Allison McGrath: Playing music and writing songs is like therapy for me

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Co Down singer-songwriter Allison McGrath

Warrenpoint musician Allison McGrath returns to this year's 7 Hills blues festival (August 9-12) in Armagh
Gail Bell

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I get up 7am, have breakfast, get ready, then muck out and feed my 25-year-old retired horse. After that, I'll grab a takeaway coffee and head to the office. I work as an accounts technician by day and musician by night. Music is my passion, but I have to pay the bills...

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? Breakfast is usually cereal or porridge with toast and tea after. On the weekends I'll treat myself to a fry-up or pancakes with fresh coffee.

Lunch? Lunch will be a salad/sandwich/soup combo.

Evening meal? This could be anything, from pasta to meat and veg or even yoghurt and fruit. If I’m dining out, I usually choose steak and my favourite restaurant locally is The Lough and Quay. If I’m heading further afield, I love to eat Greek.

3 Is nutrition important to you?

I don't take nutrition as seriously as I should and sometimes when working into the late hours I realise my brain and body are not functioning properly as I have skipped a meal. I drink lots of tea, but not enough water. After doing this Q&A, I’m going to make a conscious effort to drink a lot more water.

4 Best meal ever?

My most favourite meal is chicken tikka rogan josh, naan bread and onion bhajis with yoghurt mint sauce. The best meal I’ve ever had was on tour playing at The 7 Hills blues festival in Armagh when I dined in The Armagh City Hotel restaurant and had the most delicious meal of simple battered cod and chips. We will be performing again at this brilliant festival this month and I will be checking in here again for the grub.

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Cheesecake and chocolate. I make a delicious raspberry cheesecake and I always do it when I’m cooking for friends and family. I do treat myself to a bar of chocolate and my favourite is Galaxy.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

No, I personally don’t believe in diets. I do eat whatever I want and am lucky not to put on too much weight, but I suppose I’m quite an active person, so that gets rid of some calories.

7 Do you take health supplements?

No, I don’t feel I have to as I eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and meat – I think I’ve got the right nutritional balance.

8 How do you relax?

Playing music and writing songs, which is like therapy for me. When I’m singing, part of my brain switches off to allow the creative part to take over, allowing me to relax and de-stress. Preparing for my second album launch this month has been stressful with regards to organisation, production and administration – it can be overwhelming, especially when trying to juggle a full-time job. However, when I’m rehearsing with my band Soulantics, the stress all fades away and allows me just to enjoy this wonderful group of friends and musicians. Music is good therapy.

9 Teetotal or tipple?

As mentioned, I love my tea and could easily go months without any alcohol, especially as I’m gigging a lot at weekends and have to drive home. When I do have the odd weekend off, I love going to other artists’ gigs and treat myself to a light beer alongside Creme de menthe shots, but the latter is for heartburn – seriously.

10 Stairs or lift?

Anything more than three flights means I'll take the lift.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime?

I don't have a daily exercise regime, but looking after horses requires a lot of mucking out, along with pushing heavy wheelbarrows and general lifting. I used to be extremely fit, horse-riding a few hours per day and teaching lessons on foot, so it’s not long until I burn off a few calories. I used to attend a Zumba class which I loved and I should start it again – it’s just a matter of making time. I do make up for it with my love of dancing and always try to have a good boogie at gigs.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

My best tip is just do something daily that gets your heart pumping for at least 20 minutes. It could be vigorous cleaning or a brisk walk, but even better if you do something you enjoy.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

My fitness level now is a five – it probably was a seven when I was working with horses. I would love to get back to that level.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

Yes and yes – reiki, aromatherapy, kinesiology, shiatsu and meditation.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

While at school, I enjoyed track and field events, but not so much the horrid cross-country runs in winter along a beach. I was fairly competitive riding ponies and in fact qualified as a British Horse Society Riding Instructor.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?


17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Get out, be social. Keep active and learn to cope with stress. Most importantly, laugh loads and be mentally happy with yourself and your wonderful life.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

The Twisted Sisters, Karen and Susie Ingram (fellow musicians) and The Hallions – they are sunshine people and bring joy to all they meet and entertain.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I go to bed when I'm tired and usually sleep like a baby – that could be even during the day when permissible.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

Death comes to us all, so why worry about something you have limited control over? Don’t be harsh to your body, live for the moment, be kind and do good.

:: Allison launches her second album, At Long Last, on Saturday (August 4) at The Skylite Room, Warrenpoint. See

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