Singer and actress Lisa Lambe takes inspiration from a gnarled tree in the west for her new album, writes Ellie O’Byrne.
Juniper trees come with an obvious symbolism. Twisted and gnarled, they can survive with their roots twisting into bare rock. And even without considering gin, there’s a wealth of folklore about health and resilience associated with the evergreen.
One particular specimen of the hardy shrub was to inspire singer and actress Lisa Lambe while she was in the process of writing her second solo album on sojourns to the wild beauty of Connemara.
“I used to drive this particular bog road to Clifden and there was this single tree there,” Lambe says.
“That tree was like a gift given to me; I used to stop there with my notebook to write. I looked it up and found out it was juniper, and then started reading about all its healing properties: love, strength and community.
“It has all these nurturing and protective energies associated with it, and I just loved the idea of this really resilient little tree, surviving all on its own in the harsh bogland.”
Love, strength, community and resilience are particularly cherished in these strange days of Covid-19self-isolation and social distancing. And Lambe, like so many performers, finds herself in a limbo too: the April 3 launch for her second album, Juniper, set to take place in Dublin’s Sugar Club, along with many other tour dates planned, including Glastonbury, have been postponed indefinitely.
The digital release will go ahead as planned.
“I still feel just as excited about it coming out as a project,” Lambe says. “There’s still a lot of joy in me about that; it still feels good. You do feellike you’re in a very supported and supportive time as well as a difficult time, and hopefully we can still celebrate things, even in the darkness of what’s happening.”
The one advantage of Lambe’s spring album launch is that she had cleared some time in her busy calendar to focus on her music, she says; as a stage and screen actress, she’s familiar to many from productions including the hit musical Jimmy’s Hall and RTÉ’s Love/Hate. She’s currently playing the waiting game and trying to remain positive when it comes to acting projects she has lined up for future months.
“Nothing else I was doing was kicking off until the summer, so at the moment I’m just following all the updates,” she says. “We’re still launching the album in an online capacity, and we’ll do the live performances when the time comes.
“This is a very strange and difficult isolation for everyone, collectively, but I’m trying to see it through the lens of how I can take stock a bit.” Self-isolating for periods of time is a practice common to many artists, writers and musicians, and Lambe is no different.
The Dublin-born singer and Trinity College Drama graduate, formerly a member of the Riverdance-derived Celtic Woman touring ensemble, had just finished a run in The Unmanageable Sisters at the Abbey Theatre in 2018 when she found herself drawn to Connemara, where most of Juniper was written and composed.
“Making this project was quite a solitary self-isolating process in a way,” she says.
“What I usually do if I know I have a certain amount of time off is just pack up the car and go. I’ve always known Connemara is a place I can go to rest my mind and unravel, with nice long walks and fresh air, to regroup. From that relaxed and open mind, the words and lyrics started coming; the album is a love letter to Connemara, and to nature for sure.”
The 11-track album, Lambe’s second solo album following on from 2015’s Hiding Away, has a strong theme of nature running throughout. And although she couldn’t have known it during her two-year writing and recording process, the theme of finding solace and human resilience in nature is now a message more relevant now than ever before, she says.
“Nature is like our North Star,” she says.
The album was recorded in another isolated spot surrounded by natural splendour: Gaoth Dobhair in Co Donegal. “It almost felt like the perfect continuation of the whole project, to record there. We recorded in December, so the light was really low and the weather was wild. It was gorgeous to be in such a remote, quiet place where your mind can focus on the work and on conjuring it all.”
For Lambe, the only performer in her family, who started attending theatre school at the tender age of three, acting and singing are a way of life, the only thing she knows, and two sides of the same coin in her performing career.
“I’m really grateful to be able to have done this all my life,” she says.
“I loved school, but this is the only thing I know how to do. If I do one without the other, I feel like I’m missing a part of myself; if I’m involved in a theatre production, I’m so delighted and challenged and nothing’s ever the same two nights in a row and I love that.
"But at the same time, my voice is my constant. Singing is the thing I do without even thinking about it. I always try to keep a level of balance in what it is to be a performer, between the acting and the music.
Juniper by Lisa Lambe is out on all the usual platforms on April 3.