Her candour is charming: “I played a gig last night with Sting’s daughter Coco. It was a really sterile event, not so much a music gig, more a clinical posh event in a hotel. But they had a free bar, so I was like I am there.”
I like this about her, her natural insouciance for anything contrived in the industry she finds herself becoming a part of. Not many musicians – signed and unsigned – would have the character to be so frank, but Nadine Shah, a transcendent vocal pianist from Whitburn, is refreshingly novel and degage about such posturing. What she is all about is the music.
“It’s a really weird job to do,” she says, “a strange career path to take and I think that some people who do it have to be a bit barmy. You don’t get a lot of your own time and you don’t have a structured lifestyle, which can be bloody annoying. But if I go away from music, I miss it dearly, both the performance and creative side of it.”
Her love affair with music all started from an early age. She’d sing incessantly in the house, practising by imitating singers like Nina Simone, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, the kind of artists with deep resonating vocals of sublime power and effect. So good was she, her mother would mistake Shah’s singing as that of those above, as if she were hearing a CD playing.
It’s easy to see why. Shah has a mesmeric voice, rich and heavy yet as light as nonchalant clouds drifting poetically by. A voice that could, quite literally, stop the world in its tracks.
She soon became involved in musical theatre, taking part in productions that were a little bit nerdy, a little bit self-involved, but a valuable experience nonetheless.
“It was like something out of Glee,” says Shah, who is of Pakistani and Norwegian descent. “Really cringy. I used to go for it like a proper diva with air grabs… disgusting.”
Shah is a hoot to talk to. She has a bouncy, loquacious, and gregarious quality, full of conversation, laughter, and a clear joie de vivre, which is, interestingly, a complete antithesis to her plaintive style of music, a seraphic and sepulchral sound that is achingly beautiful yet acutely destructive, rendering you both heartbroken and meditative.
“I was showing a friend of mine – who is a trained pianist – how I write at the piano, and she said I always drift towards the minor keys. Maybe it’s because I like the shape and pattern, and the shape my hands make. It’s comfortable.”
This almost savant-like way of seeing her instrument reveals a lot about how she has developed musically. A singer at first – “I didn’t know how to go about writing songs without an instrument so I started off by singing at jazz clubs and restaurants.” – she bought a digital piano two years back. It was only 18 months ago that she properly began constructing her brooding, melancholic melodies that have resulted in the breathtakingly gorgeous Dreary Town and Winter Reigns. Evidently, hers is an innate talent. The speed in which she has mastered her own quirky style – and all without classical training – is astonishing.
“It’s a really daunting instrument to look at so that used to put me off. But it makes a sound like anything else. I noticed you could make certain shapes on it, which always sounded nice. So it was almost mathematical the way it took off.”
And she herself is on the up. Unsigned – “Not until I have everything done.” – Shah’s profile is rapidly growing, and her work with the renowned producer Ben Hillier is opening her up to endless opportunities as well as nurturing her creativity.
“He’s a brilliant guy. The thing about our working relationship is that we both get on really well. He can take organic elements and put a twist on it that gives the sound a whole new life. He’s great.”
I’d say that you can expect an album soon, but she informs me that she is indecisive at the moment, that the music she’s made with Hillier, though wonderful, is more collaborative, and may be released as such. Therefore, in wanting to produce a coherent body of work that reflects what people hear when she plays live, she’s thinking about new ideas. Whatever she decides, the captivating Shah is a star in the making.
“I just want to make a good piece of work that I’m happy with so it might take a little bit longer than it should!”
She’s worth the wait.
Published in Narc Magazine