An Evening with Victoria McDonnell
By Joshua Colgan
So here we are, back in lockdown for the third time in the past year, with the majority of us still reeling from the restrictions and Christmas being more or less cancelled.
Since we went into the first lockdown, we’ve been experiencing a brave new world (admittedly a very strange and uncertain one) with many of us propelled into a defining digital age. Quick to embrace this new way of living have been musicians, who have found new ways to follow their passions and maintain their livelihoods. Continuing to look at how the Hastings music scene has been coping, I had a chat with Victoria McDonnell, another well-known name on the local music circuit with an inherently Old Town vibe to her stage persona and sound.
PICTURE: Dan Parsons
The best way to encapsulate Victoria and her music is to imagine yourself slinking down a cobbled side street lit by hazy orange lights. You turn into a tucked-away pub to escape the bitter cold sea breeze and discover a room roaring with the Saturday night bustle, with people from all walks of life packed like sardines, settling in to see a locally renowned lounge singer. However, that still doesn’t do justice to the atmosphere that Victoria creates during her performances – it’s rare to discover a performer of this calibre in a small seaside town.
So, how’s everything been going since the first lockdown?
“Yeah, it’s not been too bad, obviously a lot of musicians are in the same boat, so it’s been a really crazy time, especially in Hastings where we have such a musical hub. I think my last proper gig was back in March 2020, at The Albion. But then, thankfully, in the summer we had a little gig on the pier – we played the opening event on the pier for their summer lineup of gigs organised by Sara-Louise Bowrey and John Bownas. I felt that was a real hit during the summer.”
How was your Audiotrope session?
“That was exciting because it gave musicians a platform to perform to an audience from their homes. Tina Morris did such an amazing job of organising the whole thing. Unfortunately, right before my Audiotrope session we had gone into another lockdown, which meant I was unable to perform with my band, but luckily for me, my lovely boyfriend Daniel Parsons was able to step in to play a few songs with me. It was quite a lot of fun teaching him all the songs he needed to play in such a short period of time.”
How have you adapted in lockdown without your band and having your usual creative process interrupted?
“I found it really hard to find the inspiration at times, especially because I don’t have my friend and fellow musician Alfie Rolph by my side to write songs with me, so that has been quite a challenge. But I’m taking more inspiration from things I have already written and exploring more themes that I never considered, as well as looking to musical peers in Hastings for inspiration from the work they’re doing. I’ve also taken the situation as a prime opportunity and testing ground to create more of an online persona to certify some stability. I’ve also just invested in loop pedals to accompany the tech I have to hand to advance my work.”
You mentioned that you initially found it hard to be inspired to write, and from talking to you it sounds like a number of events that have happened in your personal life have tried their very best to impede your creativity – so how has that affected your work?
“My struggle mainly stems from not having the inspiration I used to have – going out with friends on the weekends, performing and meeting new people, hearing their stories and perspectives. I’ve looked more internally at my experiences throughout this year to assist in my songwriting. But living in a time where this is a whole new strange experience for everyone, it’s difficult for me to write in the way I’ve become so used to.”
So what projects have you started during this past year?
“I started doing a music therapy course alongside a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course, so hopefully in the future I can utilise that, and channel my passion into more avenues of life. I’ve also been working with Earl Grey Band and we’ve started to write some stuff up as well as getting a few rehearsal sessions in between lockdowns. Another cool thing is that it has an all-rhythm section which I play bass for – the whole feel of the music is very sexy and something totally new. Definitely not the style you’d usually expect from me.
“I’ve also worked on a short independent film (You Really Got Me) that was written and directed by Hayley Osborne, starring two well-known actors (Kevin McNally – Pirates of the Caribbean and Phyllis Logan – Downton Abbey). I managed to get involved because my friend Alfie Rolph knows Hayley quite well and has worked alongside her on previous projects. He decided that one of my songs would be a good fit, so he came up with this gorgeous piano arrangement and we made the song for the project which we titled Complicated Thinking and that I’m hoping to release later in the year.”
So, has songwriting for films and other forms of media been something you’ve explored before, or is this a completely new experience for you?
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I’ve never really had
the opportunity to do it. Especially for something as exciting as the short film, it’s even won a few awards (including Best Drama Short Film – Screen Power film fest, Outstanding Achievement – Berlin Flash film festival,) and Hayley has been nominated as a finalist for Best First-Time Film Maker by the Venice Shorts film festival, which is absolutely insane. I’m so grateful to Alfie for choosing my song and letting me be a part
PICTURE: Sara-Louise Bowrey
Moving forward and looking into the future, would you say this experience has changed your perception of your music and how you’ll operate after this?
“I feel ready for the world to return to normality and to re-enter that world with fresh and exciting ideas about the way I want to create music, be it in the studio or playing to an audience. But circling back to my Audiotrope session, that has given me a new outlook on where I’m at and has encouraged me to move towards more of an online identity to help spread my music. I can’t wait to focus on that new lease of life for my music.”
Hopefully, Victoria will be returning to the stage as soon as lockdown ends and we’re back to normality. I implore every single person who lives in Hastings and loves our music scene to check Victoria McDonnell out. Keep an eye on her Instagram page for news and information about her upcoming gigs, projects and releases, including her EP and a lockdown recording of covers with her stand-in band Dan.
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