It’s as bright and bubbly as it sounds when Emma Langford sits down to chat to UL Links on her career story to date.
Busking for a job, love, the notion to move to New Zealand and another to become a hairdresser all make up the key ingrediients in Emma's colourful story.
A graduate and a performer, Emma has now reached a pinnacle and come full circle to offer her experience of the music industry to the University of Limerick MA class in song writing.
We sat down with the Limerick songbird to catch up on her journey from busking for free outside a café to a European tour and a second album.
“It has been something alright and it was only when I did a retrospective of the last decade recently that I realised the extent of the journey,” she says.
Emma recalled sifting through a compilation of songs, acting and modelling pictures, all stored online through social media, and found a 2013 picture of when she was “starting out”.
My first gig was playing outside a café on Catherine Street in Limerick – and I was looking for a waitressing job – go figure.
“The owner of the café didn’t have a job going but said that I could sit outside the café every Saturday, play a few tunes and if he saw more customers coming in because of my music, then I could have a job,” Emma reveals as she adopts that hands up confused emoji pose we all use on texts.
“So, I sat outside that café for hours every Saturday playing songs from a book of lyrics and chords without getting paid a thing, but I met the people who kick started my career.”
Emma said that experience and the open mic night at the Wicked Chicken “one of the finest bars that Limerick ever had and lost, was where I met people who were booking gigs elsewhere and the journey began.”
A notion of putting a band together led to “these random snowball moments of stuff just happening because I said yes”.
Before any of that happened Emma graduated with a BA in voice and dance at the IWAMD, “but I didn’t do that course because I wanted to be a musician, I did it because I didn’t know what else to do. I had taken a year out, travelled the country working as a charity fundraiser with a new destination every two weeks.
During that time, another notion, as she puts it, came over her to move to New Zealand.
“I fell in love and I came home to save some money before going, but a few of my friends were doing a drama course on campus and I met up with them, fell in love with UL campus.
That’s when I realised that this is where I wanted to be.
I didn’t want to go to New Zealand despite having booked flights, received a visa and made the commitments. The plan was to become a hairdresser but I realised that UL is where I really needed to be”.
In a journey of discovery, music was what the Limerick songstress wanted to do and as she explains, her time in UL uncovered everything that she knew she didn’t want to do in music.
“It was a very diverse course but it taught me a lot about perseverance, resilience and sticking with things. I made some amazing friends and contacts on that course.
Emma said that while any number of students take up courses because they are not entirely sure of what they want to do, being in a learning and developing space of education will give you the right path, “because it is about what you make of it”.
“If you go in to a degree thinking it will hand you a job or tell you who you are meant to be in the future, you’re cracked.
You have to keep an open mind because it is the whole experience that will mould you.
"Not knowing who you might bump in to in those open spaces on campus can be so worthwhile because you never know what might happen out of that.
"There is a really strong interfaculty link here. There is always brilliant people studying across the campus just waiting for an opportunity to network and to work together by creating new possibilities and new projects. UL is fabulous place to do that and you just need to embrace it and be open to it.”
After completing an MA in UL, Emma continued on the performance stage and honed her skills and talent and as her time is predominantly filled with touring.
A return to UL for masterclasses and workshops offers Emma an opportunity to reflect on how far she has come.
“It’s not a journey I expected to land on because I wasn’t one of these people who had a burning desire to become a musician performing on stage to sell out rooms, but that’s kind of what’s happening.
“In saying that, I love to sing and perform and it has become a career or a lucky happenstance in a lot of ways.
Now, Emma says that she feels she has something to offer to the next wave of students in her field but would love to have had the advice to “stick with it” when she was younger.
“It’s 100 per cent perseverance but the funny thing is that even though I didn’t know what to do, I somehow had the work ethic to stay at it. You need to exhibit that work ethic because I was sat outside that café for hours in the freezing cold playing songs from a book and I just kept doing it until something happened.
“Being told ‘no’ is OK too. You are going to get people who don’t like what you do or don’t like you, for no reason a lot of the time but that is not a reason to stop.
“I have developed this philosophy over the last year or so and it is ‘Don’t change what you do to make people like you, keep doing what you do until you find your people’. I was told I was pop, country or folk and I was always being told what I was.
“I can’t label myself and I don’t want to. I am just a singer songwriter and what I do is always going to be different.”
As a residency in Paris awaits, Emma closes out with talks of tours in Germany and the UK before returning to Ireland to tour with a full band next winter. - Andrew Carey
See more on www.emmalangfordmusic.com