Tag Archives: candid cafe

Alicia Montplaisir: fairy spirit and singer-songwriter

20 Apr

Everyone has a story. Canadian Alicia Montplaisir is able to perform her one-woman show, Walking My Heart Home – a mix of songs, poems and dance – at St Luke’s, West Holloway thanks to crowd funding, friends’ generosity and www.patreon.com fans. Interview by Nicola Baird.

Alicia Montplaisir performing. (c) alicia montplaisir

Alicia Montplaisir performing in February. (c) alicia montplaisir

To be honest Alicia Montplaisir’s c/v is slightly confusing. She’s a fairy from St Joseph de Sorel, a French-speaking part of Canada, who has been based in Islington since 2014. She’s also a licenced desire map facilitator (enabling her to help you find work and a purpose to your life in a manner prescribed by Danielle La Porte in the Desire Map). She’s also a singer song-songwriter based in N7.

No surprise then that when Islington Faces waited to meet Alicia at the new Barn café on Holloway Road I had no idea what to expect. Turns out that Alicia is a lovely woman. She’s wearing arty get-up, but that’s normal for London – and there’s not a hint of wings or wands.

But she’s clearly finding 10am a bit early for an interview.

“I’m not a morning person,” says Alicia sipping a freshly-squeezed orange juice (it’s Islington Faces who is mainlining black coffee). But there are several reasons for this. Often it’s because she is dealing with the severe pain caused by a chronic condition that can steal her energy. But it’s also because she sometimes works on songs at the very dead of night. Last May while rehearsing at 2am (2am!) on the public piano at St Pancras International station Alicia was recorded by a passer-by who popped it on to Time Out’s Facebook page. That clip went viral and has now been shared 172,000 times… “I was learning the Edge of Glory by Lady Gaga. It’s really hard to sing,” says Alicia who absolutely nails it in the video and is rewarded with spontaneous applause from two random passers-by and a couple of high-vis clad cleaners.

https://www.facebook.com/TimeOutLondon/videos/10152867962172405/ (May 2015)

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Throughout the interview Alicia is unable to resist singing along to the radio, whatever tune comes up from Ed Sherrin to Rock n Roll. “My mother teaches music so I started learning piano when I was five,” she explains. “I never did any grades, but every year we performed. Then I started singing at eight, and around 11 had classical lessons. I just learned every song I could and performed everywhere,” she explains. By the time she was 18 she was able to take over her mum’s students when her mum took a break to look after her unwell mother.

Although Alicia, now 28, can teach and helps finance her shows, and cover her rent, by teaching French conversation to adults and French nursery rhymes to children she is adamant that, “For me creating and performing come before teaching. I do not intend to make a career out of teaching. But who knows?”

To keep her voice in practice she’s joined the choir at St Luke’s, Vox Holloway, which is currently focusing on gospel songs for a concert in June but has recently performed original material about mental health issues at a fundraiser for Islington Mind and performed at the Barbican during the Shakespeare Weekend on 6 March in A hum about mine ears, which was based on The Tempest.

Alicia Montplaisir rehearsing on the grand piano at St Luke's West Holloway.

Alicia Montplaisir rehearsing on the grand piano at St Luke’s West Holloway.

St Luke’s plays a big role in Alicia’s life. “I’m always there,” she says – making it the natural venue for her gigs (next date to be confirmed, see how to buy tickets below). “My concert is a very personal experience. I wrote the songs and there is some poetry and some dancing. I’ve had really positive feedback. After the performance people have said how touched they were and how they related to the material – it can be very healing which I’m glad about because I share very personal stories about pain and depression and one song is about a friend who died from suicide – so I bring up health, mental health and self-care.”

That’s why Alicia asks her audience to be 16+. “It’s a 70 minute solo piece in which I explore the darkness and light of self-discovery, love and growth. I don’t want to think about filtering myself so I may or may not curse during the concert. In my mind there is an age before 18 where those topics become important, 16 seemed reasonable to me and is loosely based on maturity more than age,” she says.

The Barn Cafe at 60 Holloway Road serves breakfast all day. It's got fab rustic decor and free wifi too. Find it just opposite St Mary's Church, close to Central Library.

The Barn Cafe at 60 Holloway Road serves breakfast all day. It’s got fab rustic decor and free wifi. Find it opposite St Mary’s Church, close to Central Library.

What does Alicia Montplaisir like doing in Islington?
Islington has a similar vibe to where I lived in Montreal for eight years, in the north east of the city.

  • Candid Café: A personal favourite when it comes to meeting friends in the afternoon or evenings. It opens at noon which suits me quite well! I love their sandwiches, the decoration and they usually play good music
  • The Barn Café, 60 Holloway Road: A new addition to my regular spots. They serve brunch all day which is an absolute joy when it comes to having breakfast around 3pm
  • St Luke’s church, Hillmarton Road: This is a second home. From dancing 5Rhythms to singing in Vox Holloway, I am also a member of the congregation. I regularly attend the Sunday service and have volunteered for the homeless night shelter during the winter
  • I know it’s just on the other side of the line but St Pancras International will always have a special place in my heart. All nighters playing piano in the station and meeting strangers from all over the world. It’s simply magic.

More about fairies
“Three years ago someone gave me a Tarot deck made of fairies painted by Brian Froud and that’s the way I was introduced,” explains Alicia who, when prompted, describes herself as a lone fairy, rather than a group-joining-fairy. “We have the material world with chairs and tables, but there’s a certain level of magic that you may not feel. So if someone says ‘Do you think fairies are real?’ It makes me laugh…” And then Alicia starts laughing and it is unclear whether she’s pulling my leg or whether it’s blindingly obvious that the room is full of fairies playing hide and seek.

There’s a good chance it might be the latter as Alicia adds cheerfully: “Fairies are just laughing at you. They pop in and out of nowhere. My fairy godmother will appear out of nowhere and then disappear saying ‘I’m off’. And if you ask ‘What kind of fairy are you’ a fairy Is likely to say ‘I’m not telling!’”

Like so many artists making a name for themselves Alicia is having to put up with a lot – she rents a shared house, and to save money lives in a shared room. “We each have a bed,” she says “and work around each other’s schedule in the morning.” She’s also doing all sorts of odd jobs including kids’ parties and French teaching, despite her poor health, to enable her to work on her songs and show. But there’s no hint of irritation at facing these challenges. Instead Alicia says, “ I’m learning the ropes of how to develop patron, thanks to crowd funding supported by her friends’ generosity and www.patreon.com where people pledge to support what I do. But I am very lucky and have got wonderful friends who sometimes give me extra money.”

Alicia Montplaisir may work on a financial shoestring but it’s one clearly brightened by fairy dust and her own amazing voice. Do go and like her Facebook page and, if you can, go along to the next show she holds at St Luke’s.

Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you.

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook or join the Facebook group. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right) or follow me on twitter @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or Meet Islingtonians to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola



Hannah Kalmanowitz: Stuart Low Trust manager

27 Aug

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. Does living somewhere for decades give you a better connection with the place? Does it make you want to do more for it, or less? Hannah Kalmanowitz, who has lived in Islington for 37 years says it’s made her want to do as much good as she can where she lives. That’s why she’s so pleased to be running the Islington-based Stuart Low Trust, which provides events and support for Islington people with mental health issues. Interview by Nicola Baird

Hannah Kalmanowitz: xxx. Photo by XX.

Hannah Kalmanowitz: photographed by her partner, Tony. It was taken in June 2014 on holiday in Nice, France. “I’m standing in front of a Marc Chagall* painting. Marc’s family orginated from the same Russian shtetl as my father’s side of the family (now in Belarus), called Vitebsk which I have visited with close family.

Hannah was 17 when she moved to a basement flat in Islington in 1977, rented from her friend, the costume and theatre set designer Alistair Livingstone while he was overseas. “I was really happy living there,” says Hannah thinking back to those teen days of freedom. “I was working in the theatre – after doing a foundation course at St Martin’s school of art – and had his cats to look after.”

Settling in Islington wasn’t a vast geographical move. She’d been born in Stamford Hill and brought up in Southgate, but her family were initially apprehensive about her taking on the Oakley Road, N1 address in “rough” Islington. “The rent was cheap, only £8 a week, so they agreed it was an adventure,” says Hannah exuding calm – you can see she’d have made a good case to her parents all those years ago.

Hannah’s a lovely person to meet: someone who has spent years in the theatre (her real high point was working with the original Cats cast), but then went back to university to do a Psychology degree at UCL in the late 1980s. She then worked for Islington council, did some counselling courses and in 2002, having worked her way up since joining the organisation in 1995 became director of the Immune Development Trust*(later known as Complementary Health Trust) which offered complementary therapies for people with HIV, cancer, MS and lupus.

She’s lived all round Islington – even meeting her partner, Tony, at a dinner party held at the vintage specialist shop Past Caring* on 76 Essex Road.

“I’ve lived in Islington a long time – I feel really fortunate – so I want to give back,” explains Hannah. Recently she took a short break from full time work to “be there for my mum who had Alzheimer’s. My father had previously passed away at St Joseph’s, so I felt I wanted to give something back by working there as a part-time co-ordinator. I also helped out at their jumble sales. After mum died, and after being at St J’s for six years, I felt the rumblings of a new challenge in me and I wanted this to be local, in Islington.”

As luck would have it the Stuart Low Trust was looking for a general manager. Hannah seems immensely proud to have joined the organisation in April (2014) telling the Islington Tribune: I am so moved by the valuable work of the Stuart Low Trust. Their social therapeutic groups for vulnerable people alleviate fear, despair and social isolation”, says Hannah. “It is a lifeline in Islington, a non-judgemental, safe community, combating the above average suicide rate here. It’s helping people to gain confidence and achieve better mental health and well-being”.

Screen on the Green cinema recommended for its comfy seats.

Screen on the Green cinema recommended by Hannah Kalmanowitz for its comfy seats.

Places Hannah Kalmanowitz loves in Islington

  • I like hidden away places like Freightliners Farm, Candid Arts Trust (they have a lovely courtyard café) and the Culpeper Garden. The Stuart Low Trust has two big plots at Culpeper and on Thursday afternoons you’ll find us growing fruit and veg there. Sometimes we also cook food grown on the plots, like rhubarb or gooseberry crumble. It’s a soothing place where people make friends – you can just come for a cup of tea and to relax.

  • I love South Library on Essex Road. They are lovely, friendly people and very helpful. It’s a good source of local information.

  • I really like the Indian veggie restaurant at the end of Chapel Market but go more often to Stoke Newington Church Street for an Indian meal.

  • I like the local theatres especially the Old Red Lion, The King’s Head (where I’m hoping to see Diary of a Nobody in August) and Almeida. There are really comfy sofas at the Screen on the Green. The Union Chapel is also a lovely place to listen to serene music.

The Stuart Low Trust is well known in Islington – it was set up in 1999 in memory of a young Islington man, of the same name, who killed himself as a result of not being able to find the support he needed to help him cope with his schizophrenia.

“We work with people with mental health issues or recovering or just lonely or vulnerable people,” explains Hannah. “We have a wonderful, dedicated team of trustees and volunteers who help organise the famous Friday night events at St Mary’s community centre on Upper Street. It’s a non-judgmental space designed for when people are at their lowest ebb and when normal offices and clinical services are shut.” The Friday nights may include a health topic or self help tips, live music, or presentation, but always include a nutritious buffet meal attracting 60-100 people each week.

“We’re planning to run workshops soon on health and well being, social skills and arts and crafts,” says Hannah, “as we want to attract young people, aged between 20-40 years because there is a high incidence of suicide in this group in Islington, especially among young men.” The Stuart Low Trust hopes this will complement its established groups which include philosophy discussion, singing and gardening as well as monthly outings.


Candid Cafe, behind Angel tube, offers a calm courtyard for coffee. When Hannah did the islingtonfacesblog interview we shared delicious chocolate and coriander cake.

Family feeling
Hannah is clearly practical and rooted in place. But it turns out that Islington only defines her in part. In 1998 she changed her name by deed poll to Hannah Kalmanowitz after finding out more about her Polish heritage.

“It was my grandmother’s name,” she says, “but died out because of World War Two. Those people who’d survived had either died or they’d married and taken their husbands’ names. I went with my mum the first time to our village, Rejowiec* in Poland, where the family are from. We went to Auschwitz too [where members of her family were murdered]. It was an awful feeling, but it also felt vitally important and compelling to go back and light candles and make it clear they haven’t been forgotten.

Finding out more about those awful years enabled Hannah to get to know her living relatives – in the UK and abroad – better too. As a result she’s been back to Rejowiec a few times, and was proud when her cousins arranged for a fence to go up around the old Jewish cemetery which had been obliterated.

“Finding out about your family helps you answer ‘who am I?’. It’s about identity,” explains Hannah. Clearly the information she’s gleaned has topped up her own inner strength – it’s certainly made her an inspirational choice to run the Stuart Low Trust.

  • Stuart Low Trust is based at Office 7, Claremont, 24-27 White Lion St, London N1 9PD, tel: 020 7713 9304. See www.slt.org.uk for events, information and how to donate. Follow on twitter @stulowtrust
  • The Stuart Low Trust is a beneficiary of Islington Giving, which encourages locals to donate to local projects, see http://www.islingtongiving.org.uk/website_/ for more info.
  • This interview was done at Candid Cafe, which has a lovely outdoor courtyard and the most original interior – but you do have to climb a few floors to reach the cafe. It is rather a secret find still! Find Candid Cafe at 3 Torrens Street, EC1V 1NQ, email: office@candidarts.com Open: mon-sat 12-10pm, Sun 12-5pm. The rooms can be booked for parties or private hire. Website here.


St Martin’s School of Arts still runs foundation classes – and now it’s based in Islington at King’s Cross. Entry requirements here

Alastair Livingstone now runs a yoga studio in northern Ireland, see http://www.yogastudioireland.com/team-members/114-alistair-livingstone.html

Past Caring was at 76 Essex Road, N1, but then moved to 54 Essex Road. It’s a great shop to find fabulous vintage items including furniture, crockery and curtains. Opening times: noon-6pm (Monday- Saturday).

Rejowiec – during WW2 half the population was murdered by the Nazis.

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was described by art critic Robert Hughes as the “quintessential Jewish artist of the 20th century” Chagall said his art was “not the dream of one people but of all humanity.”

Over to you
Would you like to nominate someone to be interviewed? Or would you like to write a guest post for this blog? if the answer is yes for either please email nicolabaird.green@gmail.com

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right), @nicolabairduk

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z  index, or search by interviewee’s roles or jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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