For anyone arriving from the relatively sheltered backyard of NZ, Camden would sound like a battle cry for hopes and dreams. Twenty year-old Naomi Ludlow, better known as Ny Oh, considers Camden her stomping ground. (“I don’t leave Camden Town!”) Back in NZ for a month-long tour, she talked to Chloe Cairncross about her musical journey.
Camden is London’s grungy, experimental younger brother of Portobello Road. The latter boasts a market of international repute, hosting glimmering antiques and glistening tat, with stallholders aided by chihuahuas in dresses prancing to 1950s vinyl on the gramophone.
One leaves behind the pastel-hued houses upon entering Camden; here the buildings pop with neons and flame designs. The disenchanted youth of London make Camden their own. The streets are littered with tattooists, punks, leather-clad, bright young things. Tents with placards placed outside, brazenly advertising, Magic mushrooms, this way…
Hailing originally from Tauranga, Kiwi Camden resident Naomi Ludlow (aka Ny Oh) describes her music as “…honest, folky pop that is not trying to be anything other than it is.” This may sound light and vague, but it is accurate. The track Ny Oh off her eponymous EP is essentially an abridged version of the pretty, dreadlocked Kiwi’s life story.
After hearing about the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, based in London, Naomi saved up for two years, determined that a course of study there would be more beneficial than Year 13 in high school. She had considered other reknowned international musical cities such as Nashville or New York but, owing to having being born in the UK in 1994, the issue of visas and family connections was uncomplicated and fairly straightforward with the London option. Naomi had just turned 18 when she flew to the other side of the world to complete a years worth of study in a higher diploma in vocal performance.
For a young girl who has been singing for as long as she can talk, who sang in front of church congregations at five years old and taught herself guitar at 12, it certainly seems a justifiable decision. “It felt like the time to go, I felt ready,” Naomi confidently asserts. The diploma continued teaching her the strenuous methods of diaphragmatic breathing that had been drilled in to her at high school.
“I had a really good singing teacher in NZ. She was like a surrogate mother to me. She was really hard on me. She would stand behind me and squeeze my stomach to aid my breathing.”
At school in London everything she knew was picked apart to the nth degree. It proved to be a complicated duality of the mind to focus on all the textbook methods of performance, and on the actual performing within the moment. “It’s like they try and make you remember it all, but then you have to forget it all.”
She says she’s inspired by a whole cornucopia of music. A documentary on Brooke Fraser inspired her to write from a young age, as it looked seemingly easy. She loves John Mayer (“He’s God’s gift to music people.”), Kimbra, Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen. Being away from home made her reconnect with Kiwi artists and to realise the special hold they have over her. Bands such as Nelson outfit The New Vinyl, are a priority on her playlist. Whatever her taste in music listening however, Naomi enjoys writing happy songs.
“Its really easy to write miserable songs… my music teacher would tell me that there’s no need to make people more miserable!”
Naturally, there was the fear of not knowing anyone upon her arrival in London, but launching straight in to a course of study provided a brilliant frame for networking. Now she regularly faces the different challenge of “…figuring out who’s there to help me and who’s there just to make money out of me?”
This is understandably proving to be an obstacle in the way of finding good management. She has had a few people approach her already but says you can’t really trust a lot of people in London.
“It would be cool for me to find someone, or for them to find me and get a genuine connection.”
That’s not to say she is without support there and she waxes lyrical about her partner Alex, whom she met in London. He carries her guitar to every gig and stays for the set, despite hearing the same performance six times a week.
“He asks me, ’Have you played your guitar for two hours today? No? Well, you should go and do that.'”
On the flipside, she relates one moment that stands out as an example of London’s kind eccentricity.
“This one guy really helped me out once. He was really drunk and heard me complaining at a bar I was working at about how I wanted a vinyl player. He came in the next day with the coolest record player ever. Another guy said he had about 200 records that I could borrow at any time.”
This enforced her need to embrace all varieties and genres of music. Naomi says she generally, doesn’t get paid for gigging and maintains that you have to have a job in London, or you’ll end up homeless. “And that’s not pretty!”
Being a Kiwi seems to help on the work front though.
“At one point I was working in a greenstone store in Camden. I don’t know anything about greenstone but the manager was like, ’You’ve got a Kiwi accent. You’ve got the job!'”
She’s currently working part-time in a vegan café that’s filled with fellow musos, a fun and empathetic environment. Busking usually gets her more cash than the more conservative job but she says it requires just too much energy to do all of the time. Writing music has also proven very hard for her over the past year and a half. She has been hoping that a return to the calm of NZ will re-inspire her. After touring around NZ for a month she will return to London in June, and with a summer of music gigs in Camden ahead says that ideas have already been multiplying like they haven’t done for some time.
Naomi longs to continue busking and gigging, maybe even taking her music on tour around Europe with a few musician friends who share her particular vibe.
“I know that I will always come back to NZ, but I’ve set myself a goal that I can’t come back until I’ve achieved all I want. NZ is like my little treat at the end of it all.”
I ask if she has any advice for young people who want to embark upon similar journeys.
“Think about if it’s really something that you want to do because it’s not an easy life. Living in London and doing music and working – it’s not something that’s ultra fun all the time. But if you really want to do something, then do it, as it’s worth it for the people you meet and the things you experience.