Simone Craddock: Australian vocalist, songwriter and actress in London
Simone Craddock is an Australian born and London based vocalist, songwriter and actress, who has performed sell-out shows at leading theatres and venues across the world. I caught up with Simone to talk about her relocation to London, her career as a leading West End actress and vocalist and her lifelong passion for music and theatre.
I asked Simone how her desire to become a performer was born and nurtured. Her answer involved chance conversations, sage advice from her father and courage to listen to her instinct.
"I was born in the small town of Esperance but we moved to Perth when I was eight. I always loved performing but I hadn’t imagined it was possible to make a living from it. I really got started because of an ex-boyfriend. I was working in a souvenir shop in Perth when he asked me, “what are you going to do with your life apart from work in a shop’ and I was like, “well…I am going to be an actress and a singer of course!”
That conversation inspired me to audition for the musical theatre course at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, but the truth is, I didn’t flourish in an institution. I was told by the Dean of WAAPA whilst training, that I was a jazz singer, but at the time I knew nothing about jazz and I was focused on wanting to be an actress.
I left WAAPA and feeling a bit lost, I rang my dad to tell him about my plans for an education degree. He said, “That’s fine if you really want to be a teacher, but do you? You have to chase your dreams while you still have the youth and energy to do so.”
Armed with that advice, I then kept hounding any lead that involved performance. I had my Mum scouring ads in papers for me and eventually, I wore down some poor agent in Sydney who eventually gave me a job singing on a cruise ship!”
Having interviewed a few performers, I was surprised by how cruise ships feature in the lives of artists and performers. In an age of flight, I love knowing that so many Australian women come to London by ship! I asked Simone how she made the transition from cruise ships to musical theatre.
"I did cruise ships for a few years. I remember sitting in internet cafes in Taiwan and Korea and just emailing any contact I could find, for a job in the UK.
My final cruise ship was based in New Orleans, America, and there I met some amazing jazz musicians whom I learnt a lot about the genre from. It was there that I realised I wanted to start my own jazz group, but my really close friends were in London and still it called to me.
Finally, I got a call from a director I knew in London, saying 'there is an agent here with an interest in you and would you like to audition for the Rat Pack?’ I couldn't get a visa sorted in time for that job but I saw it as a sign to cancel all my contracts and just make the move here, which I did!
Two weeks later, a friend got me an audition for Jesus Christ Superstar and the next day, I was rehearsing for my first UK tour with a big show. One job led to another and I more or less fell into a musical theatre career here in the UK with productions like Hello Dolly, Annie & Dirty Dancing.”
While theatre fulfilled Simone for a period time, her natural inclination towards other musical forms soon emerged. I asked Simone about her first steps into jazz.
“About ten years after my time in the States, a friend of mine from America came over to London and asked me if ‘I’d formed that jazz band yet?’ With his mentorship, I finally started my own jazz group and discovered a new passion for writing my own music which I am still doing now.
I started gigging and learning more and more about jazz and then eventually began putting on my own jazz and blues shows with great results. These include Jazz on Film, 100 Years of Ella and Birth of the Blues which I am performing again with my band at The Bulls Head in Barnes on the 6th January.
Simone now lives the creative life of a writer and performer and she is currently working on material for a new project and has an album due soon. I asked her what she was up to now.
"The Great British Songbook, which I debut on the 7th January at The Pheasantry. It’s the best way I know to celebrate my new British citizenship! There is so much brilliant British music to choose from and I am loving reinventing the classics from the Beatles & the Kinks, to Winehouse & Newly as jazz arrangements with a killer band! I’ll also be performing some originals inspired during my time here.
While Simone was lucky enough to arrive in London and land a job performing in a number one show within two weeks, she has also experienced some challenges. I asked her about the key to surviving in London as a performer and artist?
"Someone once said to me that it is the time you spend out of work as an actor that defines you as an actor. And that’s the truth. I was unemployed for three months after my initial lucky break. You have to dig deep to deal with that to start with. Then you learn that it’s part of the process, and find other things to enrich you during those periods. A lot of people who come here fall by the wayside. Of all my Australian and international friends who surrounded me here when I first arrived, only my best friend and I remain.
To survive, you need obstinance and tenacity.
"There have been many disappointments in London and it's hard to stomach those. The temptation to find something nice and easy away from the instability of performing is ever present and yet, I could never quite bring myself to quit, it’s so much a part of who I am. But when the next little creative high comes along it is exciting and thrilling again. I’m a junkie for it!”
Writing and performing music is a natural fit for Simone. With the benefit of hindsight, I wondered if her role as both writer and performer was destined from an early age.
"Growing up I listened to a lot of my parent’s music - Dad was actually in a Country & Western band when I was a little girl - and I made my stage debut at the age of four, singing along with his band. Later he and my big sisters joined a brass band and that sound has been a huge influence in my life. I love brass, especially when it swings!
I was constantly around music on both sides of my family who were populated with opera singers and both classical & jazz musicians. It’s in our blood.
I was always singing and I’ve written poetry since I was a little girl, so I suppose I was always a writer too, I just didn’t realise it until a few years ago.”
What I admired about Simone was her conviction in following her gut instinct and creating her own pathway. I wondered how she managed the pressure to label her work.
"I never tire of listening to jazz though I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into that. I don't really want to fit into a particular bracket.
Some jazz can be a bit exclusive, serious and not as accessible as mainstream music. Then, with musical theatre, you can get into a really cheesy cabaret vibe.
I am somewhere between the two worlds. I think music should be beautiful and inventive but also fun and accessible. For me, the most important thing is the connection with the audience. I want them to feel elevated by my music. I am still on a discovery process and daresay I always will be. Even today I was talking to someone about a collaboration involving breakdancing and spoken word!
I like branching out into all areas so I guess people will have to see me live and decide for themselves what I am to them!
I asked Simone what a typical London day looked like.
"Ideally, I get up quite early and do a bit of yoga and meditation and light some candles and incense. I love starting my day this way.
I went to a silent meditation retreat when I finished a recent 15-month tour and it was beautiful. All my friends laughed and predicted that I would be evicted on the first day as I’m so chatty but I loved the silence after such an intense period of work and travel. Some time alone time each day allows me to be the best version of myself.
Then I make a nice breakfast for myself and do some admin: approaching venues for gigs, promotion for gigs, writing shows, learning songs, contacting musicians and researching a subject I might be writing about at the time.
I go to a jam whenever I can because it is exciting and you meet lots of like-minded people. Most of the musicians in my band I met at jams and through this you build a network.
It is hard for me to have an average day because some days you gig, some days you don’t.
If you gig in jazz it is usually a really late finish so then you find yourself starting later in the day. Ideally though, I get up at the same time every day and try to get as much structure in my day as possible.
There is a Jim Carey quote that says 'You can fail at what you don't want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love' and this is what shapes my day."
I asked Simone how she managed the expat reality of being away from a strong family support base in Australia.
"It is really hard. I love and miss my family. They are loving, supportive and terrific company.
I think it is a calling. I don’t think anyone would choose to be away from the people they love most in the world.
Today I did a wonderful gig for the elderly for this terrific charity. At the end I sang ‘Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ so I got to the last words and I bloody cried! It came out of nowhere and it snuck up on me. This time of year, December, I get really homesick. That’s the price of having two homes, you’ll always miss someone, somewhere.
I manage by calling home regularly, living creatively, which is what I came here to do, and keeping a good network of rock solid friends close to me here. And of course, getting home to see them all whenever I can!"
London offers so much to Australian women by way of career - I asked Simone to tell me what top three things London had given her.
When I attended the citizenship ceremony I was probably only one of a few with English as a first language.
I looked around at all the different cultures and religions represented there and I wondered, how many of these people are here doing this because they have no choice? And how many people, like me, are lucky enough to have the keys to two awesome nations when some people don’t even have one country to call home at the moment.
So I am really grateful for that.
I’m lucky I have some really wonderful friends here in London. We are on a similar trajectory and we inspire and encourage each other to keep going and growing.
They have become my family away from home and I am grateful for those relationships.
Now the third. Vibrancy.
What I love about London is that there’s always something happening!
London is waiting for you to come to it, there is just music and theatre and new art forms emerging all the time. It is a huge melting pot of cultures and talent.
There is so much happening here and it is so available to you and all you have to do is get out and look for it and not even very hard. It’s a city of opportunity. It’s not always easy, but then, nothing worth having is.”
Catch Simone in Live in January, 2018
Birth of Blues on 6th January, 2018.
Book tickets here: https://tickets.thebullsheadbarnes.com/events/2018-01-06-the-simone-craddock-collective-birth-of-blues-bulls-head-barnes
Great British Songbook - 7th January, 2018
Book tickets here: https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/simone-craddock-quartet
You can follow Simone on these social links: