Darren Doherty & The Heathen Choir

Darren Doherty and The Heathen Choir on life so far and new album

Darren Doherty is a singer/songwriter hailing from Strabane and after living in Glasgow returned home last year with the goal of recording his debut album. He achieved this, What You Do was born, and the most important thing is that he did this by himself at home in Strabane.

Darren Doherty now has a full band, ‘The Heathen Choir’, which features the very talented Lauren Bird and plans are afoot to release the follow up second album in 2018. I caught up with Darren to talk a little about what is happening in his musical world.

The inspiration for ‘The Heathen Choir’ name came whilst he was studying A-Level History of Ireland. He read a quote that described Ireland as ‘a heathen backwater at the ends of the earth’. He loved this analogy and it stayed with him for years. One of his favourite things about being a writer is the naming of his songs and albums.

The musical world of Darren Doherty is moving at pace. The band played a headline gig at The Empire Music Hall recently as part of the Gifted series of events showcasing local music. He said, “this past year has involved intense change in my life and last summer when I was imagining getting this all going, the vision at that point was headlining The Empire”.

Growing up his musical inspirations were Queen, The Police, Tom Petty and a host of alternative country singer/songwriters including John Prine and Steve Forbert. He admits to picking up a guitar because of Noel Gallagher and I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. Current influences include Ryan Adams, Frightened Rabbit and Maynard James Keenan. He also confesses to being a huge fan of my favourite band Counting Crows.

Aside from the excitement of playing an iconic venue like The Empire, I asked him which venue he’d really liked to play and he said “the Mandela Hall…….. but a sold out Mandela Hall.” He has a serious soft spot for the venue in Belfast and has happy memories of playing there a couple of times.

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On the subject of life as a musician, “I think the hardest part is maintaining a self belief”. He talked about the perils and worries of taking a good song out but that it is the “letting it seep into other areas of the profession that can be challenging”. The comparing it against other artists material, “all that hilariously mental stuff”.

Thinking about collaborations, he worked last year with Run To Earth (Omar from A Northern Light) and has been working with D.K, a Strabane hip-hop artist on a release scheduled for 2018. He admits he will basically “work with anyone who shows an interest”. As for dream collaborations it would have to be “Florence Welsh from Florence and The Machine or Alanis Morissette.”

The recording of his debut album What You Do was very much a learning process and, with the help of his good friend Omar, he got it done. He admits to doing it at his own pace and putting no pressure on himself. The follow up album is almost complete, called The Travel Companion: Volume One and is set for release at the latter end of 2018. It became a much more fleshed out album as opposed to the quiet, stripped back debut, but a lot of this is mainly down to him learning more about production.

He claims to not be the “indie-ninja of new music” if he is honest. He enjoys “going back to older records and seeing what I have unknowingly pillaged”. Recent favourites include Wildflower by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Counting Crows This Desert Life and REM’s Automatic For The People.

Things have changed for Darren Doherty in the past year and he alluded to this when he played that show in the Belfast Empire. I asked him about any superstitions he had before he went on stage. “It used to be half a bottle of white wine and a red aftershock but these days I just sing a lot, make weird mouth shapes, bounce up and down a bit and try the odd lunge”.

He was candid on stage recently about personal issues and was happy to tell us that he hadn’t had a drink in a year and was now just concentrating on the music. With the current focus on talking about personal issues, and the benefits of this, it was great that he was comfortable for him to talk about this openly and especially for him to be in a much better place now – and writing great material.

Finally I wanted to find out what his dream dinner party guest list would look like. I said he was allowed 4 and those chosen were American comedian Bill Hicks, “so everyone laughs at themselves the appropriate amount”, Miriam Margolyes, “hilarious but challenging and fierce”, Michel Roux Jr.,”who is all positivity and one hell of a cook” and last but not least his dad Marty Doherty, “because he is brilliant and would take the p*ss out of everyone”. 

Feature: Michael Ferguson | Photos: Carrie Davenport & Colm Laverty.

Darren Doherty