By NEIL RIDDELL
A YOUNG Shetland singer has just returned from Norway where she had the honour of representing the UK as part of this year’s Tall Ships celebrations.
Francesca Leyland, 19, from Lerwick, is about to go into second year of a BA honours at the Arts Educational School of Musical Theatre in London and was invited to perform seven “very different”concerts for the British fleet of ships.
After a busy week of rehearsals Francesca – he daughter of Martin and Diane Leyland – performed with a 10-piece professional band from Oslo between 1st and 4th August. She had previously visited Måløy to perform at a smaller festival in 2005 and was invited back as part of the entertainment for the Tall Ships.
Her opening performance, on a specially-made stage consisting of two life-size tall ships at either side of the stage and a nine-metre screen, saw Francesca tackle The Circle Of Life, Elton John’s composition which is best known for its appearance in Disney’s Lion King film.
“I chose this song because I feel it is very appropriate to the event, because it is a worldwide event and we are all in the circle of life,” she said, describing the event as “reminiscent of the Eurovision Song Contest”.
Later that day she opened a church service for the crew and people of Måløy, singing Ave Maria which she said was warmly welcomed by the people of the church.
The following day she collaborated with two other women who were representing Norway and Germany respectively in a celebration of rock music, followed later by a concert dedicated to gospel music. “A first for me,” she said. “But I enjoyed it very much and [it] was very popular with the Norwegian audience because they are very religious.”
On the Saturday evening Francesca hosted her own show on the main stage. Performing for an hour, she sang tracks including Songbird by Eva Cassidy, Black Velvet and a number of other contrasting songs from different genres. “I wanted to have something for everyone and I think this was warmly received,” she said.
For the final show of the weekend Francesca sung another standard – Amazing Grace – at the open air Sunday church concert, which she described as another “great experience”.
“To close the event we finished with a collaboration of musical songs on the large open air main stage in front of a crowd of more than a thousand people, perhaps more – I didn’t really have time to count!”
She opened the concert with her rendition of The Life Of The Party from the musical Wild Party, before she was joined on stage by German musical theatre star Sanni Luis – an original cast member from Les Miserables – to sing For Good from another musical, Wicked – the second time the two had performed together, the first being at the smaller event in the same town four years ago.
Francesca first began to take singing seriously at the age of 15, when she started taking lessons in Shetland.
“I used to sing around the house, but I wouldn’t let anybody hear me,” she said. “Mum was really surprised when I phoned up for singing lessons.”
As part of her university course in third year, students appear in shows in London in the hope of attracting the interest of agents who come along to see them perform. “It’s almost like a cattle market,” she said. “They come and choose what they like and once you get an agent that’s when you start getting jobs.”
In the future, Francesca said she would love to be in any of the shows in London and would also like to tour and travel with her music.