Kirsten Mavric photo
Name: Anna Neale
Aspiring female folk singers strumming away on their guitars. Seen ’em, heard ’em. What’s new? How about a sassy, feisty, red-headed U.K. export named Anna Neale, whose unique brand of acoustic rock has been dubbed "sex folk" by our own news agency The Canadian Press?
Unlike the typical fare of thin, airy-voiced female folksters, Neale surprises by breaking away from the pack with a gutsy vocal style that’s both sensual and soulful. A voice you can witness for yourself this Friday at 10 p.m. at the Savannah Room (294 College St.) as part of Canadian Music Week, which runs from March 5-8.
"Everyone I meet is surprised to hear this voice coming out of me. I’m quite loud, but then so is my hair," says Neale. "I love coming to Toronto to play. The city has a really chilled out vibe and great openness to new music."
In 2006, she was the highest rated solo artist by ChartAttack.com after performing at the sold-out BPI (British Phonographic Industry) showcase conducted at Toronto’s NXNE festival. Friday marks her third visit to the city.
"The people are so friendly in Toronto," Neale points out — so much so that she met her fiancé here. A Venice wedding is slated for next year, but till then Neale is hard at work promoting her latest EP, Handle With Care. One of its tracks, Soul Momma, is a particular favourite because "it was written in anger against a corporate gig from hell." I did say feisty, right?
Like most independent artists, cash is always an issue. You need cash to hire a plugger (radio promoter) to get your music on air. You also channel whatever money you make — in Neale’s case, that’s usually from teaching music — into new recordings and travels to festivals and showcases spanning the U.K., North America and Asia.
"I love music, playing (she plays guitar, bass and percussion), writing, arranging, singing it. You have to centre on that love and just do it for yourself. I’ve had difficult years, but it’s all part of the learning curve of being an artist, not to mention being constantly poor," reveals Neale.
With a music degree and a vocal stretch of 11 years, including a stint as a touring member of the Dublin soul band The Commitments, Neale is channelling everything she’s got into her new CD. Seven tracks have been completed so far thanks to the help of Canadian Justin Gray (Joss Stone), who is on board producing with Dean Barratt (Sugababes), Dean James (Duran Duran) and Jez Larder (The Flaming Monkeys).
"My advice for young musicians? If you feel it in your blood or hear it in your head, you must pursue it," advises Neale. "But be prepared to get knocked down. It happens to everyone."
Yeah, we know. American Idol is on.
For more on Neale, check out www.annaneale.net or www.myspace.com/annanealeacousticrock. You can also vote for her on MTV U.K.’s Get Seen Get Heard, where she is a finalist, by logging onto www.mtv.com.uk/oxjam.