The Henry Girls: sisters Joleen, Karen and Lorna McLaughlin, launch their new album in An Grianán Theatre on March 10th.
Over the last ten years, Donegal sisters, The Henry Girls, have established themselves as one of the best-known musical acts to come out of the county.
The McLaughlin sisters are well-known faces at venues around Ireland and in recent years their harmonies, musical diversity and on-stage charm has seen them appeal to audiences in the US and mainland Europe.
Musically they have made a niche for themselves - somewhere between Irish traditional, folk and roots - and they have become unofficial ambassadors for the county.
They have just released their sixth album, Far Beyond the Stars, and the Inishowen sisters have found a formula very close to home for recording albums.
From a townland close to Malin, perched on the edge of the scenic Trawbega Bay, Karen, Lorna and Joleen have recorded their last two albums in the home of their two aunts, just down the road from their family home.
It’s an approach they find more relaxed than being locked away in a studio.
Producer Calum Malcolm - who has worked with The Blue Nile, Deacon Blue, Mark Knopfler, and Simple Minds - produced the album again, having made their last record in the very same way.
“We love it that we did it there as it is just so much easier,” Karen said. “Calum was the one who said he was happy to come to come over and it’s easier, you can get on with your daily lives, be at home and have the kids around. Plus the musicians he wanted to work with, Liam Bradley and Nicky Scott, were here. It’s very relaxed, it’s just easier to manage.”
A lot of the same musicians have been used as last time, such as Ted Ponsonby from Letterkenny and Denise Boyle from Glenties, as the band surrounded themselves with familiar faces.
The writing process is collaborative between the sisters, with everybody contributing to each song, Karen says. “We try to make them all our own so they all have our sound. With practice, we're still trying to gain confidence with song writing, but it has been getting easier. We all have ideas and then we come together for a few days, but it is definitely a collaborative thing.”
The collaboration goes back more than 15 years and started when Lorna and Karen went to Australia together and began busking and playing in pubs.
When they returned, Joleen, who was finishing school, became involved.
In recent years the band have found a strong interest for their music in Europe, especially Germany, and have been embarking on regular tours. This year will see them take on two tours of Germany as well as visits to Austria, the Netherlands and the UK, along with a host of gigs in Ireland.
“There’s a bigger market in certain parts of Europe. We first went to Germany in 2012, but when we first went it was very much that people were looking for Irish music. We presented what we do and we have been working there since. We fall into a different market as it is not Irish music as such.”
Touring is a large part of life for the band now. Their approach in Europe is to drive themselves around between the venues, the car often becoming an impromptu rehearsal space as they fine tune the harmonies that have helped earn them such a wide fanbase.
“Touring is fine. We all know each other so well and we are all getting used to it more as well. We use the car a lot as a practice room. We use it as a chance to catch up.”
The combination of keyboard, harp and fiddle with three-part harmonies, and the blends of different styles, has proved a successful combination.
An interesting side project has been their performance of a selection of songs by The Boswell Sisters, three sisters from New Orleans who recorded and performed in the US in the 1920s and ‘30s.
The band will be performing the songs during the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival in April and at the Earagail Arts Festival in July, accompanied by a group of some of the best local musicians in the north west.
“Jolene has been a fan of theirs for a long time, she has been listening to the music and writing out their music. We have been hoping for some time to get a chance to learn the songs. We had a quiet period and we got a chance to do it with a group of great local musicians at a small gig in Bennigan's in Derry. It’s really good fun, it’s a lot of learning, but it’s fun.”
Next week will see the sisters launch the new album at An Grianán Theatre, which has become a regular event when they finish an album.
“Theatre wise An Grianán is just so lovely and they are great to work with and we really enjoy it. We have done so many things there down through the years. This will be our third album launch there and they have always been great, lively nights.”
The Henry Girls launch their new album, Far Beyond The Stars, on March 10th in An Grianán Theatre, Letterkenny.