Presenting herself with no apology
‘It’s not always possible to do what you want, but if you don’t do something to fulfil your own desire, there’s a price,’ writes singer-songwriter Ciara Sidine
Ciara Sidine: “It’s funny how a crisis can push you towards something you didn’t have the confidence to do before.” Photograph: Emily Quinn
Like most Irish youngsters, Ciara Sidine non-committally picked up the guitar, sang at the odd family gathering, and had only the most fleeting of thoughts about a musical career. Instead, she flourished as an editor in the publishing industry, and for 20 years has creatively held the hands of many an illustrious author.
“There’s something about sitting in a room and singing with people that I loved, and I knew by the way people reacted that I had a good voice,” she recalls. “But in my 20s, I didn’t have any real sort of self-belief. (Creativity) was burning inside me but not in the way where it makes you focus on doing something about it. Instead, it was burning a bit of a hole inside me.”
And then, in her late 20s, Sidine had a massive wake-up call, pushing her dreams of writing her own album front and centre.
“I had an experience where I needed surgery for something that was life-threatening,” she reveals. “It’s a cliché, but I realised just what a gift it was to be alive. The fallout of the experience was feeling like I needed to find a way of expressing what was going on inside me. It’s funny how a crisis can push you towards something you didn’t have the confidence to do before.
When her younger child was a year old, her creative impulses became ever more urgent
For the first time in years, Sidine tentatively picked up her guitar and started to teach herself about song structure, melody and technique. Yet by her mid-30s, life was hectic, with two small children and a demanding job – she is mother to Romy (13) and Ava (11). Both were hugely rewarding for Sidine, and yet she felt rising panic that if she didn’t address her desire to create music, the chance would slip through her fingers.
When her younger child was a year old, her creative impulses became ever more urgent. It’s not lost on Sidine that this is often the time in a parent’s life when sleepless nights and routines are more hindrance than help when it comes to creativity.
“It can be hard to locate yourself when your kids are small and you’re doing everything for everyone else,” admits Sidine, now 45. “It’s a challenge, but it can also be the thing that pushes you. I’d listened to an interview with Joni Mitchell (about creativity and womanhood) years ago, and it really impressed upon me the need to give expression to your creative side. It’s not always possible to do what you want, but if you don’t do something to fulfil your own desire, there’s a price. If I had continued to suppress my own creative instincts at that time in my life where the needs of others were at a peak of intensity, I can honestly say I might have gone crazy. Now, I have an outlet that allows me to be more present when I’m with my children. I think there’s an expectation of women to be the primary nurturing force, and we can disconnect from creativity, but at the same time if we stay connected to it, it can be a life-saver.”
Finding her sweet spot in among the Alt-country/folk/Americana genre, Sidine released her first album, Shadow Road Shining in 2011, which was well-received by critics in Ireland, the UK, and curiously, Holland (“they love their Americana there, and have a real appreciation of Irish music”). And now, Sidine has released Unbroken Line. Sonically, the album is stitched together with lilting music, plaintive slide guitars and no small amount of gentle blues. There’s a cap doffed to the likes of Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch (“I love women who present themselves with an utter lack of apology”).
I think some item in the news sent me into a rage
Still, Sidine’s agreeable, polished music belies some fierce subject matter. Finest Flower is based on the story of a mother in a mother and baby home (inspired by the 1998 documentary Sex In A Cold Climate). Let The Rain Fall, meanwhile, chart’s Sidine’s frustration around the manner in which the Catholic Church is dealing with the fallout from allegations of child sexual abuse.
“I think some item in the news sent me into a rage,” she recalls with a smile. “It’s about talking the talk, and basically what you have is a situation where the right noises are being made, but the right actions are not happening.”
On Trouble Come Find Me, meanwhile, Ciara offers a take on women’s bodily autonomy and changes to reproductive rights laws. It’s no surprise, given she is a founding member of Midwives for Choice, an organisation made up of midwives and the women who use their services, who want to advance quality care in reproductive and maternal health.
“I guess the song is a call to action (around repealing the Eight Amendment),” she says, “It’s only through this trouble and struggle that everything can change. The Eight Amendment is more far reaching than abortion – it affects every woman that gives birth.”
In all, Unbroken Line is an album written by someone with plenty to get off her chest, and the nous to say it. Such eloquence is just one advantage, says Sidine, of being an older musician.
I know that an author can be very talented, but I also know that doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed
“You have so much more experience in life and you couldn’t care less about what people think,” she says. “You come into your own truth a bit more, and you can handle life’s knocks. Plus, you know what you want to say.”
As for the disadvantages: “I guess we see music as a young person’s business,” she says. “In reality, this is far from the case.”
Being part of the publishing world – essentially, watching at close range authors prepare as they release their own works of creativity into the world – has been useful for Sidine’s artistry.
“I know that an author can be very talented, but I also know that doesn’t mean that success is guaranteed,” says Sidine. “I also know that success is measured in lots of different ways, not just units sold.”
Sidine, known to many as Ciara Considine, entered publishing after graduating with an arts degree. She has always been around books in some way: her mother is author June Considine, while her uncle is the writer Dermot Bolger. Among her first jobs was working in New Island, alongside writers such as Joseph O’Connor. The two have remained friends for years, and O’Connor was recently inspired to write a poem entitled Sidine Street on hearing Unbroken Line. The poem ends with: “I don’t want to be alone/I want to hear her music.”
If I was in a different phase of my life and didn’t have the commitments, I’d take myself off to tour, certainly
“People ask all the time, ‘why wouldn’t you write (literature)?’ and I tell them, ‘songwriting is writing’,” she says. “It’s interesting how literature is raised up as an art form in Ireland and music is seen in a different way, but for me there’s something about telling stories that I would write with pages and pages, but getting it into three verses is something I find exciting to do.”
For now, Sidine is glad to have her second album out in the world, and she looks set to perform a handful of live shows in the coming months.
“If I was in a different phase of my life and didn’t have the commitments, I’d take myself off to tour, certainly,” she explains.
It does beg the question: does she regret not pursuing a musical career much sooner in life?
“I have thought about that, but it’s so pointless to have regrets, don’t you think?” she surmises. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this the way I needed to. If I hadn’t had the experiences I’ve had, I’ve never have found my voice. There’s a shyness in me, and it took something to push that out.”
- Ciara Sidine’s album “Unbroken Line” is out now