The small underground club was bathed in red light as the British cult performer played to an enthusiastic audience. No, it wasn’t some hip dive bar in Brooklyn or the Lower East Side, it was a downstairs room in the North Bergen Public Library, and the artist was singer-songwriter Callaghan.
Playing piano and guitar either solo or with a single backing musician, Callaghan (one name only, like Madonna or Prince) performed a set of memorable originals and covers including “Fire and Rain” by her idol, James Taylor, and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” as an audience singalong.
“She was great,” said North Bergen resident Abe Garcia, who bought a CD and had it autographed after the show. “She’s not going to be performing small venues like this too much longer. The sound of the music, southern rock, country, bluegrass – it’s on the money.”
Born and raised in England, Callaghan is clearly influenced deeply by American music, and in fact moved to the U.S. in 2010, recording part of her debut album, Life in Full Colour, in Atlanta.
Asked to describe her music, Callaghan said, “I would say it is singer-songwriter/pop, kind of a blend. Pop music that makes you feel good, where you can sing along or tap your feet, with lyrics that make you feel something. That’s what I always try to aim for.”
“I liked the tunes,” said attendee Liscary Pacheco after the show. “It felt like old school meets new.”
The tucked-away performance space downstairs at the library holds hundreds of seats, a raised stage, and professional sound and lighting. Callaghan was only the most recent in a string of performers who have played in the space.
“We’ve been doing this for almost three years now,” said Library Director Sai Rao. “Every couple of months we have either a concert or a comedian. Always free. People keep asking us when’s the next one. It’s small but it works.”
“They do a really good job of bringing really diverse artists, comedians, live performers,” agreed Brian Bonacci, manager of the North Bergen pool and band director at the high school. “It’s great for free, for the community to come out. It’s a nice little venue and it always gets a good crowd.”
“They do a good job of bringing really diverse artists, comedians, live performers. It’s great for free, for the community to come out.” --Brian Bonacci
“She opened for my favorite artist, Ed Kowalczyk from Live, so I knew she was good. I heard really good things from friends. The show I saw she didn’t open so I never saw her until today.”
The venue was nearly full for the show on Thursday, Aug. 14, with an audience spanning all ages from toddlers to pensioners. Callaghan was in fact scheduled to play the library back in February, but the show was postponed when heavy snows caused damage to the building’s roof, necessitating repairs.
After her gig Callaghan met with appreciative fans downstairs in the library, taking pictures and signing swag.
Callaghan on the move
“I think I took up the piano when I was 14 or 15 and that was around the time I started songwriting,” said Callaghan. “That was my first instrument. I still find that it’s very different writing on guitar or writing on piano. But I’ve been singing since I was tiny.”
Enamored of Grammy-nominated American musician Shawn Mullins (“Lullabye”), she contacted him via MySpace back in 2009 and he appreciated her classic pop songwriting and pure, powerful voice. Mullins agreed to produce her album, prompting her move to the states.
In addition to her first studio album, Callaghan has released a live CD highlighting two different modes of performing. “This half is with my full band in Atlanta, and this half was in a studio recorded a lot more like the kind of stuff I played today, real stripped back, just me and two other musicians recorded live in this little studio in Nashville.”
Currently she is recording her new album, with funding by fans through PledgeMusic. (“It’s kind of like Kickstarter for musicians.”) Funding is already at more than 150 percent of her goal, with a number of songs completed – and previewed in North Bergen.
“We’ve toured a lot,” she said. “I’ve been to 46 states. Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska, and North Dakota are the only ones I haven’t. Alaska and Hawaii, that’s going to be a little bit harder.” But it should be a fun trek. “Oh, definitely. Let’s go do a Hawaiian tour!”
Local resident Audra Tompkins, who attended the library show with friends, said, “I think she’s awesome. If she comes back I’d definitely see her again.”
Music clips and videos of Callaghan are available at http://callaghansongs.com
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.