Out To Lunch Digest: Part 3 – Alana Henderson & Jarlath Henderson

Out To Lunch Digest: Part 3

Alana Henderson & Jarlath Henderson

Cara Gibney

“Oh never court a wee girl with a dark and a roving eye” sang Jarlath Henderson in his rendition of “Courting Is A Pleasure”. His voice was slightly clipped, traditional, singing folk in old form. His sister Alana Henderson was accompanying on cello. The duo was performing a weekend afternoon gig in a dim-lit Black Box for Out To Lunch festival. “I’m not sure whether to say good night or good evening” Jarlath had told us at the start of the gig. The candles and the dark make it easy to forget time in these afternoon shows.

Alana Henderson is a singer-songwriter and cellist not too long returned from touring the globe with Hozier.  Using a unique blend of folk, poetry, classical and pop, sung to the accompaniment of her own cello, she was a Hot Press ‘One To Watch’ in 2013 and released her self-writ EP Wax and Wane the same year. The eight-track Windfall, her own contemporary take on traditional songs from the North of Ireland was released in 2014.

Brother Jarlath meanwhile won the BBC Young Folk Award back in 2003. A multi-instrumentalist particularly renowned for Uilleann pipes and whistles, he released his debut solo album Hearts Broken, Heads Turned last year – a life-long stash of reworked folk songs from Ireland and the UK. He has worked with luminaries including Lau and Capercaillie, and is two albums into a mighty collaboration with Scottish piper and whistle player Ross Ainslie.

“Courting Is A Pleasure” was from Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, as was “Sweet Lemany”, the latter of which ignited sibling sparring during its introduction with their different ideas on what the song title meant. (Jarlath’s Bandcamp explains: “Lemany is said to be a term of endearment, used to woo one’s lover on Leman day, the beginning of the annual marriage period.) Still, the song overtook the title and the sparring. With opening bars echoing in doubles, then the cello washing over it. Jarlath’s voice was softer, longer, with Alana’s harmonies taking even more weight off it.

Alana’s self-penned songs were heavy with the art of surviving slings and arrows. The lessons learned, the proud scars. And while Jarlath gave sparse harmony, Alana plucked the cello like a light plodding path through “Museum Of Thought.” The room was motionless, not prepared to miss a word.

“But she gets the learning of lessons I taught
And she gets to walk through gates that I wrought
And I’ve got the key to the Museum of Thought
That no one but us ever entered”

She slung a ukulele over her shoulder smiling. “This is not the cello” she told us introducing “Byzantine Blues,” a song she wrote while touring. “This has some ooohhs” she warned of expected audience participation, and something strange happened. As the song progressed she gave us our cue. “This is your part” she said to a quiet Belfast afternoon audience, and while Jarlath was creating a background hum from his guitar, we took Alana at her word. We backed her up, we knew where to sing, we were waiting for the next. It was from the floor to the stage and right back, and it was easy and it worked, eventually becoming spontaneous. I’ve seen international old-hands fail at that task. At bringing on board a shy, sober, Belfast crowd. Seems the Hendersons have that one down pat.

Not fans of the false encore they stayed on stage for their final song “The Parting Glass.” They ended a cappella, as they had started. Simple, unadorned and note perfect. “So fill to me the parting glass/Good night and joy be with you all.” We could officially stop holding our breath.

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