Irish Mythen comfortably mingles with a cozy crowd numbering just over 30 gathered on a Friday night at the Trailside Café in Mount Stewart.
Most of her audience knows what is in store when the Irishwoman that stands a mere five feet tall makes her way up on to the corner stage armed with guitar and glass of beer.
Most here have heard Mythen, dressed this night in blue jeans, long-sleeved shirt rolled up to the elbows, and ‘’scruffy boots’’ she’s certain would mortify her mother, belt out tunes with her powerhouse singing voice.
Quickly, the female singer with shortly cropped but thick hair and modestly tattooed arms is both a sight — and sound — to behold.
With Joe Cocker-like animation, her eyes are tightly shut and her face is etched with intense emotion as she lets loose on one song after another, all the while strumming her guitar with gusto.
She seems, more than a few times during her spirited show, to push her vocal chords close to the limit, most notably in a rousing a cappella version of the famous Irish song The Old Triangle.
To keep her pipes primed after heavy use, she turns to a cup of tea, gargling with apple cider vinegar and 20 minutes or so of vocal exercises.
Her growing number of fans that have seen her play on P.E.I. at The Old Triangle in Charlottetown, the Trailside Café and during the Festival of Small Halls come not only to hear Mythen sing but to listen to her banter.
She engages effortlessly with audiences of all ages and walks of life with amusing anecdotes as well as playful and even edgy exchanges.
“It’s the art of reading the crowd,’’ she explains.
“The room always feeds you,’’ she adds.
“I like to look for the person who maybe came here because his girlfriend wanted to...that’s the person who I want to have to go out (after the show) and go ‘wow.’’’
The day Mythen goes through the motions while performing, she stresses, is the day the singer packs up her guitar.
“If I don’t leave everything on stage, I’m not happy with what I’ve done,’’ she says.
For Mythen, her music sees her touring eight to 10 months a year. This summer has been jam packed with several festivals in P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario with other gigs worked in along the way.
She also has her fifth recording set for release in the next few weeks (check Back Alley Music in Charlottetown), following her successful second Canadian album called Open Here, a recording nominated for Roots Album of the Year at the 2012 East Coast Music Awards.
Born Jane Irish Theres Monica Bernadette Mythen in County Wexford, Ireland, Mythen says she was set on pursuing a music career following her first gig at age 15 at the Al Ain Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.
That was about the time the then athletic teen saw her sporting days, in which she had played both soccer and squash at the national level, crash to a halt when injured after wiping out a motorcycle with two passengers on board.
The youngest of three to Mary and Pat Mythen — her father spent 25 years in engineering with Ireland’s national airline — she taught herself how to play guitar on a Yamaha that her mother bought her.
Growing up, she was not allowed to listen to the music that her sister and brother — four and five years older respectively — would play: Depeche Mode, Wham! and the like.
“So I got stuck with my parents’ music which I thought was terrible at the time but it was Dylan. It was Makem & Clancy. It was Joan Baez.’’
Mythen went to the “original rock school’’ in Ballyfermot, Dublin, which proved to be nothing short of an amazing, invaluable program, she gushes.
At the rock school, she learned the business and performance side of being a musician.
Yet still to this day, she cannot read or write music. Remarkably, all her playing and songwriting is done by ear.
“I do believe I was meant to do this,’’ she says of being a musician.
“Sometimes I giggle and I say I have no business doing this. I haven’t put in 10 years of studying how to read or write charts.’’
Mythen has gone on to play in Europe, Australia, the Middle East and the UK working with The Dubliners and The Pogues along the way.
A tattoo on her left arm records in Roman numerals the date June 6, 2006, marking when she first came to Canada to play the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso, N.S. A tattoo on her right arm is of her guardian angel.
Mythen has encountered some push back being a gay musician, including a promoter that once said to her face “Christ another k.d. lang with short hair’’, not to mention people coming up after a gig shouting out derogatory remarks.
She doesn’t shy away from the subject or make any effort to conceal her sexuality. She has given talks in colleges and universities about same sex couples and the challenges of being gay in the music business.
“I’ve come up against people that say ‘I’m struggling here. I’m a devout religious person and I don’t believe what you are doing is right but I love your music.’ And I go ‘well, God gave me the voice. God gave me love in my heart. And God gave me my partner.’’
Mythen and her girlfriend Ali Frye, a veterinarian student at the AVC, share a house in Charlottetown with a shepherd collie named Sam, a miniature Dachshund called Dyson and Hannah the cat. The pair love the outdoors, hiking with the dogs, camping and kayaking.
“Ali and I have a very normal, boring relationship just as miserable as straight people,’’ quips Mythen before turning serious and grateful.
“I feel at a blessed time in my life,’’ she says.
“I’m writing better than I ever had. I’m in a committed, sound and loving relationship...I can one hundred per cent say I’ve never been happier in my life.’’
Snapshot of Irish Mythen
— She went to boarding school in St. Columba’s College in Dublin where she and her peers looked like “little Harry Potters’’ in their gowns.
— She remembers well the first song she ever wrote. It was called Tell Me. She says it was dreadful.
— She has shared the stage with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot and Emmylou Harris.
— A big, burly man once approached her after a show. The intimidating fellow told Mythen: “I haven’t talked to my dad in 13 years. I heard your father song. Called him. Thanks.’’
— Her drink of choice is Guinness.
— While working for a store in London, England buying and selling fine wines, she did business with Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood for his Harrington Club.
— She calls her latest recording, set for release next month, her finest, most personal work to date. It is loaded with fine Island talent.
— Check out her music and upcoming gigs at www.irishmythen.com.