through voice and guitar only.”
Lyrics of course carry their weight in the adjudication process, as they are submitted to the panel before the competition for the judges to familiarise with them. “Of course, the criteria for winning also lie in presentation, execution, stage presence, melody and so on, but I was told by the adjudicators that I was the ‘whole package’, that’s why they picked me. And I feel this is the best compliment,” she says.
“I was told I was the ‘whole package.”
In her early twenties and already blessed with a mature nuanced voice, a clear vision of her music style and the poetic expression of a songstress, Gaby claims that her lyrics reflect her life experiences, and listening to her songs is like reading pages of her diary, a philosophy that adds to the intimate and emotionally involving atmosphere of her gigs.
She performed How to Say Goodbye an R’n’B jazzy piece about a personal situation becoming unsustainable she needed to let go of, and Late at Night, a more easy-listening poppy piece about someone making her feel safe in the wee hours.
Competition rules required a cover too, so she played Amy Winehouse, personalising it a little. “Amy is my idol. I don’t want to copy her, even if my black eyeliner flick may say otherwise,” she giggles. “I admire her for being so unapologetically herself and this is what I aspire to be on stage. Put myself across my music and hopefully fans will appreciate that.”
Late at night is when she and her band come up with the best ideas: “We crash on the couch with cheese and wine, and we jam. I compose most music and lyrics.” Inspiration strikes everywhere, and thankfully she carries her phone with her all the time to record her humming new lyrics as soon as they surface to consciousness. “I keep my guitar next to my bed, as I often wake up struck with an idea,” she says, “but sometimes a song springs to mind while I am busy with something else. How to Say Goodbye came to me while I was getting ready to leave the house for a meeting.”
“My mum’s old jeans will do just perfect.”
Being late for an appointment is a small price to pay for creative genius and Gaby’s entourage understands well that inspiration cannot be scheduled or corralled. She is fortunate to count on like-minded friends: “My band consists of good friends. For me, it is important to have a personal connection with band members. We must get along off stage to mesh together on stage. I am in several bands, where I play other people’s music and sing their lyrics, however my band is all about my own music, and we’re making ourselves known out there on the Leeds live music circuit.”
Her ensemble features her on vocals and guitar, and six friends on guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, trumpet and sax for that truthful jazz feel she wants to promote as a lifestyle for a night out, rather than just a background soundtrack to clubbing.
Once they record their originals, they will be able to submit demos to festival organisers and hopefully will participate in some of the UK’s most iconic summer bashes. And of course, Gaby would be most honoured to take the local stage at the 2020 Gibraltar Musical Festival. Last year, her other band Sonic Blue was shortlisted in the pool of local acts to be selected by popular vote, but alas they didn’t make it.
Gaby is currently living and studying in Leeds for her degree, due in July, and hopes to stay on for her masters. She likes the hands-on aspect of her academic career, where she mostly composes music for a band scenario.
She sees jazz as the handcraft artistry which for all instrumental and vocal parts are written individually and purposely, and performed live, on stage or at the recording studio, while pop is more computer-based nowadays. The producer does most of the recording and arranging work, so she feels the two musical genres are evolving separately, and despite composing in both genres, she sides pretty much with the jazz renaissance.
Gaby started singing early – in the shower, of course! – and later she cultivated her passion with voice and piano lessons. “At about 16, I realised that, if I wanted to gig around, I needed to learn to play a portable instrument so I took guitar lessons. Nowadays, I own a small guitar collection and it is my usual choice of accompaniment.”
She mentions a few tips to keep her voice in shipshape: starting and ending her day with tea, replacing sugar with honey, enjoying steam showers, drinking plenty of water, avoiding chocolate and coffee, which roughen up the voice, and staying away from central heating as much as possible. “I’d rather wrap up warm in a thick blanket and preserve the natural temperature and humidity around me, when possible.”
Looks are also important when you hop on stage: “I love 90s fashion and I tend to dress smart casual with a vintage twist to it.” Sneaking a shopping spree between rehearsals and some cheeky closet raiding: “There are plenty of vintage shops in Leeds, but I am also happy with current fashion, as long as it bears a vintage flare, like high boots or corduroy jackets. My mum’s old jeans will do just perfect.”
Being a singer songwriter feels like living the dream, but Gaby is realistic about her ambition: “I am not saying I will make it big time in the industry solely as a singer, but I’d love to be a songwriter and compose for other musicians. When I hear a song I like, I always check who wrote it, to give credit to them as well.”
But for now, Gaby’s riding the wave – or the vibe – and she’s planning to dedicate a few years of her life to being ‘the whole package’.