Dublin-based singer and songwriter, NC Grey was in studio with Ryan Tubridy this morning. Originally from London, NC – real name Patricia Olufemi – moved to Ireland in 2009, staying with her aunt in Co Carlow, something she describes as “a massive culture shock”.
“Moving from a big city to a place which, at the time, had no public transportation was a lot to take in. It was very beautiful, a lot of greenery. But it was very different. Definitely a lot less people that looked like me, in comparison to London.”
Ryan suggests that diversity wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue at the time and asks NC if that “sociological element” of things was difficult. There was a long pause. Then NC told Ryan that her aunt used to go to a church in Carlow which was mostly attended by black people and for NC that managed to “balance out the numbers”. Having spent her college years in Ireland, she discovered that London had become a nice place to visit, but it was Ireland that felt like home. So she stayed.
Then, four years ago, John, a good friend of NC’s died at a very young age. He had been one of the few people she had confided in that she fancied being a singer. His advice was: go for it.
“The worst that can happen is that you try it, it absolutely sucks and you leave it.”
She had, as Ryan put it, a mortality check. So, one Sunday after church, NC and a friend who had a home studio recorded a song she’d written, inspired by a plaque that she saw in that well-known repository of inspirational life lessons, Penneys. The plaque said, “live, laugh and love”. NC thought it was really cool, so she bought it and it inspired her song.
“I shared it and the response that she got was surprising, people genuinely liked it and I’m like, oh, ok. This might be a thing.”
While she nurtures her dream to be a full-time musician, NC works as an account strategist for Google. While at work last November, NC got a headache. The headache got worse. She had to go home and while walking away from the office, she stopped to rub her right eye.
“And I realised, I can’t see anything in my left eye. And I begin to panic.”
She was put on medication, but the pressure in her eye continued to build. Her doctor told her that her optic nerve was “about to pop”. Surgery was required. The operation alleviated the swelling, but the nerve was damaged, leaving NC without sight in her left eye.
“Your sense of depth comes from the middle of your vision. So, taking stairs was a whole new thing for me.”
The absence of depth in her vision has meant plenty of challenges for NC, from putting things down on the table too hard, to bumping into people. She started avoiding crowded places, even going to lunch at work when everybody else was finished.
“The first few weeks after the surgery, I cried myself to sleep and I cried myself awake.”
The trauma NC’s been through with her eye has left her confidence dented a little, but she’s determined to pursue her dream of being a singer-songwriter full-time.
If you’re in Dublin, you can catch her performing in the Sugar Club this Saturday night. Details on ncgrey.com. And you can hear Ryan’s full conversation with NC Grey, as well as the rest of The Ryan Tubridy Show here.
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