When you talk to Alyth McCormack you very quickly get a sense of someone who knows the things which have shaped her personally and as a performer. ‘Growing up in Lewis I listened to anything from traditional Gaelic singers to pop and classical music with a bit of Jazz thrown in too thanks to my Dad. I think that eclecticism has stuck with me. When I went on to college I discovered another world. Satie, Debussy, Sibelius and the like. I’d never heard 20th Century classical music before and was fascintated by it.
My ears were opened by artists like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams. I loved their minimal approach and found it influential in my own arrangements on my first solo album ‘An Iomall – The Edge’.
That childhood eclecticism is still working its magic. Alyth is a fan of artists such as Kurt Weill, Keith Jarret, Chet Baker and Norma Waterson. She loves Blazin’ Fiddles with their amazing energy as much as she does big choral pieces like Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sancta Civitas’, Aaron Copland’s ‘Appalachian Spring’, U2, Coldplay, Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks and she can’t wait to see Snow Patrol live. Her father’s appreciation of jazz has also stuck and she talks fondly about singers like Liane Carrol and Sara Vaughan. “I lalso ove Eddie Reader for her beautiful voice and her ability to use it – especially her ‘Mirmara’ album. Its been a pleasure having the chance to work with her.”
Like many artists of her generation she is not constained by fashion and her vocal talent undoubtedly carries some of the flavour of the Opera singers she admires. Alyth describes Montserrat Caballe’s recording of ‘Chi il bel sogno’ from La Rondine; where ‘(Monserrat)can make the sound of that top note feel like a snowdrop falling from a leaf.’ There’s more than a little of this in Alyth’s own delicate delivery.
When asked what initially sparked her love of performance Alyth tells us:
‘I loved music and performing, taking ballet lessons, singing in the local choirs and the end of Year School shows. I think initially I had a strong voice and that got me singled out for solo singing and it just took off from there. I greatly apprecaite the teachers I had early on for their encouragement, mentoring and inspiration that’s so important’. Early experiences of theatre also played their part; ‘When I was seven I went to see Doyle Carte’s ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ with my folks in London. At the end of the scene where the Jester realises he won’t marry the Princess he sang the song ‘Lady Lady’ with such sadness I was out of my seat shouting ‘NNNNOOOO’ at the top of my voice. My mother didn’t have a chance to grab me. I’m afraid I haven’t lost that ability to become involved!’
At the age of 8 she saw Bill McCue play the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof at the playhouse in Edinburgh and when the cast began the opening number ‘Tradition’ she fell in love with musical theatre. She had the great pleasure of meeting Topol himself backstage in London in 1994 when he reprised his role for Fiddlers 30th Anniversary. She was already a fan of musical films one of her only two nicknames being ‘Clamity Jane’…
Teenage visits to the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford were important moments as was her introduction at a young age to Pinter. When we add all these influences to Alyth’s strong Hebridean roots its easy to see how her future would be formed in this cultural melting pot.
Creativity surrounded the young Alyth, with both parents having a passion for writing. ‘My Dad is working on a book right now’.
She is an unashamed supporter of Scottish writing – her favourite authors and poets being Hamish Macdonald, Kevin Macneil, Edwin Morgan, Aonghas Macneacil and Anne Frater.
‘These are just a few, but they are all storytellers and I love stories. I like to be moved: to be made to think. Growing up in a small, remote community at the mercy of the elements and the sea you become so acutely aware of how what’s around you affects you. This consciousness can seem to be lost especially if you live in the city or with our now busy, fast changing modern lives. I don’t want to lose it.’
‘I’m proud of where I grew up. My culture and heritage. The humour of the people their stories and songs. I love the land and the sea. People still work off the land, though it’s not as prevelant as when I was a child, but I loved being about the croft and things assosiated with that such as lambing and weaving. I’m still a great fan of Harris Tweed, I got married in it.”
So how does Alyth unwind? Unsurprising, the same passions that inspire her work fill her leisure hours: ‘Like most folk I love escaping – take me to the theatre, cinema, or suggest a good book and I’m happy. I love entering other worlds. Ask anyone who’s been to the cinema with me. I know it’s only a film but… ‘I also don’t want to lose myself so I practise yoga (which I wish I’d started in my teens it’s so good for you) and I started running 7 years ago and have been at it ever since – it is addictive – and great for the head too. ‘And finally, good red wine, champagne, horses, cosy nights in when it’s raining outside, fun nights out with friends, warm sunny days and my man.’
Interview by Andy Paterson.