Shelley Neville isn’t someone who can blend into the background. Her voice is distinct, her laugh totally contagious and her smile – with lipstick perfectly applied and warned to dare not dull, fade or bleed off those luscious lips –unending. The fact that Neville greets all with a booming and yet incredibly seductive; “Dah-ling!” comes as no surprise. Draped in silky gowns, one after another – twirling, spinning, arms up, then down and everywhere in between –the professionally-trained singer breaks into chest-throbbing song whenever the mood strikes. If she’s this delightful in an office building environment, then she’s truly a show-stopper on the stage.
‘True Christmas Spirit’
Neville laughs. “We’re breaking out Christmas here today,” she says as she sashays around in her shimmering red gown, one of many that will be housing the beautiful woman with the amazing voice when she takes to the stage at the Arts & Culture Centre in a few weeks time.
It’s almost time for Neville’s annual presentation of O Holy Night and she’s never been more excited or ready, she shares. “It’s a night that’s magical for me and it’s been that way since the very first one. It’s a chance for me to showcase beautiful music and hopefully get you in the real, true Christmas spirit.”
This year’s show will not disappoint. From operatic tenor David Pomeroy and singer/songwriter Cory Tetford, to Neville’s on-stage pals from Spirit of Newfoundland, Sheila Williams and Peter Halley, this is one uplifting Christmas extravaganza. But something else makes this show particularly special, and that’s the annual inclusion of her father and brother.
“My dad is a little bit of a bad arse from a rock n’ roll group back in the 60s and every year I say, ‘dad you doing the show with me this year?’ And he’ll say, ‘naw.’ Then, as it gets closer, he’ll say, ‘now, what do you think we should do this year?’ I love that.”
Her brother will be there as well, and that’s something very special.
“My brother, Johnny Neville, is exactly two years older than me. We are both born on the same day, Dec. 18. We always shared a birthday cake; half chocolate, half vanilla. I’m the chocolate. He drives in every year and plays a guitar that was my father’s guitar, one dad bought when he was 21 years old or something. He saved up for a year to buy it and it’s always a treat to have my brother there and a treat to have my father there. It’s like our little early Christmas family get together.”
But while the show is special to Neville, it’s what it has started to mean to others that really makes the difference, she says.
“It’s just a magical time and people I know say it’s part of their Christmas tradition now. It’s got rock n’ roll and it’s got Christmas songs but it’s also got those ‘moments’ and one is when I sing O Holy Night. It’s where I say Christmas is about just one night and it was a special night, it was one holy night, and everyone comes in and joins me and it’s special.”
After eight years, Neville says she thinks she has a feel for what the audience loves.
“I feel certain songs have to be there and sometimes you have to do something you’ve never done to get something you’ve never had – so there will be a couple of little surprises. There’s alway a mix of brand new things and the ones that we already know will pull on the heart strings.”
Spirit of Newfoundland
Neville begins talking about her work with Spirit of Newfoundland. How did she ever find her way into comedy?
‘I love comedy. I was trained to sing opera, but there’s just as many comedic operas as there are straight dramatic operas. My time with Spirit of Newfoundland, I’ve just had so much fun doing the comedy and I work with some of the best comedians; Sheila Williams and Peter Halley.”
Besides being funny, the three have a special bond as well. “Before our shows we all hold hands and just say, let’s get out there and have a good time ourselves and if we have a good time the audience will have a good time and it’s true. That’s our trick.”
Even the musicians behind the scenes add to the fun, like Paul “Boomer” Stamp. “Boomer, he’s back there, and as the jokes are happening I can hear him giggling like a 16 year old,” she says with a laugh.
But the shows are all about the audience, and Neville has performed in front of some of the best.
“Queen Elizabeth, George Bush; there’s no one more special than another. We’ve had some remarkable experiences though, like in Bonavista singing for the Queen. She actually came up and shook my hand and said; ‘you sang beautifully in spite of the nasty weather.’ I said, now look at me talking to the Queen!”
And that time in Labrador she performed in front of George Bush senior?
“He was just absolutely wonderful. Every night he would call his wife Barbara and their favourite song is All I Ask of You from Phantom of the Opera and he would put on the speaker phone and we would sing and he would always have that as the last song to clue things up.”
While Neville’s life is filled with comedy and laughter, there’s also sadness. She lost her mom, and that is often on her mind, she shares.
“As a performer we have a job to do and the job is to perform and to allow people to let their day settle and just be entertained. We all go through ups and downs in life and I think music is there for people to jump on the bandwagon with those having a really good time or, if something like a death in the family happens, it’s a chance for them to just release and take their mind off it. When my mother died, when Peter’s mother died, when Sheila’s mother died, it was really tough. It was tough for us to perform because your heart is just breaking for the next person and it’s hard to smile and be joyful, but we have all worked through this. You cry and you wipe it off and you do what you need to do. But having someone die that’s really close to you really adds to the artistry that I have to give because me singing has to come from a deeper love that you find from somewhere.”
Whatever she’s doing is obviously working. In 2010, Neville was awarded the Emerging Leaders Award at the National Association of Teachers conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Two years later she received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for her outstanding contributions made to Canada. Are awards important? Yes, she says, but not for the reasons you might think.
“It shows you little milestones on what you feel your work is and what it’s worth. I feel my job is to do my best so I practice every day. I still work out my voice. Those milestones remind you that the daily work that you do pays off.”
So, what’s next? Neville is busy with Spirit of Newfoundland productions, working on The Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant Ever. They are also hosting Christmas luncheon parties in the Masonic Temple. She’s also preparing to set sail on the cruise ship Norwegian Getaway. “It’s our third Rant and Roar Cruise with Universal Travel. How fun is that? Go on a cruise with 100 plus Newfoundlanders and you get fabulous little gifts in your room like peppermint nobs or a thing of Screech and activities are planned all day long. You can have a kitchen party and hear us singing and having a laugh. Everyone gets the drink-your-face-off-package and has a bit of fun, right?”
No doubt, anytime Neville is around there’s fun and smiles to be had. But there’s also an uplifting sentimental side to this songstress that’s quite touching.
“I love Christmas. I love the beauty of the season. I love when it’s magical, and I want to help make it magical for others too. That’s what O Holy Night lets me do; it allows me to be part of that magic of Christmas.”
O Holy Night takes to the Arts & Culture Centre stage Dec. 20, 21 & 22. For more visit shelleyneville.com or artsandculturecentre.com