Melia Naughton & the Northern Rivers art scene.

Melia Naughton is an unbelievable creative talent. A trained choir leader, actor and musician who has toured with Bell Shakespeare and fronted bands including folk-pop outfit Scarlett Affection, Melia is also an award-winning songwriter who has played major festivals across the country. She was one of 12 international participants in the 2018 Natural Voice Leadership training in the UK with funding from Create NSW. The dynamic leader of the Northern Rivers' Shire Choir, we recently saw Melia perform in the Bangalow Theatre Company's extraordinary art performance, Takeover 2020. It is a huge honour to chat with Melia here.
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It is such a delight to introduce Melia Naughton, a heavenly and dynamic creative who chose to make the Northern Rivers home many years ago. We were incredibly fortunate to see Melia perform in The Bangalow Theatre Company's roving art show, Takeover 2020, last month. Melia's performance was unbelievably powerful, and literally breathtaking. After such a terrible year for the Arts (thanks to COVID), Melia shares how it was so brilliant to perform again: to make music and to perform and interact with a live (albeit small and intimate) audience was so tremendous, she says, and it has made her acutely aware of how important the arts and creative expression is for all of us. "It’s a crucial part of being human: to reflect, to witness, to experience, to share, to provoke, to question, to affect. Being a musician and performer has had its intense challenges this year but my resolve is strong. Using our voice to sing and express ourselves and to affect each other is something I’m deeply passionate about. I’m grateful to live in a region where new ideas are supported and there is space to play and to experiment." 
 
It is an honour to feature Melia and all her local intel here on these pages. Enjoy. 

Name: Melia Naughton

Star Sign: Taurus

Hometown: Sydney/Hobart/Melbourne

Where do you live now? Newrybar, 6 minutes from Bangalow

Describe yourself in 3 words or less… Colourful. Spontaneous. 

Describe the Northern Rivers in 3 words or less… Ocean, light, air

What inspires you here? 

The ocean is really special. Humbling and universally affecting. I always feel charged and energised after a swim. I adore the big open spaces and the proximity to nature. I also enjoy the spirit of the people who call this region home. Community is strong.

It was such a privilege to see you perform in the Bangalow Theatre Company's recent 'TAKEOVER' production. You were absolutely brilliant. Can you please tell us a bit about the show?

The Bangalow Theatre Company is a community-centric not-for-profit organisation that historically has presented large scale musicals. The Arts have been deeply affected by COVID and we had to think laterally about how we could make and devise work and engage with audiences in a safe and appropriate way. We dreamt up a series of vignettes that might happen in unusual places, breathing life into dormant halls, unoccupied buildings, reactivating a regional village that like all parts of Australia has been affected by closures, lockdowns and change. So TakeOver 2020 came to life. A direct and creative response to the year we are all having, sharing true stories from our community to our community through dance, film, comedy, performance art, music and drama. It has been so wonderful to make and devise and create again and to have an intimate relationship with a small audience ( only 12 people ) has been magical and uplifting.

 

Can you tell us a little about your performance? 

I conceived and composed a piece for three pianos and drums. Three upright pianos. It did seem a little ambitious but we made it happen and it was an utter thrill to play this piece alongside the two other pianists and drummer. I called it Unprecedented Variations on a theme of Catharsis and it was written when we were about to emerge from lockdown. I was also involved in a piece called “Too much Space” written by Joel Cooper and myself which was a powerful duet about relationships under duress during this time.

Are there plans to tour the show around? 

There’s lots of energy and buzz around the concept of TakeOver. Taking theatre to the streets of other regional towns would be amazing and is a COVID friendly way to access audiences. It certainly has legs. I have no doubt the project will have future iterations. Watch this space!

How long have you been with the Theatre Company? 

I was involved in the very first production presented by the Bangalow Theatre Company 5 years ago, the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.” It was an absolute hoot and last year I worked as the vocal coach for the musical Calamity Jane. 

Tell us a bit about the Shire Choir

Shire Choir is a pop-up community-led choir of humans. In 90 minutes we learn a pop or rock song in 3 part harmony and then sing it out loud and perform it to ourselves. It is an enormous amount of fun to use our voices and for people who feel shame around their voice or who are uncertain about singing in public, it is so affirming seeing people rise up and be surprised by the power of the human voice. Singing collectively is something humans have done for generations. I am a passionate advocate that singing is our birthright. We all own a voice and as a way to express ourselves it is absolutely vital to use it. 

What does a normal day look like for you?

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a ‘normal’ day! I’m very spontaneous and impetuous and I follow the mood or grab the moment. I have two energetic boys and a partner that assist with finding a ‘routine’ but a regular day would involve facilitating a singing circle, teaching vocal confidence, piano, guitar and songwriting to my individual students, possibly rehearsing a new piece or doing a recording session in the studio. And squeezing in a walk at the beach!

 

What is the best bit about living in this incredible part of the world?

I feel really fortunate to call this area home. It’s the beaches and big skies and space and proximity to beautiful bush walks and national parks that are incredible while not having to forgo good coffee, amazing food and artistic and cultural experiences.

 

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Favourite places for:

  • best coffee: Sparrow. Bangalow or Byron. Consistent and excellent coffee.

  • delicious food: Harvest. The restaurant and the deli. It’s my go-to for treats like Ortiz anchovies 9 I never knew anchovies could be so divine) and cheese and fresh blackened charcoal bread. There’s always something moorish to indulge in!

  • a few wines: If I’m in Byron, Barrio is always buzzing. Luna Wine shop has some awesome wines, I always expand my knowledge after stopping in. The Bangalow Pub is always friendly and fun.

  • fresh produce: There’s the farmers markets of course, however, my own street is colloquially called ‘Fruit Salad Way’ as it has an abundance of street stalls selling everything from honey, eggs, citrus, pumpkins, coffee, nuts and seasonal vegies. I love being able to ride my bike, connect with neighbours and feel like I’m doing my bit to be sustainable and support local growers. We have our very own red gingham-curtained shed where we sell avocados and kiwi fruits and it feels like a positive way to connect on our street.

  • art: Arts Northern Rivers always has current exhibition listings and I like the North Coast Mud Trail where ceramicists and potters open up their studios. The Lismore Regional Gallery always has something visually juicy to experience. Ninbella in Bangalow always has something eye catching and hangs art from local and Aboriginal artists.

  • live music: I’m fond of house concerts and smaller live music events. We haven’t had opportunity recently to engage with live music but my weekly outside singing circle always leaves me zinging and resonant and connected to the birds!

  • best sunset spot: The Byron lighthouse as the sun drops behind Wollumbin (Mt Warning); or watching the red light glint and fade between the gums at my own fire pit.

  • somewhere to shop: Queen Mabs, main street in Bangalow. This shop is wonderful. Beautifully hand made clothing, fabulous head scarves ( I’m a massive fan of these) and a huge collection of hats and jewellery. It’s a creative space, everything is bespoke and original and I sometimes feel I’ve stepped back in time to the 1920s in Paris when I’m in there… Also the Bangalow Rug Shop. This shop is special, Ann and Milton have a wealth of knowledge and the experience of looking at rugs made by hand from around the world is unique.

  • taking friends from out of town: Always to the lighthouse to see dolphins and whales ( May-August), Harvest for great food and service, Sparrow to fuel up on good coffee, yum cha at Red Ginger for a quick snack.

Are there any other Bangalow secrets you can share? 

The A and I Hall is an historic hall that has hosted so many concerts and events. 

 

Are there any other local creatives who inspire you here? 

There are so many! This area is overflowing with entrepreneurial spirited creators. A recent study stated that Bangalow has one of the highest numbers of entrepreneurs outside of a city in the whole country. I love bumping into musicians, theatre practitioners, visual artists, dancers and writers. 

 

Where are you dreaming of travelling to next? 

Svaneti, Georgia. This was a trip that had to be canceled due to COVID. I was going to attend a singing workshop high in the mountains, learning ancient polyphonic songs. And after that, I’m itching to get to Hydra and other Greek Islands.

 

Window or aisle seat? 

Window all the way. 

 

What 3 things are always in your suitcase? 

Rose spritz, I don’t go anywhere without a rose spray.

Eye mask.

A frock. 

Are you more a hotel or an Airbnb kind of girl? 

Airbnb. 

Who or what is inspiring you right now? 

Canadian writer and motivational speaker Danielle La Porte; performance artist Marina Abramovic; and our garden in spring  - the bees are busy!

What is on your stereo? 

Indigo Girls, their harmonies are extraordinary. Gang of Youths and Ludovico Einaudi.

Words you live by… 

Be kind. Always.

Don’t leave the house without lipstick. 

Ask for guidance. 

All things must pass.​

Images:

Kurt Petersen, Kate Holmes, and Eben McCrimmon.

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