Country singer off to Aus

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 07:52 21/01/2013
Matthew McNeilly
Abby Jones
After recognition: Blenheim country singer Matthew McNeilly and his girlfriend Amelia Richards from Australia, are planning to make a career out of country music together

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Blenheim country singer Matthew McNeilly is on his way to the biggest country music festival in the southern hemisphere, in the hope he and his Australian girlfriend Amelia Richards can launch a country music career together.

McNeilly, 24, and Richards, 19, are performing a series of duets during eight gigs together at the annual Tamworth Country Music Festival in New South Wales.

The 10-day festival, which began on Friday and ends this Sunday, attracts more than 55,000 people and is host to the Golden Guitar Awards, buskers and a variety of country music artists.

Performing at the festival was all about exposure and getting their names "out there", said McNeilly, who is taking part in the event for the first time.

He planned to move to Sydney in March to be with his girlfriend, who already had a good following as a solo artist there.

"Sydney is also quite a buzzy place for country music," he said.

Despite the big move to a city brimming with opportunities in the music scene, McNeilly was happy to stay as an independent artist, with enough money coming in to get by.

McNeilly released his independent debut album, From the Heart, recorded at Hear No Evil Studios in Hammerichs Rd, at the beginning of last year and has sold about 200 albums.

"People have a misconception that having a music career is all about making videos, big lights and big record labels, but that's not what it's about for me," he said.

"The main thing is about being able to support yourself."

McNeilly and Richards met at the Australian Academy of Country Music in Tamworth in March last year. He had been over there on a two-week scholarship, part of his prize as overall runner-up for the 2012 New Zealand Gold Guitar Awards in Gore.

"She's the most beautiful girl I've ever met," he said.

McNeilly, who began singing at the age of 4 and has been a Blenheim Country Music Club member for 20 years, holds a host of other titles and accolades from various country music awards and competitions around the country.

His next step, following a brief visit home from Australia, will come in March when he moves to Sydney.

"I'm nervous, but I'm extremely excited," he said.

"It's sort of the next step for my career and for me personally.

"There's going to be a few tears at the airport on mum's behalf," he said.

Even though he hasn't officially left, he's already looking back on the place he calls home with fondness.

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McNeilly hopes to return to contest the Gold Guitar Awards later this year.

- The Marlborough Express

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