Downton Abbey star comes to Union Chapel in Islington

Sadie and the Hotheads

Sadie and the Hotheads - Credit: Archant

Most people will know actress Elizabeth McGovern as the softly spoken Lady Cora in the globally successful TV series Downton Abbey.

Elizabeth McGovern performs the Main Stage at the Isle of Wight Festival.

Elizabeth McGovern performs the Main Stage at the Isle of Wight Festival. - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images

But few realise that the 51-year-old star is an established musician who was gigging her way around the country long before producers conceived the idea for the period drama which has helped to bring her a resurgence of fame.

Elizabeth McGovern in her role as Lady Cora in Downton Abbey.

Elizabeth McGovern in her role as Lady Cora in Downton Abbey. - Credit: ITV

All that is set to change now she is back in the spotlight. In the past year her band Sadie and the Hotheads have gone from playing near empty pubs in west London to the Isle of Wight Festival, and later this month, Islington’s Union Chapel.

The US-born star shot to fame in Robert Redford’s film Ordinary People in 1980, and went on to star in films including Milos Forman’s Ragtime, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

At the height of her Hollywood career 20 years ago she married director Simon Curtis, whose credits include My Week with Marilyn, and moved to London to bring up her children alongside occasional acting work.

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Having always had an interest in music, McGovern decided to take up guitar lessons and her teacher Steve Nelson encouraged her to write songs which were then recorded by his brother Simon.

In 2007 Sadie and the Hotheads, also now featuring Terl Bryant on drums, Lizzie Dean on backing vocals, Ron Knights on bass and Nick Lacey on piano, released their debut album.

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McGovern said: “I had always loved music as a child, but it wasn’t until I was all grown up and met the people that I’m still playing with that I ever thought that I could be a part of it myself. They inspired me, playing and singing with them.

“It wasn’t something that I ever thought I would really have the opportunity to do but when we met we just clicked, and that was it.”

Not keen on singing herself, McGovern had always intended someone else to perform her music, but with the lyrics drawing on personal experiences she was unable to find anyone to take on the responsibility.

“Singing is something that I’ve had to work hard to find the self-confidence doing, but I really love the challenge of it,” she admits.

“I wouldn’t be able to sing anybody else’s songs because I don’t have much to offer as a singer, but my songs come from me and that comes through in the voice and music.”

“And in order to get something out of it you really need to listen to the lyrics.

“It is music that addresses ordinary day-to-day life, it’s not about big heartbreaking tragedy – it’s about situations a lot of people are going through within the realms of an extremely normal life.”

One of McGovern’s favourite tracks from the band’s new album How Not to Lose Things is Drops of Rain.

The idea for it came to her while watching her daughters, now 15 and 19, at a swimming display.

She said: “It’s about the experience you feel as you are watching your kids move away and grow up – it’s a bittersweet moment.”

Although happy that the band is now getting the recognition it deserves, McGovern admits that the reaction to her crossover from such a high profile TV show to the music industry isn’t always positive.

McGovern, who is set to start filming the fourth series of Downton Abbey this month, said: “I do feel a mental resistance to it, and I completely understand it and have a lot of patience for it as I myself would have had that resistance.

“All I can ask is they listen with unadulterated ears and decide for themselves.

“I really do believe that we have something there that is original and not like anything you have ever heard before.”

n Sadie and the Hotheads play the Union Chapel in Crompton Terrace, Islington, on Sunday, February 17.

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