Evelyn Laurie was born and bred in Paisley. She has a life long love of singing and performs jazz, as well as her own compositions. She has a background in marketing and coaching and was the creator of #PositivePaisley, a campaign to change people’s perceptions of the town. While pursuing her music, she also runs a freelancers’ network called, Creative Connections. Recently, Evelyn was awarded The Provost’s Community Award for Arts & Culture for being a community champion. I caught up with Evelyn in her home over a cuppa to hear about her journey, the Paisley of days gone by, and catch a glimpse of her hopes for the future.
Evelyn: I was born and grew up in Paisley and I went to Paisley Tech, which is now the University of the West of Scotland. And in those days, Paisley was quite a different place. It was a hive of activity and there was so much going on. You didn’t really need to leave the town, and as students, the union was great for music and we hung out in a little bar called Ferriers.
In those days, the college owned flats around the campus, and the students lived in them, and it meant there was a great community and there was so much music. You’d go to different flats after the pub. There was just always music and entertainment, to the extent that the crowd I was in got organised and used to have cabaret parties where people actually practiced their act. It became a big thing. In those days, we didn’t call it culture, it was just hanging out with your pals. So, for me, Paisley has always been just a vibrant place.
I lived in Glasgow, in the West End, for a long time, and then 8 years ago, moved back to Howwood. We lived in Howwood for about 6 years and I found a passion for Paisley that I didn’t have when I lived here. I hated the fact that so many people were running the town down. I maybe had the rose-tinted specs of the ex-pat: I remembered all the good times and all the great things and all the history.
I went to a Chamber of Commerce event in the Abbey, that I had never been in in my life, even though I grew up here. I came out and the sun was shining and I had just learned to use Twitter, so I tweeted “Doesn’t Paisley look lovely in the sunshine? When did you last visit #PositivePaisley” and that became a thing, and so I was kind of an accidental activist. I teamed up with Brian McGuire who has the community website Paisley.org and together we created Positive Paisley Day. First year it trended in 40 countries, the second year it trended in 80 countries. I enlisted support from a lot of organisations. This was before the Council developed their culture-led strategy.
Corbin: Tell me a bit about Creative Connections.
Evelyn: I’ve always done a lot of networking. Some people had been saying “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if there was something for creative freelancers so we could get together for a blether.” We tried to do it in 2016. One of the problems was having somewhere to meet, so we just met in one of the Bull’s back rooms [The Bull Inn], but that’s not ideal, so that didn’t really take off. I was at a Renfrewshire Business Network meeting in David Montgomery’s office (Media Monty) and asked David if he would be willing to let us meet there. He said yes, so I contacted people that I knew from my activities around the town and Creative Connections was born in August last year.
Corbin: So what is your passion? If you could invest the bulk of your time in one thing, what would that be?
Evelyn: It’s music. One of my earliest memories is my dad taking me by the hand when I was about 4 years old up to the stage for a talent competition when we were on holiday, and I remember how the MC was holding a microphone down to me. I grabbed the microphone because I wanted to hold the microphone myself. So, I do like having that microphone, I love singing. I love moving people through song.
Corbin: So you like that connection with people?
Evelyn: Yes, that’s what I enjoy: a performer who moves me either to laugh or to cry or to think.
Corbin: Who have been some of your influences along the way, musically?
Evelyn: Joni Mitchell, John Martyn. I like so many different types of music from jazz to classical to folk and pop. I like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, and all those amazing singers. I am a bit out of touch with current music, although I went to see an amazing woman the other day, Becca Stevens, who is from North Carolina and I found her because I also like Jacob Collier, an amazing young multi-instrumentalist and composer.
Corbin: What do you think about the current music scene in Paisley?
Evelyn: I think it’s kinda stuck in one genre. I think there are so many Paolo Nutini wannabes. I call this style of singing the ‘Paisley rasp’. I think there’s too much emphasis on covers and I would like to see more songwriting going on. I know there are bits and pieces going on, but that might be something that Creative Renfrewshire or someone can do and bring in some really good teachers. I’ve been on a couple of courses, which is great because I get to collaborate with other musicians. I like music that extends the barriers and is cross genre. It’s about allowing people to find their own style.
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Corbin: How has living in Paisley influenced you musically?
Evelyn: In the early days when I was a student, I think that was really when the influences were set because we were all such “musos”, all trying to introduce new records to each other. I think that’s when my tastes were developed. I listened to so many different things. The student union was brilliant. They used to bring in a lot of live bands. In Glasgow, I used to go to the Apollo. They used to get big acts. I saw Santana there, Lynryd Skynrd, Loudon Wainwright, Supertramp.
Corbin: So as far as your music is concerned, where would you like to be in 5 years from now?
Evelyn: I would like to do more gigging. I am kind of thinking in terms of 3 CD’s. I’ve already thought about what the second one will be. Maybe the third one will be all my music. I’ve always been hampered by the fact that I don’t play an instrument. Although, I do have [Apple’s] Garage Band and I was at a little masterclass the other day with Becca Stevens, that I mentioned, and she was talking about what you can do even if you don’t play an instrument and she gave me very good advice. My husband, Tommy, used to have a little studio. He keeps saying he’s going to get that going, so hopefully that will be on the cards, as well to do some music together. That would be great. It would be lovely to have people round saying “Oh, what’s that music?” “Oh, that’s something we made”, you know?
Corbin: So, one last question. Someone getting started in the music industry… what kind of advice would you give them?
Evelyn: Oh my goodness, I don’t know if I’m the person to ask because I don’t make my living from it. Maybe, don’t start out thinking you are going to be the next Paolo [Nutini], but think, “Am I doing it just to entertain myself. Do I have a message?” I don’t know, it’s a hard row to hoe. If you want to make money, have a wedding band or a ceilidh band. Sometimes, you have to do what you don’t want to do in order to fund the things that you do want to do. Don’t do things for nothing. Don’t pay to play. Take the ‘free’ out of ‘freelance’. I think the thing about any artistic/creative genre or activity is, you might really want to do something and not be very good… or you are just ahead of your time. Take Van Gogh: no one bought his paintings when he was alive, but now look. Someone once said, “Be yourself because all the other parts are taken.” Find your own voice, your own sound.
Corbin: That’s great, Evelyn. Thanks.