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SAY CELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND ; FILMS MUSIC TRAVEL FASHION MOTORING Alana and her instrument are set for stardom

June 2, 2013



REMEMBER Alana Henderson's name as you're going to be hearing it - a lot.

This young singer-songwriter from Dungannon has gigged with Nanci Griffith, guested on Ralph McLean's BBC Radio Ulster show and has been artist in residence at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. She also exhibits a touch of the Vanessa Mae and sometimes performs on her cello in hotpants.

When we met at Le Petit Ormeau cafe, where she waitresses to make extra money, she was very excited because on top of all this, Tom Robinson was about to play her debut EP Wax and Wane on his Radio 6 show.

Looking thrilled, Alana, who's 24, said: "When I heard, I was totally chuffed and started shouting and dancing round the kitchen in the house I rent just down the road. I even get a badge for my website saying Tom's played my music. It's amazing."

But entirely unsurprising, as the tall girl who plays hot cello is clearly set to be a star.

She's part of the new folk-pop scene in Belfast which is throwing up a lot of talent. And Alana is one of the brightest, producing what she describes as "Gothic folk pop, kind of folky with a twist". The twist was evident when she performed as support to the excellent Julie Fowlis on the last night of the Cathedral Quarter in the Custom House Square marquee.

She admits to having felt a bit nervous on the night. "That gig was important and I felt a bit tired and wondered whether I'd got the mix right of my own stuff and traditional music."

She needn't have worried. Her own songs like The Tower, containing killer lines like "when hindsight's review leaves you painted the foolwhen cruel to be kind feels like cruel to be cruel", unfurled perfectly next to trad numbers like Lough Erne.

Alana says she's a sucker for a good melody ("I love numbers like Old Ardboe."). Then adds with a smile she's not sure how she wrote this ultimate break-up song when she was only 19. "I'd only had one boyfriend so I suppose it was just teenage angst. But I clearly remember writing the lyric in my bedsit in a house in the Holylands," she told me

Her first musical memory was of car music. "We'd drive along the roads in Donegal on family holidays and listen to my parents' mixed CDs, people like Clannad and Altan." And numbers by country superstar Nanci Griffith, who spotted Alana in the recent Belfast Nashville festival, inviting her and two other young female musicians to play with her at the Holiday Inn gig. It was an incredible experience for Alana, who lugged her instrument onstage to help out with numbers like Tequila After Midnight.

"It was amazing to be picked out by her as I'd listened to her as a kid and knew all the words to the songs. She called us the Girls on the Run band, and Maura Kennedy, who's in her band, told me Nanci doesn't often do things like that."

Alana's beautiful singing voice is often compared to Joni Mitchell ("that's the best compliment as she's somebody I loved listening to when I was 17."). It made its presence felt early and aged four, Alana loved singing The Galway Shawl. Her mother Ann, also a bit of a musician, told her she would just burst into song.

As good luck would have it, Alana was offered a cello to play when she was nine: "Our school had a scheme where instruments were on loan, and I got the cello. When I told my dad, he got very excited and started talking about Jacqueline du Pre."

These days Alana makes beautiful music on a Chinese copy of an Italian 17th century Amati.

Alana admits: "It's a very good cello but nothing out of this world! It was around Pounds 2,500 new when I got it as an 18th birthday present from my parents.

"This might make me sound spoilt but it was really a birthday and Christmas present combined and I bought the case."

Alana not only has her family to thank for this incredible instrument, but also for her talent.

Music's in the Henderson genes, and her older brother Jarlath, a doctor in his day job, is an award-winning folkie. Although Alana trained as a lawyer, she says now that when her articles with a local law firm fell through, she was worried but also pleased. "I was almost relieved as I knew music was what I wanted to do."

Watching the video of Jarlath, Alana and friends producing her EP on YouTube shows, it's clear they take their music seriously, but enjoy it too. "It was a group of friends playing together., says Alana, who got everyone into the studio in January. "It's always difficult pinning my brother down as he's so busy but we got together in the end." The accomplished result provided an entree to the Tom Robinson gig as well as exposure on BBC Radio Ulster and elsewhere.

Image is important in this generation and Alana, who's modelled for Belfast designer Una Rodden and has done hair modelling, likes the way she can marry her enjoyment of fashion with her career. "I enjoy clothes and image and wore lacy hot pants when I went on the Ralph McLean show. I just love the way with music you can dress up when you're performing and act a bit."

In her spare time, Alana will sometimes go back to her classical roots "to prove I can still read music" and do a bit of Bach, but Eurovision passed her by. "Oh no, I didn't watch it."

The year ahead is busy, busy, busy. Alana is committed to some festivals - Celtic Connections, the Insider Festival, the Stendhal Festival at Limavady in August - and she is finishing an Arts Council project to record folk music.

Catch her enchanting brand of Gothic folk while you can. Her EP may be called Wax and Wane, but only half the title applies to her brilliant career. Huw Stephens is a fan and she's definitely on the up.


Originally published by JANE HARDY.

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