Work Hard

Country artist Hayley McKay on cracking America

As well as making waves on both sides of the pond (and beyond), Hayley runs local music for wellbeing workshops in Darlington.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 29.07.2023

It’s not often you hear comparisons drawn to icons like Joni Mitchell, Eva Cassidy and LeAnn Rimes with any real conviction these days, but it seems country artist Hayley McKay is the real thing.

Already making waves on both sides of the pond (and beyond), the North East-based singer/songwriter has laid claim to a swathe of industry awards, performance slots at festivals like Glastonbury, co-writing offers and even an appearance on a film soundtrack – and she hasn’t released her first album yet.

We caught up with Hayley to find out about a childhood spent singing to superstars, her music for wellbeing initiatives in the local community, and what she’s got planned for her next trip to the States.


Can you remember your first performance?

Yes, my very first professional performance was playing a young Marylin Monroe at the age of 8 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. My parents have always been super supportive, and I went to a brilliant theatre school every Saturday called Theatretrain.

Mum used to be a hairstylist in London and I used to go to work with her and watch. Sometimes I’d end up singing for celebrities and models. I remember Mum doing Sophie Ellis Bexter’s hair while she was number one in the charts and I would ask her for advice. I loved the buzz of performing arts and the people in that world were always so bubbly and creative.

When did you move to the North East?

We moved north when I was going into Year 5 and I started Stagecoach Performing Arts. Over the years, I would enter competitions and I was invited to perform at the amazing Sunday For Sammy at Newcastle City Hall after receiving a grant to record an EP when I was 17.

Fast forward a few years and, after college, I won a national talent competition which funded a year of studies. I decided to go to Brighton Institute of Modern Music. I then went to Access to Music in London where one of my classmates was Jess Glynne. During my studies, I was in an electro-pop duo (which I loved) and I was a singing waitress part-time, which funded my time in London.

I then moved back up north and started teaching singing lessons and started to get out there and gig!

And you’ve had a busy time since!

Over the last 10 years, I’ve supported artists including Tom Jones, Martha Reeves, Scouting For Girls and Albert Lee, and have sang at some great festivals – Glastonbury, Hardwick Live, Lindisfarne Festival, Country to Country Festival at the O2 Arena.

I’ve also sung on the North East-based film Harrigan, and I won UK Entertainer of the Year at The Hot Country TV Awards in Ireland.


How would you describe your musical style? 

I’m a singer/songwriter with Americana/country flavours and a soulful, British feel.


When did you first realise you had a talent for music? 

I’ve just always loved singing. When people ask you to sing at their weddings and events, it’s a real honour. I think when my songs started to pick up awards, I gained more confidence in my song writing.

Who would you say are some of your biggest musical influences?

Dolly Parton, Bruce Springsteen, Kate Bush, Amy Macdonald, Olivia Newton-John – these have all always been amazing artists to me.


As well as performing, you run music wellbeing sessions within your local community. Why are these important to you?

I love helping others and my vehicle is music. I’m currently running adult music wellbeing sessions at The Forum Music Studios in Darlington. We do a mixture of singing, song writing and jamming on different instruments. It’s a great opportunity to socialise and try new things.

One of the participants is in his 80s and used to be a drummer in bands in the North East. He hasn’t played drums in 50 years and now he is again! I shed a little happy tear when I saw his face light up when he first played for everyone.

I also run music sessions for early years children and teenagers. It’s a great therapy and can help so much with young people’s mental health.

What would you say the power of music can be to our overall sense of happiness?

Music is a great leveller to bring people together from all backgrounds, ages and nationalities. It lifts your mood and can reduce anxiety and stress. Songs can motivate you and make you feel happy.

You released your new single, Homemade Show, earlier this year – is a new album on the cards?

Well, I’ve been co-writing with The Dunwells and have some new singles that I’m so excited to share this year. One of them is a cover of a Seekers song, ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’. I’m also currently working on a new single called ‘Saviour on a Hill’ and I absolutely love it.


What advice would you give other musicians in the North East?

To enjoy the journey. Chat to people, smile and be nice! Try not to compare yourself to others on social media, just keep focused on what you’re doing.

Where’s your dream gig? 

To perform at The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.


Who would you most like to duet with? 

Dolly Parton.


What album could you listen to on repeat forever? 

Amy Macdonald, This Is The Life.


Who’s another North East musician we should look out for? 

David Neil Crabtree and Chris Davison.

What song would you really like to cover? 

‘Get Here’ by Oleta Adams.


What’s one song you wish you’d written yourself? 

‘I Will Always Love You’.


What’s your ultimate career ambition? 

To get some of my songs used on Hollywood films and act/sing in some.


Where can we next see you play live? 

I’m actually heading out to America next week, where I’ll be playing at the International Singer Songwriter Awards in Atlanta. Then I’ve got some intimate North East dates in the diary for October, including at The Georgian Theatre in Richmond and St George’s in Hartlepool.

Your trip to the USA sounds exciting – what are your plans?

It’s going to be a big music adventure! I wrote a song called ‘Wild West’ a few years ago and it was selected as International Single Song of the Year at the International Singer Songwriter Awards. There are over 22 countries and thousands of entrants, so I’m really grateful.

I couldn’t go last year, but this year I’ve been invited to perform at the awards in Atlanta and I’ll also be a judge for the category. I’m planning on heading down to Nashville while I’m over there too – I’ve got some co-writing sessions and some singer-songwriter rounds lined up to perform at.


Then what’s next for you? 

Once I’m in the UK again I’ll be back to recording , releasing and more gigs!

To find out more about Hayley’s music and to see all her upcoming gigs, visit her website 

You can also follow Hayley on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram

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