Anna Pancaldi from Colchester is no stranger to Grapevine. It has been a while since we’ve spoken so what with her new EP about to be launched we thought that it was about time for a catch up.
Your music career didn’t get off to a great start, did it?
Yeah, I performed a lot during school and grew up in a really musical family so music has always been at the epicentre of our home. But one day I entered a competition in Sudbury, I was singing Edelweiss, I went up onto the stage and absolutely froze, burst into tears – which was actually quite amusing looking back at it now!
But at the time it was horrendous, I just couldn’t sing and I remember really vividly that the audience had started singing along just to try and help me. After that it really spiralled off into this really debilitating stage fright and I just couldn’t perform in front of people any more. I tried to do another one, looked in the room and decided I just could not do it. It really took me years and years and years to work through that.
I moved to South Africa in 2001, I took some singing lessons with this amazing teacher called Gavin Smith who really recognised that I should be performing and was wasting the talent that was there. He used to force me to perform and when I cried he would basically say “Anna you have got to get back up there straight away, its like falling off a horse, if you don’t get back on you just won’t.” Having him pushing me to do that…. at the time I didn’t like him very much! But he really was one of the people who played an instrumental role in getting me back on that stage. I am so grateful because now I’m here, doing what I love and I am so grateful for that!
So the family move to South Africa was quite lucky for you?
Yeah it was just an incredible journey moving to South Africa as a family we were all very very excited to make the move. For me it was instrumental, having someone who truly believed in me, that wanted to invest their time. I needed that, though I didn’t know it at the time, he did. Having that was invaluable.
Back in England, despite the trauma, you go and audition for a music course at Colchester College.
By that time I’d worked through the stage fright, I always knew that music was what I wanted to spend my life doing, there has never been a plan B for me. For me this is it. So I enrolled, spent a couple of years doing a National Diploma. That was again a really, really important progression in my career; building up my confidence, learning how to perform in front of people – I was still terrified whenever I had to perform.
I saw you recently when you opened for Rhiannon Mair at the wonderful St Peters in Ipswich.
Ah yes, it is isn’t it and that was such a wonderful night. I have played at St Peters before and the acoustics are just fantastic and there is just such a lovely ambience, I love playing in churches.
You then went travelling – I just imagine you sitting on a beach strumming away, that must have been fun?
Yeah – it was incredible. I had kinda got to this place where I was just performing covers and not really playing my own music and I’d just got myself in a rut . So I said, “You know what? I just need to get away!” I had like a really small, like a four year olds sized guitar! I took that with me and thought I’m going away with no expectations, for a nine months, travel around the world and write music.
Although I went with no expectations I really felt that I had come back with everything. Because in that time I gone from Nepal to South East Asia and just written music. There was no routine, I didn’t have to be at work, I didn’t have to do anything other than travel the world and write music. So when I went to New Zealand, that was a really poignant time for me because that was the first time I started to sing my own songs accompanying myself on guitar, so there were all these firsts – it was just crazy, it was easier not being in England, there was no one who could see me practising in the rudimentary stages of performing my own material. It really was the most wonderful, wonderful trip, it really set me up.
I came back with renewed inspiration and knowing what I wanted. It is really important that you have a focus and know what you want to get – to have a plan, and it gave me all those things. I came back, moved up to London which travelling gave me the confidence to do. I couldn’t have asked for those nine months to have been any better.
Talk to me about the EP Black Tears.
So… its all been very exciting and overwhelming. The pre-order went to number 6 on the iTunes singer-Songwriter chart and 52 in the top charts which was just insane because I am unsigned, unmanaged and this is the pre-order, the whole EP hasn’t even come out yet. To know that I have so many people supporting me has been so special. Then off the back of that I performed for Gaby Roslin on BBC London, she said such amazing things about my music!
One of the quotes I’ve read about you, from Emerging Icons, says “With the emotive presence of Eva Cassidy and the folky soul of Joni Mitchell”. That is quite a bit to live to, isn’t it?
I know, It is actually very, very scary. It is one of those things that when people say it you can’t really believe it to be honest, they are legends and you feel that people like that don’t really exist these days. There was a time when you had the most incredible singer-songwriters and the most incredible voices and music evolved and it has changed so to be compared to greats like that is actually ridiculous and amazing and yes, a lot to live up to.
Tell us about the “Out Ahead” the single from the EP, because I really like it!
Oh, thank you so much, I’m really glad you like it. I wrote “Out Ahead” about someone very very dear to me whom I haven’t seen in a very long time and its really about my lifes journey of reaching out ahead to a time when I get to see them again.
You have done a number of “Ont’Sofa” recordings, am I right in thinking that they are sit down, one take recordings?
Yes, the ones that I did were done in one take and there’s no comping things together so yes, quite a lot of pressure but, I love doing that kind of thing so people can see that you can sing live and that you are not hiding behind anything.
So, you knew music was going to be your life, you are out there, you are a singer songwriter but then there is this whole thing of performing and getting EPs out there and the whole business side of being a musician – is that easy or hard?
I would say it is… I wouldn’t say it is either really. It is a massive learning curve. When you start writing music, all you focus on at that time is honing your craft, thinking about your lyrics and how you want to speak to people through that. At the very beginning its all about the music. Then you realise its not a hobby, its something that you want to spend the rest of your life doing. It is then imperative to learn about the industry, how it operates and take on all that business side of things. At the moment I am really grateful that I have been in control of everything I have been doing and to know that the successes I have had have been through my own work. That is something I really value, and as an artist it is vital that you understand the way the industry works. You have to have that business head on you because it is so easy to get taken for a ride or for there to be mis-understandings and fallings out with people. You really need to avoid that as much as possible. So for me it hasn’t been difficult, its just a learning curve and you need to be aware of these things.
You are in a very congested marketplace, there are a lot of very good singer songwriters out there.
Yes there are. It is something that people bring up a lot, it’s fine, the internet has changed the way the music industry works and instead of begrudging it you have to move along with the times, which is how you have to approach life. There are lots of other people out there doing the same thing but I don’t look at other artists as competition. I have a lot of friends that are singer songwriters that are really successful. It is, for me, about having a support network, supporting each other and helping each other out rather than looking at everyone as a competitor. I choose to be positive, help other people out when you can. It being congested doesn’t bother me, putting too much emphasis on that is a waste of energy, I know what I want and focus on that. Happy days!
Who were your influences when you were starting out?
I was brought up on amazing music, I grew up listening to Supertramp, Carole King, Judy Garland and Doris Day, I love Jeff Buckley, Caroly Simon… I was lucky to have been brought up with all the greats. They are all influences on me, I used to do a bit of jazz and those swing standards when I was in college and I loved it.
Thank you Anna for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLive, its been a genuine pleasure.
Anna is launching her debut EP “Black Tears” at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London on 25th March. You can find out more about the event on Facebook here.