Friday, 19 April 2019

TRAVEL: Nile Cruise, Egypt (Part 6) - Karnak & Luxor Temple

We arose for our last day on the Nile, now docked back in Luxor to head out for our last two temples. The docks seemed pretty busy as we had to walk through five ships deep just to get to the shore. On the coach, we drove a little while to the biggest temple in the world, Karnak. Again, highly impressive with its huge statues and intricate hieroglyphs, but as another member of our group stated, by this point you can begin to feel a bit 'templed out' - I felt much the same way in Cambodia, when each temple just seems to run into one another.

Bigger than Ankor Wat, Karnak had even bigger expectations as it was intended to be linked to Luxor Temple via a series of eight hundred sphinxes lining the road. Construction on Karnac was never finished so this dream never came to fruition, but it offered a good explanation for how some parts of the temple were erected as some of the mechanisms, such as ramps used to build walls, are still visible today, so we know more about this kind of construction than we do of that of the pyramids for instance. 

On our way to our next stop, we paused for another shopping break at a papyrus gallery where we were shown how to recognise real papyrus from the fake stuff sold on the streets which is actually banana leaf due to the criss-cross pattern it makes when pressed. There was a decent selection of artwork ranging from desert scenes, pyramids and nature which I preferred to the more abstract art depicting hieroglyphs or the eye of Horus for instance. I left with nothing but a bookmark etched with my name in hieroglyphs in a cartoush - that'll do for me. 

Then we were off to Luxor temple. This was a good example of Egypt over the millennia, as the temple itself was ancient Egyptian, but had been buried with sand for centuries so a mosque was built on top of it as they did not realise what lay beneath, and at the back of the temple, parts of the walls had been plastered over and painted for a Roman Temple, highlighting some of the many eras of Egyptian history. They're also in the midst of attempting to revive the temple by cleaning the millennia of dust and dirt off the walls to reveal the vibrant colours of the hieroglyphs beneath, which from what we saw will look stunning. 

With nowhere to go for the rest of the afternoon, we ventured out into Luxor. One member of our group almost got duped by a man stating he was the boats baker (which boat, you ask? Funny, he didn't specify that) and was on his way to the market to buy saffron, and would take us there. Realising that this was a scam and would inevitably end with the request for significant repayment for his help, I suggested against it and we headed on our way. 

We took a short walk up to the Souk which was very much built for tourists, with souvenir shops galore. I might have been tempted to head into some had we not been pestered so much. Granted, some had some good lines like 'I have some very good rubbish in my store' and 'Let me help you spend your money' but most were just pushy or a bit strange, with one asking to buy my hand in marriage for two million camels. I'll pass, thanks. 

We'd been recommended taking a look into the Winter Palace Hotel, previous home to King Farouk. It's a very different world on the inside, stately home like and almost cold in feeling, like you shouldn't sit or touch anything. They do have a nice garden outside, with interesting birds like the hob-hob with its beautiful crown of feathers. We considered stopping for afternoon tea but decided three generous meals on the boat a day were probably enough for us. 

It was an early dinner for our final night on the boat as we were heading out for a late night excursion. It was back to Karnak for their Light and Sound Spectacular - it both was and was not what I had expected, in that it was lights and projections projected onto the various parts of the temples, and we were directed around to different parts ending up at the Sacred Lake for the final section. 

However, the 'sound' part was quite odd as it was intense narration from the point of view of the gods and Pharoahs who had been part of the temples creation, followed by lots of ominous music... Imagine 'I! Am the god AMUN! Welcome! To my Temple! Dun dun dunnnnn!' Or words to that effect. I thought it was better than the Petra by Night experience we'd had in Jordan, but with tickets costing nearly £30 apiece, it certainly wasn't worth the money.

And so we came to the end of our Nile Cruise experience with a belly dancer (who wasn't up to much) followed by a whirling dervish (which was quite cool as he twirled his light up skirts round and round and up and down) in the lounge bar. I said goodbye to the members of the crew I'd become friendly with over the week and headed to my riverside room for the last time. 

Tips for a Nile Cruise: 1) Choose your boat carefully - this will be your home for quite a while, so if your room constantly smells like engine fumes or the catering staff can't cater for your dietary needs, this can be quite a problem. Our boat was decent, but we passed through plenty that looked especially nice, so do a bit of research before you pick. 2) Know the demographic of these cruises (and probably cruises in general) - the average age of guests onboard was definitely more than twice my age, so be prepared for a generational age gap between you and your fellow travellers. Some boats may cater more effectively to younger crowds, so if this is important to you, check out the reviews beforehand. 3) Prepare for a LOT of temples! The majority of the excursions we went on were to temples, so know your itinerary beforehand, and whether you're keen to add even more temples as additional tours. Our company was fairly flexible and didn't mind if people chose to skip some excursions, so long as you let them know in advance. 

I hope you enjoyed today's travel blog! I'll be back with more very soon so make sure to stay tuned on my Twitter @CiarasCountry, and drop me a message in the comments below with any comments or questions you may have about my adventures - thanks for reading! 

Monday, 15 April 2019

Interview: TWINNIE, C2C Country 2 Country 2019, London

I really enjoyed watching Twinnie's set at C2C 2019 (you can read my thoughts about it here) so of course jumped at the chance to have an interview with her. Read on to find out her thoughts on the festival, performing with Bryan Adams, plans for 2019, and who she'd most like to duet with (you might be suprised!)

Ciara’s Country (CC): Hi Twinnie! We’re catching up after C2C – how was your experience of the festival?

Twinnie (T): It was amazing! I love C2C simply because you get to meet so many new people there. You’re introduced to lots of new music, it’s a great way to find out who’s up and coming and see people who’ll be big in a few years. People like Abby Anderson, I know she’s going to be a superstar; and Lainey Wilson. It was really cool to see all of them. I also enjoyed playing the different stages this year. It was the first year I’d played the BBC Radio 2 stage which was awesome. It was very early though, half past ten in the morning, but it was great. It’s always nice to be around country music and country artists and fans for the weekend.

CC: Well, even though your set was early, it had a really good reception.

T: Yeah, it did. The venue was quite full actually. Being first on, you do worry about people going out the night before and getting absolutely smashed and whether there’ll be anyone turning up, but there was. It was great.

CC: What was it like performing your music to people who hadn’t heard it before?

T: Here’s the thing: when people don’t know your songs, it’s great to see their reaction because you can kind of judge how good the song is. If it gets people immediately or it takes a couple of times. People in the front row were singing my songs back which was cool. That’s never happened before. Well, it happened in Berlin the week before which was even more crazy because the EP had just come out! And on the same day people were singing the lyrics. It’s amazing.

CC: It shows just how far country music can travel.

T: For sure. I think country music fans are the same everywhere, they’re very lovely and very attentive to the music. They listen. Especially to new artists, that’s so important.

CC: You’ve had quite a varied career up to this point too?

T: I’ve always done what I’m doing now, it just so happens that I’ve done other jobs in between to pay my mortgage! I’ve been in the entertainment industry since I was four. I can’t remember when I didn’t do music. It just so happens that everything has a time and a place and it falls where it falls. My career in general, there’s been a lot of hills I’ve had to climb up and then nearly got there and then fell back down. There’s been a lot of detours. You talk to some of my close friends, I was doing this when I was in primary school, so it wasn’t a conscious decision of ‘now I’ll do music’. It took me ten years to get signed and back then, I was doing country music and nobody knew what it was. It wasn’t as popular – people knew what it was but it wasn’t what it is now. It just makes me think that everything happens for a reason when it does.

CC: What’s been a real highlight during those ten years?

T: Gosh, there’s so many. I’ve got to sing with Queen, I’ve got to sing with Bryan Adams too. He saw me in a festival in Cornbury two years ago when I was playing this Café Nero tent. There was hardly anyone in there but he came and watched my performance. He came back later and asked if I wanted to sing on the main stage with him. That was unbelievable. Most recently, the fact Better When I’m Drunk went to number one on the iTunes country chart was awesome.

CC: You don’t seem afraid to push the boundaries with your music – just looking at the titles of some of your songs suggests that you’re a bit different than other artists who like to stay within the lines. What made you want to head in that direction?

T: I don’t think I’ve done it on purpose. I like telling the truth, so I have no problem showing my flaws to people. In the world that we live in, now especially with social media, there’s not enough empathy or truth sometimes. The women that I look up to are independent, strong, empowered females who don’t really pander to being fake or what anybody else wants them to be, they’re just themselves. It’s taken me a long time to get my deal, so I chose very carefully who my team was because I didn’t want to be put in a box which is something I fight with quite a lot. In life and in music, I think everybody should be who they want to be. I come from up North, people telling it how it is and I’d rather quite honestly meet people who like me for me rather than like me for something that I’m not.

I’ve a song called Daddy Issues, but that song was a very hard song for me to write, but it came about because I realised what pattern I was doing, learning how I was and how it was shaping me because of my childhood. I recognised it in a lot of my friends as well, we talked about it. Music for me is about self-expression, and it’s art at the end of the day. If I can raise up a topic that people think but don’t necessarily say, if it helps someone in some way, then I feel like, even if it’s just one person, I’ve done something as an artist. With pushing the boundaries, you do get some push-back. Luckily nowadays we have things like Spotify and Apple Music where the fans are finding out what they want to listen to. They’ll stream it if the radio’s not playing it.

CC: Much of the appeal of country music is that it does have that reality and self-expression within it, so that probably works in your favour.

T: To me, that’s all country music is. It’s not about cowboy hats and boots. For some people, it’s a way of life, but for me it’s very much about telling a story which I think every country song has. People like Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, they’re a new generation of country music artists who have that pop sensibility which I love because I think it connects fans on a global scale.

CC: Even within our conversation we’ve spoken about country ranging from the UK to Germany to Australia!

T: Exactly.

CC: What plans do you have for the rest of 2019?

T: I’m going out to Nashville shortly, then New York; then I’m coming back to do my headline show which I’m really excited about. There’s a few things coming up – it’s all very boring because I’m not allowed to announce it yet.

CC: At least we know about your headline show at The Lexington on April 17th!

T: I’m so excited, because I get to play longer than thirty minutes, talk a bit more and explain some of the songs.

CC: Good stuff! Final question for you: what’s one question you’ve never been asked in an interview but would love to be?

T: Oh, that’s a really good question! That’s awesome! I want them to ask if I’m free to do a duet with Beyonce.

CC: I have actually met Beyonce.

T: Really?

CC: Indeed, a brief run-in in New Orleans! But unfortunately I don’t have her contact details on file. But fingers crossed that you’ll get asked that question someday.

T: I hope so.

CC: Thanks for answering my question!

T: You too, lovely to speak with you! 

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Twinnie! If you did, make sure to drop me a message in the comments below and follow me on Twitter @CiarasCountry to stay up to date on future interviews and reviews - thanks for reading! 

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Interview: NOAH SCHNACKY, CMC Rocks Festival, QLD, Australia

I had the privilege of speaking to rising star Noah Schnacky at CMC Rocks (read about that here) in what turned out to be one of the most interesting and insightful interviews that I've ever had - read on to find out what he got up to during his time in Australia, using social media as a means to connect with his fans, and what making music means to him. Enjoy! 

Ciara’s Country (CC): Hi Noah, pleasure to see you again after meeting you recently at C2C in London!

Noah Schnacky (NS): What a whirlwind we’ve had!

CC: What has this week been like?

NS: It’s been insane. This is my first time ever overseas, so to go from London straight to Australia, straight back to Florida, then to Italy, is the craziest experience of seeing the world I could have ever imagined. The people are so different, yet so beautiful wherever you go, for different reasons. In London, I love that they’re like true connoisseurs of music. Then you go to Australia, and people are so energetic for it and have so much wild enthusiasm because this is the big country fest they look forward to every year. It’s quite an experience.

CC: How have you enjoyed your time in Australia?

NS: It’s been the coolest journey ever. We’ve done so much more than I ever thought we would. We’ve already found out favourite places. We love Grilled – it’s the most amazing burger joint I’ve ever been to, everything is so fresh. They have fresh food figured out over here and it’s awesome. I love The Coffee Club. There’s this one at Eagle Street Pier that overlooks the river that we go to every morning for breakfast. We’re just having the funnest time. It’s like vacation but we get to perform too so it’s a double whammy.

CC: And you’ve been having a lot of new experiences here too?

NS: Yeah, we saw kangaroos for the first time. I fed one! We saw a bunch of koalas and held them. Loads of touristy things but we’ve also done a lot of city searching and meeting the people, making our way around. I had someone for the first time ever come up to me and ask if I was American and then say I had a cool accent. I never thought anyone would ever say my accent was cool!

CC: I would totally agree with that. American accents are extremely cool! As are Aussie accents, and we’re here at CMC Rocks – how amazing for you to play on the Main Stages here for your first time in Australia. Will we be hearing new music in your sets?

NS: Yeah, we’ll be playing a ton of new music. What’s crazy for me is the songs we’ve already released. Literally the last year has been us in the studio, creating music and releasing it independently. This is the first time we’ve ever really got outside of that to experience what we’ve done and the connection we’ve had with fans. I just posted on Instagram the fans interaction on the first night of the festival and how intense they were singing back the song. Every person knew the lyrics to our songs. It was almost a spiritual experience. You go your whole life thinking maybe one day that’ll happen to you, and I just wasn’t ready for it. It shocked me. It hit me by surprise and rocked my world that they knew the words and were singing louder than me!

CC: Your songs have done very well on Spotify – I think this shows just how well that travel across the world.

NS: Well, Spotify and all the streaming services have been huge helps for us. Something that’s been really big for me since I grew up listening to country radio, is that we’ll be going out to all the outlets this year and getting the songs to everybody’s ears. I hope so, anyway! It’s going to be crazy.

CC: And you got your start on Instagram, is that right?

NS: Yeah. About three or four years ago, I decided that music is what I wanted to do, and I wanted to reach an audience to remind people that they’re loved, and I knew that music was the best way for me to do that. That’s what I’m all about, that’s who I am. I started releasing covers on Instagram and over the years I’ve been responding to DMs, because that’s something I love to do. I noticed that when I responded to a DM, their friends would respond back and then that would turn into four, then ten, then a hundred, and before I knew it I was responding to hundreds of DMs every night. Once we had about half a million followers, that’s when we decided to release our first single and that’s when we decided to release our first single. We went from zero to a million streams in eight days. Spotify saw it at about 1.4 million and put it on their playlist and it just skyrocketed, and the next thing we knew we were next to names like Keith Urban and Kenny Chesney. That was the most mindblowing experience because I’m just this kid from Orlando, and to think that my name could be next to something like that didn’t feel real.

CC: Good company to be in.

NS: The best!

CC: I definitely noticed when doing my research that you have brilliant interaction with your fans – loads of people mentioning you responding to them and how much it matters to them. I think that’s so important when you’re trying to grow and get fans who really care about you, and that’s not necessarily something we’ve seen in country music yet in terms of that social influence.

NS: Thank you. That’s what I’m here for – at the end of the day, I believe I was given this platform so that I could do that on a bigger scale. For example, when we went to London, we went and surprised a fan in Reading. It was the coolest thing ever. We left the city, never having used the train system there and got to Reading, hopped on a bus for like eighteen stops and showed up at this random address that we found from her mum! We didn’t even tell her mum that we were coming, and we knocked on their door and nobody answered because nobody was home… We got back on the bus, did a full loop of the town, came back an hour later and ended up knocking on her door when she was there. We walked in and sat down with her parents, and she absolutely freaked out. That to me is what it’s all about. That’s why I was given this influence and that’s why I’m going to continue to do music, to remind people that they’re loved and they’re not alone. If I can be that to somebody, maybe someone else will say ‘if he can do that for that girl, he can do it for me’. If I can inspire people and remind them that they’re loved, that’s what I’m here for.

CC: I’ve seen across all your socials that you and your fans use the anchor emoji a lot – what does that mean?

NS: It’s a play on words. I’m anchored to my fans and my fans are anchored to each other, and that’s just how it goes. I’ve had a lot of people come into and out of my life, a lot of hurt in my past with friends who’ve left my side because they thought I could give them something and when they found out I’m just a normal person, they left me. Something that’s been very consistent throughout my life is my fans having my back and caring about me; and vice versa, me for them. The anchor was a way for us as a community – if you look at my followers, there’s thousands upon thousands of people who have anchors by their names – and when you see someone with anchors by their name, it’s an open invitation to get into their life. I’ve even seen fans link up on social media because of the anchors, and then three or four months later, enter into a relationship over social media, moving to the state to be by each other. Or one not having a family and moving in with another one states away. I’ve seen some come down to Florida where my family is located just to be a part of the community we’re in. I think what we’re doing is bringing people together, and that was my main goal with everything we’re doing, so that’s what the anchor us. Me being anchored to them and us being anchored to each other.

CC: I think that comes across in your music as well.

NS: Yeah, well the reason I wrote Hello Beautiful and Maybe We Will is that I know the power of music. I know a movie can change your perspective in two and a half hours, but a song can do that in two and a half minutes. It can bring you to tears, it can bring you new joy, it can remind you life is worth living in that short amount of time. I wanted to use my songs to remind people they’re loved. With the story of Hello Beautiful I wanted to remind girls everywhere that that’s what they should be looking for – a guy who loves them relentlessly, is willing to wait and chase them, and knows what he wants. It’s the same for Maybe We Will.

CC: What’s your favourite song to perform?

NS: Right now, my favourite non-released song is the opener we have today (That Guy), so I hope you like that one. Released songs, it’s probably Maybe We Will. We just started stripping it down. There are so many people singing those lyrics so loud, I can barely sing the song myself. To see a crowd of ten or twenty thousand people singing back your lyrics is a heartwarming experience to say the least. That’s probably my favourite moment of the set.

CC: I’ll be there watching! To finish up the interview, what is one question you’ve never been asked in an interview but would love to be?

NS: Let me think… Maybe what’s my goal with all of this? What’s the point? At the end of the day, if the point is to make money, it’s just a bigger house, more empty rooms that you’ll never be able to fill; if the point is to make music to be a legend, eventually all legends disappear. My purpose, the reason I do this is because I want to change people for generations. I want to inspire people in their own lives and remind them that they’re loved. If I can change other people, that’ll change how they act with their children, and their children’s children, and I really think that’s what it’s all about for me. Just legacy.

CC: What a deep and insightful answer. That’s a good purpose to have. Thank you so much for chatting to me!

NS: Thank you. 

I hope you enjoyed my interview with the lovely Noah Schnacky! What surprised you most about his answers? Were you a fan before? Drop me a comment below and make sure to follow me on Twitter @CiarasCountry for more interviews and reviews with your favourite artists coming soon - thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Interview: SARAH DARLING, C2C Country 2 Country 2019, London

The UK loves American country singer Sarah Darling, and for good reason - I took some time to chat with the artist at C2C London (read about that here) regarding her unique style of country music, pre-show rituals, and the best experience she's had throughout her career. Enjoy!
Ciara’s Country (CC): Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today!

Sarah Darling (SD): Absolutely!

CC: Welcome to C2C 2019!

SD: Thank you, this is my fourth year!

CC: How have you enjoyed this year so far?

SD: It’s great. I’m seeing familiar faces and it’s great to have grown with some of my fans over the last several years.

CC: You’ve become something of a regular at C2C over the years.

SD: It’s kind of crazy to think about that, but yeah, I’ve heard that!

CC: How does performing for a UK audience differ from back home?

SD: It’s very different actually. I find the UK audiences very attentive. Not to say they’re not attentive at home, but maybe because country is a newer genre, the stories and relatability of country music mean that people are really hanging on every word and listening. As a performer, you can’t give anything better than that.

CC: Your sound is quite unique in country music. I love how it was previously described as ‘Dream Country’ – can you tell me about that?

SD: Yeah, that kind of came about when I was recording that album – I was trying to find a title for it, and listening to the songs, some of which were about Wyoming and Paris, it just sort of have this dream ability to it. Fast forwarding to now, I have this new album that’s just been released called Wonderland, there’s definitely some transportive things that happen in that album now. It takes you to a completely different place which is really fun. I recorded it here which takes you to a whole new landscape.

CC: A new style of Wonderland Country… It’s great to hear you have a new album, what can you tell us about the similarities and differences to previous albums?

SD: It’s definitely different. I feel like Dream Country was deep and introspective and slower. Wonderland is more upbeat. It feels really happy. There’s a lot of songs about love and it feels like a good roadtrip album that you want to get in your car and drive to. That’s the best way to describe it. I think fans will get to hear a different side of me.

CC: What’s the main thing you want fans to take away from the album?

SD: As a creative, I think it’s really important to push yourself. I just want them to love it as much as I do. I’ve put so much into it, being away from home and I just want to share the stories that I’ve created here.

CC: I think part of your growth over here is definitely testament to how much time you’ve spent in the UK.

SD: Thank you. I can’t believe I’m on my second headline tour. It’s all kicking off.

CC: Do you have any pre-show rituals?

SD: It’s funny, I tend to take fifteen minutes by myself and just chill. I just go off into my own world and meditate and pray. It’s nice to just shut everything off for a few minutes.

CC: Well, festivals like this are a great stomping ground for up-and-coming artists – is there anyone out there you think people should start listening to?

SD: C2C is great – there’s a gentleman called Kenny Foster, and a woman called Ingrid Andress who I’ve become huge fans of. It’s the ones I’d never heard of that are actually my favourites. It’s great to see new talent.

CC: What’s one question you’ve never been asked in an interview but would love to be?

SD: Most people don’t ever ask me what my favourite song I’ve ever written is.

CC: I would have thought that’s a standard question!

SD: Or favourite venue! People don’t ask that. Or favourite experience – I’ll tell you this. That was getting to debut at the Opry and having my grandfather there. He was a big country music lover and he got to be there the very first time I played the Opry. If I think of what the greatest moment in music for me, that’s probably one I have forever burned in my mind.

CC: Was he a big fan of your music?

SD: He was.

CC: Well, what a lovely memory to have. Thank you so much!

SD: Thank you so much!

I hope you enjoyed my interview with Sarah Darling! Drop me a message in the comments below if you're a fan, and make sure to follow me on Twitter @CiarasCountry for plenty more reviews and interviews coming soon - thanks for reading!