Gemma Bradley presents Radio One's 'Introducing' show on Sunday nights.
Liam Tunney speaks to County Derry musician and radio presenter Gemma Bradley about balancing music and presenting, the pride in introducing new artists to listeners, and her continued passion for contributing to her local community.
Gemma Bradley laughs at the suggestion she appears to be loving life.
“I definitely am, I'm very lucky and fortunate to be in the position I'm in. I get to do what I love and I'm enjoying every minute of it,” she tells me.
The 24-year-old Draperstown woman has good reason to be satisfied with how things are going.
She has recently begun a stint as presenter of BBC Radio One's 'Introducing' programme, following a successful run on BBC Radio Ulster's 'Across the Line' show.
If that wasn't enough, she also found the time to release another single – 'Obsessed' – to add to her rapidly developing profile as a solo artist.
Gemma's latest single, 'Obsessed' is available to stream now.
Rather than impeding her musical career, Gemma says presenting and performing have managed to complement each other well.
“I think at the beginning, it was definitely difficult. It's like anything, when you start a new job you're out to impress,” she said.
“It's one of those things, a lot of scheduling comes into play, making sure you don't have any cross overs, but they do go hand-in-hand.
“Something I've found with presenting that's helped me in music is chatting on stage. It's given me so much more confidence to talk about performances and things like that.
“Before I started presenting, I was terrified. It's really helped me grow my confidence so things like that go hand-in-hand.”
MASKED SINGER: Gemma on her pandemic-restricted one and only visit to the Radio One studio.
Fate intervened early for Gemma. A botched audition for the violin in primary school saw her pivot into learning the guitar instead.
She also had the fortune of living in close proximity to the Glasgowbury's 'Small But Massive' studio, a creative hub in the south Derry town that punches well above its weight.
“Hubs like Glasgowbury are great, because it's a really focused place and a place for you to be free and do what you want to do creatively, without the pressures of exams and things like that,” she said.
“It's really tough for young people with those pressures on them, and not everybody is academic, sometimes they are more creative, and at times that you can be held back a wee bit.
“Hubs like that are really important to let kids and young adults express themselves.”
Her early creative investment paid off. In 2014, she took first place in the Best Youth/U18 category at the Nerve Centre's Resonate music project.
By the time her track 'Wicker Man' was catching the attention of the judges, she had already written more than ten songs and appeared in front of thousands at the Glasgowbury Festival.
The idea of becoming a radio presenter had never entered her mind.
“I'd never seen myself on radio before, I'd never considered it,” she said.
“I didn't even know it was a viable career option, because at school it's not something they push, but it was a really nice way to find something different to do.”
The producer of BBC Radio Ulster's 'Across the Line' (ATL) programme initially reached out to Gemma to see if she would be interested in speaking on air or writing some gig reviews.
At the Radio One studio with fellow presenter Clara Amfo.
She required little persuasion.
“I was definitely up for it, because ATL was one of those programmes that, when you're making music, you think you would love to get your music heard here or love to be involved,” she said.
“We had a meeting and decided what I would be interested in doing and I got the opportunity to come on for a segment called 'The Tip Sheet' where I chatted about different music tracks I was loving.
“It went well, so then I did some voice tests and got an opportunity to become a co-host with Rigsy at the time, who was fantastic.
“We got to do a live co-host from Stendhal. Cormac Neeson was on stage, so we did a bit of an interview with him and it was basically like 'The One Show' at Stendhal.
“It was really cool, and I was lucky enough then a couple of weeks later to get the good news.”
It wasn't long before the British and Irish Modern Music Institute graduate caught the ear of national radio producers.
She succeeded Huw Stephens as presenter of BBC Radio One's 'Introducing' show in November 2020, but Gemma initially had more modest ambitions.
“When I first started radio, they had a Christmas presenter idea where they would allow a couple of presenters to come on over the holidays,” she said.
“The first year I did it, I thought it was a class opportunity. One of my colleagues, Aine Cronin-McCartney, got the chance to do that and I just thought 'wow, this is amazing'.
“I thought I would work really hard and work towards putting in a demo for that, so that's what I was aiming for that year, but to be given this amazing opportunity has blown my mind.
“I'm just trying to do my best. It's still a bit mental to be honest.”
The County Derry native leads a busy life. She is also a member of X Collective, a group of creatives from around Ireland who collaborate and support each other.
“We encourage collaboration, supporting each other, and it's really good to be surrounded by so many other like-minded musicians and creatives,” she said.
“It's really exciting and really nice to be able to collaborate with different people and people you maybe wouldn't have expected to collaborate with.
“It can be a bit lonely being a solo artist, because it all falls back on you, whereas if you're in a band it's you and your mates.”
The Covid pandemic has meant Gemma has only been able to set foot in the Radio One studio once, travelling for the first time last Monday.
Although living in Belfast, she maintains strong roots at home in Draperstown, and has visited her old schools to speak to the students about her career, as well as teaching guitar at the Glasgowbury hub.
Her early life on the foothills of the Sperrins has shaped her success, and she is keen to show others living in rural areas that a career in music is an available option.
“I always have that thing of never forgetting where you come from. That usually shapes who you are as a person and lays the foundations for where you're going to go,” she said.
“For me, I had the likes of Glasgowbury and had a really supportive mum as well, she's been a huge support in everything I've done.
“I can see the kids I'm teaching enjoy it so much, there's a spark there and I know if that wasn't available to me at that age, I probably wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now.
“It's important to show that you can be from a rural area and still do these things, because a lot of those opportunities are usually offered in cities.
“There were times I had to travel for those workshops to Derry or Belfast, which was great, but if you don't have somebody to take you there, that can be really hard.
“You want to do these things, but you might not get the chance because you are from a rural area, so I think that's one of the things that is really important to me.”
At the heart of her current presenting role, as the name suggests, is introducing new music to an audience who are actively seeking it.
Her work as an artist helps her appreciate just how crucial her presenting role is.
“I love being able to give up-and-coming new artists opportunities to get their tracks heard on the radio, because I'm an artist myself, and I've been there,” she said.
“The first time your song gets played on the radio is a massive thing. It's one of those things you remember for the rest of your life.
“It's really nice to be a small part of their journey and be able to showcase the talent we have here and across the UK too.
“I've always been one for listening to new music and seeing who's released what and what's coming out next, so to be able to do that is great.”
You can listen to Gemma every Sunday night on the 'Introducing' programme at 11.00pm on BBC Radio One, or catch up any time using BBC Sounds.
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