Emily Maguire has been a huge success in the UK, touring with American greats like Don McLean and Dr Hook, as well as many other popular UK artists. Now it’s the Sunshine Coast’s turn to enjoy Emily’s ‘trademark lyric-rich songs and supremely emotive voice bathed in lush instrumentation’.

by Judy Fredriksen

Musician Emily Maguire is nestled in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland with her equally talented musician husband Christian Dunham, who coincidentally, has toured extensively with legendary guitarist Kevin Borich. 

Emily is passionate about songwriting, sharing her mantra that “music to me is all about uplifting, comforting and inspiring people”.  

Earning a merit in her first music exam at age three, it’s not surprising that Emily is an accomplished cellist, pianist, guitarist, flautist and also plays the recorder.

But success has not come easily to this spirited songstress. It took several tragedies to strip her soul bare of human drudgery, forcing her to delve deep into her torment and unexpectedly uncover her creative genius. 

A mental breakdown in her teenage years, followed by a car crash and the onset of a chronic nervous system disorder left her debilitated, in constant pain, and house-bound by age 21. Meanwhile, the rest of her friends were working or at university, all having a good time. 

With some encouragement from Christian, she taught herself to play guitar and progressed onto writing hundreds of songs in her bedroom, staring at the world outside her window.

Despite the bleak prospect this image conjures up for many of us, the circumstances were a catalyst for Emily. 

“I was just so inspired by discovering this thing that I could do … this combination of poetry and music was such a revelation to me … songwriting – that’s all I wanted to do. 

“The illness suddenly became a blessing in disguise. Even the pain didn’t matter anymore. None of it mattered, as long as I had my guitar, my pen and paper and I could be writing songs, I didn’t care that it took me 20 minutes to walk down the street on my walking sticks.”

Over the next seven years, Emily’s health made remarkable improvements and she overcame the constant pain. 

Churning out song after song, she eventually released her first album, Stranger Place, in 2004. This secured Emily a spot at The Borderline, an iconic music venue in London which has hosted countless big-name artists.

But after touring the UK with her second album, Keep Walking, Emily was launched into the international stratosphere when a fan sent a copy of her CD to BBC Radio 2 – the most popular radio station in the UK with 15 million weekly listeners. 

Radio 2 played her song, Back Home, and in no time, Don McLean, Dr Hook and other well-known singer/songwriters were all seeking out this exciting new talent to be their support act.  

Of that time, Emily says, “I loved it! I’d gone from playing to about 20 people in a church hall to playing in front of 4,000 people at the Royal Albert Hall (with Don McLean). That was one of the best nights of my life!”

Although her physical health had improved, her life continued to be plagued by breakdowns and mental episodes.  

Finally, she decided to go public about her mental illness by publishing an extraordinary book Start Over Again, a brutally honest and deeply intimate account of her experiences of dealing with bipolar disorder.

Following the publication of her book, Emily performed in mental health hospitals and day care centres in Bristol and Manchester, leaving her audience of staff, carers and patients deeply moved by her songs and inspired by her openness and willingness to share her experiences of psychosis and depression.

All the while though, she continued to produce albums, noting on the sleeve of her fifth: “I wanted to say that even in the midst of suffering there is hope, there is potential, there is even joy. That a bit of blue is sometimes a good thing: to make you think, reassess, change direction, find some freedom in this crazy world we live in.”

In 2018, her dedication towards mental illness awareness was formally recognised when she was awarded the Mogens Schou Award for Public Service and Advocacy by the International Society for Bipolar Disorders.

Emily and Christian are now happily living in the Obi Obi Valley close to Christian’s family, sharing their enormous back yard with a menagerie of goats, chickens, wallabies, hares and birdlife. 

When I ask her what advice she would have for anyone struggling with mental health issues, especially during erratic covid lockdowns, her response flows easily.

“I really think that creativity is one of the things that saves us as human beings. Having a creative outlet, doesn’t matter what it is, it might be art, craft, building, gardening … having that outlet is a way of focusing the mind and focusing that energy outwards. 

“Creative energy is very powerful – it can make you feel fulfilled. Music can be a way to express feelings that may be hard to put into words.”  

Emily is eagerly looking forward to seeing her latest music and poetry projects gain wings as she tours Eudlo, Maleny and Pomona in September with Christian and local accomplished string players, sisters Louise and Sarah King. 

If you would like to be uplifted by Emily’s soulful music, details and tickets for her Hinterland Tour 2021 are available through her website at emilymaguire.com.

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