Elizabeth McGovern in Sadie And The Hot Heads

Sadie and thr Hotheads. Pic: Comp
Sadie and thr Hotheads. Pic: Comp
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LADY Cora, playing a guitar and singing a jazzy little folk number.

What would Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess of Grantham say? Never mind Dame Maggie Smith, what do the fans of the top-rated ITV series think when they find the star of the show has another life - fronting folk/country band Sadie and the Hot Heads.

“There’s definitely a feeling of readjustment because they were expecting something slightly different to what they get,” laughs actress Elizabeth McGovern, adding, “but I am happy to say almost 100 per cent of the time we turn it around so they leave with smiles on their faces.” McGovern and her band make their Fringe debut at George Street’s New Town Theatre, on Sunday. That her musical alter-ego comes as a surprise to many is easy to explain, the actress first came to public attention in the 1980 movie Ordinary People; earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Ragtime a year later; and in 1984, starred opposite Robert De Niro in the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America.

Many other roles followed including that of Marguerite St Just in the BBC’s Scarlet Pimpernel and most recently as Cora, Countess of Grantham, in Downton Abbey.

Her band allows her a freedom of expression that acting doesn’t, says the 52-year-old, who didn’t come to music until later in life.

“It’s something I came to as a grown up, already having had kids and settled down. Music has always been a passion for me, as it is for a lot of people, particularly when they are teenagers. But this idea that I could find a personal voice from music was something that didn’t even occur to me until I was 40.

“When it did, it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. It felt like I had been saving up life experiences for all those years just for this purpose.”

Explaining the difference between performing with her band and acting, she offers, “There’s a feeling of my own voice in there, which isn’t really present when I am acting. When I act I am trying my hardest to fulfil someone else’s vision and make people buy it.

“The thing that means the most to me about Sadie and the Hot Heads however, is the fact that it is our taste - love it or lump it. That is a liberating feeling.”

The band was formed in 2007 after McGovern took guitar lessons. Her teacher, Steve Nelson, encouraged her to write her own songs, which she did. Later, the actress teamed up with Nelson and his brother Simon and Sadie and the Hotheads were born. But don’t be mislead into thinking that Sadie refers to McGovern.

“It was originally conceived as an alter ego for myself and the band,” she explains, “The idea was that Sadie would be a persona I could inhabit to have a lot of confidence singing into a microphone, and the band, who are the most laid-back, self-effacing guys in the world, well, I though Hot Heads would give them a bit of a fiery persona.

“But it has morphed over the years into something slightly different. Sadie is now a concept that epitomises what we all have inside ourselves - our genuine amalgamation of experiences. That is the brief of our music, to be true to that and not concede to what is trendy or to try to appeal to a certain demographic. We are just going to find a way of doing what is authentic for us and hope that people come to us.”

In Edinburgh that will mean a late night trip to George Street - the show starts at 11.45pm.

“I’ll tell you what, I have not been up at 11.45 at night in 30 years,” laughs the star. “So I have no idea what that is going to be like.”

Sadie And The Hot Heads, New Town Theatre, George Street, Sunday-25 August, 11.45pm, £12, 0131-226 0000