Singers set to gather in Cork to show    R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for Queen Of Soul

Cork Opera House will host a tribute to Aretha Franklin this month. RONAN LEONARD finds out more
Singers set to gather in Cork to show    R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for Queen Of Soul
Laura O'Neill.

THE music of the first woman to be inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, Aretha Franklin, will be filling the Cork Opera House on Friday, March 29, when ‘*R*E*S*P*E*C*T* A Tribute To Aretha Franklin — The Queen Of Soul’ comes to Cork.

Laura O’Neill, who many would know as the singer in her band The Firm, who founded the show, explained how the concert has come about.

“Obviously the music world has lost a huge amount of great music talents in the past couple of years such as Prince, David Bowie, etc, but when friends of mine would post tributes to these artists on social media, I never really got it,” she says.

“I thought people were kind of jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, like: ‘Yeah it was awful, and it’s very sad but we don’t actually know these megastars right? So how can you be that affected?’. But then Aretha passed and BANG — it hit me like a ton of bricks… which shocked me, if I’m honest. It was only then I realised the massive impact she and her music actually had on me and my career. So that was when I rang the band and said I wanted to put this show together and here we are.”

In fact, Laura credits Aretha Franklin as being her starting point in finding her voice as a singer. “The first song I was given when I started singing lessons at the age of 11 was ‘Say A Little Prayer’ and I just fell in love straight away,” she says. “A lot of my peers were really beautiful gentle soft singers, so for a while, I suppose, I felt like I didn’t fit the mould; I was always trying to tone it down or pull it back. But once I was introduced to Aretha and the world of soul music, I finally had something that made sense to me and my voice.”

To fully pay tribute to Aretha’s career, Laura has brought in additional singers: “The show has six female vocalists. I think we all represent a different element of her, it allows us all to play to our strengths and really genuinely present these songs in the best way possible. For instance ‘Ain’t No Way’ will be performed on the night by the incredible Sharon Gaynor [Voice Of Ireland semi-finalist in 2012]. Aretha had such a huge range she could give any man or woman on the planet a good run for their money. This was my reason for approaching the other girls to do it alongside me when I put this show together, as individually I don’t think there’s anyone that can truly represent her catalogue of music and the size of her range and it made sense to come together. It also makes it a bit more craic on stage for us, too.”

The sextet of singers will be in safe hands with the band, as Laura continued: “The entire line-up of performers is a completely natural fit — myself and my band have been together for 10 years now, so we feel right at home in the land of soul. The guys are truly exceptional, the show is super tight of course, but there’s always room for expression and some improv which I feel is what sets the bar higher and gives the audience that genuine live soul feel! Feel and sound wise, we are sticking very close to her well-known recordings but with a dash of our own personalities thrown in. We are definitely trying to recreate her big iconic live moments where she held the whole audience in the palm of her hands. An airtight gig done the exact same every time — to us would lack passion and feel stale, so it’s great that we are all so comfortable with each other — it allows to relax and let loose. Who knows what will happen!”

They are also taking inspiration directly from the Queen Of Soul when it comes to picking the setlist: “We have put it together the way Aretha herself used to design her shows; Big Opener… Big Middle… Big Finish… Bigger Encore! We have chosen her biggest hits such as ‘Think’, ‘You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman’, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ and of course ‘Respect’; our favourite numbers that we have been all been belting out in showers all over the world; some of the famous duets such as ‘Knew You Were Waiting’ and ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’; and also some of the amazing covers she has released over the year. So this isn’t just a show for hardcore Aretha fans, if audiences like a good live gig, they’ll really enjoy this!”

Laura has been longing to play the Cork Opera House for a long time, “I went to College in Cork for two years, I did a performing arts course in Coláiste An Stiofáin Naofa with Marion Wyatt, so I spent a lot of time walking past the Cork Opera House thinking to myself: ‘Some day, I’d love to play there’. So I’m really so excited to bring this show down to Cork.

“I spent a lot of time in the music venues around the city, loving and absorbing the incredible talent and music scene that Cork has to offer.”

*R*E*S*P*E*C*T* a Tribute To Aretha Franklin — the Queen of Soul, Cork Opera House, Friday, March 29.
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