The Irish singer in Paris: ‘I’m living the bohemian dream’

Wild Geese: Liv Monaghan found her voice in the city on the Seine

Liv Monaghan: Paris offers a “great vibe” and opportunities for musicians

Liv Monaghan: Paris offers a “great vibe” and opportunities for musicians

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Drinking morning coffee in Montmartre and singing in Paris’s gritty jazz clubs at night is a bohemian dream for many: for Liv Monaghan, who found her voice in the city on the Seine, it’s reality.

“It sounds great when you tell people where you live and what you do, and despite the ups and downs of a musician’s life, I suppose it is.”

Monaghan first left her home of Cork city in 2005 after finishing school to study drama and theatre in Trinity College. “I always played music and had learned piano and sung from the age of five but I didn’t see it as a career so I started off in theatre.”

Upon finishing college in 2009 she worked in costume on high profile productions like Riverdance and in esteemed theatres like the Abbey.

In 2012, on a whim, she decided to move to Paris to complete a postgraduate in physical theatre at Jacques Lecoq theatre school. “It was a pretty abstract programme and I was very much in at the deep end. There was a lot of body work and physical expressionism, which might sound arty, but it did help me express myself vocally.”

But Monaghan struggled, with no French and subsequently no work. “Looking back, it was foolish to come here without the language skills. I wouldn’t recommend it.

“What made the process even longer was the fact that Parisians were trying to be kind and reply in English whenever I was attempting some broken French.”

A random night out in an Irish bar, however, saw Monaghan change her career ...and her financial fortunes. “I got up and sang at the end of the night. As circumstance would have it, there was a group of Americans, who had Irish ancestors and [they] loved the songs. So being American and amazing tippers, they put around €800 in a hat and gave it to me. The bar managers were happy for me to come back too, so that’s kind of where it began,” she says.

“In context, it was quite superficial, but in a way, finding out that I could sing and engage an audience was a route changer.”

Monaghan says once she knew how she could earn money by doing something she loved, things started falling into place. “I went to jazz clubs, I sang, I got gigs, and learned the keys. Then I found connections with jazz musicians and started collaborating and working.

“It was a pivotal night and a manifestation of things. I got to know amazing American jazz musicians living in Paris, and incredible local European artists. There is some incredible talent here willing to work with you.”

‘Great vibe’

She says Paris offers a “great vibe” and opportunities for musicians. “It’s grittier than back home but you need to produce the goods. Jazz sessions are demanding and you get put through your paces. The audience is used to good music and jazz disciples aren’t easy to please sometimes.”

As a result of gigging, she founded the The Liv Monaghan Quartet. “I write my own music, which we play, but we also vary the repertoire with jazzy standards, eclectic stuff, maybe some Joni Mitchel, Duke Ellington or Gerschwin, or something from a different genre like soul or funk.

“I have around 2,000 songs which we alternate in our sets, which take around three hours on average. If we get hired, we could be asked to play swing from the1930s or jazz classics, so we cater for the client. There’s obviously going to be a difference between commercial and artistic sets.”

Monaghan says she tours regularly around Europe and has performed at festivals like the Barcelona Jazz festival and the Cork Jazz Festival.

The jazz scene in Paris is booming, she says, even though jazz is an acquired taste. “You get a lot of snobbery and showing off in jazz, but it’s really about sharing, not solos. People are often put off by it, because of the snobbery around it, but if there are great musicians collaborating together it’s amazing.”

After almost nine years in France, she converses with artists in French, but also has a strong English and international base in Paris too.

“I would say I’m living the bohemian dream which, even during Covid-19, didn’t turn into a nightmare because I made money from live streaming and zoom concerts. I thank my followers on my social media sites for the support. Obviously everything was cancelled so there was no safety net, but I think Parisians secretly loved having the city to themselves. It was a trippy experience.”

She says the first weeks were tough, but then when you could get out again, it was wonderful. “I live in Montmartre, so on a normal day, I go for coffee, write music, then work on arrangements and, if we have a gig, we’ll rehearse.”

In relation to Dublin, rents and cost of living are cheaper, she says.

“I love the size of Paris, it’s so manageable. I love walks along the Seine and the laid back attitude of people – even in the jazz scene. It’s not too big or too small and you can still discover new places. The music scene and arts scene is famously fantastic and I’ve recently started gigging again, which is incredible. Then there are just the great public spaces you can avail of. You’ll never get tired to it.”

Monaghan comes home to work in theatre productions, and enjoyed a recent trip to Limerick, but Paris is definitely where her heart is.

“As an artist you can really grow here and people aren’t afraid to encourage you. The scene is much bigger than it is back home, and I’m glad I persevered. I think once you know what you want to do, and you figure it out, the rest really does follow if you stick with it.”

www.livmonaghanmusic.com

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