Arts

Donegal sisters The Henry Girls show no signs of slowing down

With a new EP out and an album on the way, Donegal sister trio The Henry Girls are as busy as ever. Jenny Lee caught up with one third of the group, Lorna McLaughlin, ahead of performances in Antrim and Inishowen in the coming weeks

Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin aka The Henry Girls, so named after their grandfather Henry

MUSIC was always a way of life for the McLaughlin household in Malin, Co Donegal, where singing and playing was encouraged from an early age.

All six sisters were musical, but Karen (41), Lorna (39) and Joleen (32) made music their career, forming The Henry Girls (named after their grandfather Henry) in 2003 with their debut album Between Us.

As well as singing, the three are multi-instrumentalists playing fiddles, ukulele, banjo, guitar, harp, mandolin, piano and accordion.

Certainly not your typical Irish folk band, then; Lorna doesn’t like to defining their sound.

“You don’t want to pigeon hole yourself; you want to have a bit of freedom to do different styles. We write our own music and try to keep it fairly rootsy. There is an Irish influence for sure, as well as blue grass with the type of harmonies we do. Clannad would have been a big influence on us as well as have the Beach Boys.”

The band went professional in 2010 and since have captivated audiences around the world, having toured in America, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Austria and Britain.

They even have a record label distributing their albums in Germany and are already booked for gigs in Germany for 2018.

“Germany has always had an appreciation for Irish folk music. Bands like Clannad, Dubliners and The Wolf Tones were always popular there,” says Lorna, who studied music and ethnomusicology (the musical cultures of places and beliefs) at Queen’s University, Belfast.

 

The girls has increasingly and almost exclusively turned to their own songwriting.

“I’m a hoarder and I was looking at old set lists from about 10 years ago recently. Back then we probably only did about two original songs but now our set lists are practically all original songs. Sometimes you feel exposed whenever you are singing your own songs, but as you get older, braver, bolder and more confident, you do your own.”

The Henry Girls are known for heart-warming live performances; this certainly comes through in of one of their newest songs, Slow Down, from their recently released EP, Sketches.

Lorna says the song's calming lyrics, which include the line ‘When the storms inside your head try to take your time – slow down’, reflect the personality of its writer, younger sister Jolene.

“She’s a very chilled-out person. So many people have told us they find that song really comforting.”

Because Slow Down has been so well received the girls are considering keeping it on their forthcoming album, to be released in November.

What else can we expect? “It’s very much a work in progress but the writing we are doing at the minute is a bit more serious and contemplative, dealing with subjects such as death,” Lorna says.

The Henry Girls have a busy month coming up, beginning with Poem for a Song – an evening of lyrical texts, songs and poems in Antrim.

“We’re doing a Thomas Moore song, an old song called Satisfied Minds and a couple of sea shanties. It’s not our usual material, but beautiful.”

Later in the month they play the Galway Arts Festival and a homecoming gig in their home village of Malin as part of the Earagail Arts Festival.

The venue? “A circus tent, so we will have to get dressed up as clowns,” laughs Lorna. It promises to be a family affair as their cousin, their dad and Karen’s 13-year-old son Oscar will be taking part.

They have already collaborated with the likes of Sharon Shannon, Moya Brennan, Mary Black and Dervish, but top of Lorna’s dream list is Bruce Springsteen, whose songs Reason to Believe and If I Should Fall Behind the girls have covered.

“He’s the ultimate songwriter. His lyrics are amazing, but it’s also so melodic and lends itself so easily to harmonies.”

:: The Henry Girls will take part in Poem for a Song at The Old Courthouse, Antrim on July 1 at 8pm (antrimcommunitychoir.com) and The Village Green, Malin on July 22 at 8pm (www.eaf.ie).

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