Review – Una Healy at Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival
It’s a somewhat different crowd tonight in the Olympic Ballroom of the Clayton Hotel to see Una Healy; some country music fans, some fans of her previous girl group The Saturdays.
Lucy Bell is the support this evening, last year’s winner of the Young Songwriter competition at the festival and also launching her new CD at this year’s festival. Lucy is a revelation – a powerful voice with an edge to it that fills what is a large room. She is an absolute joy to listen to on slower tracks such as Paris and Bittersweet Angel as well as more punchier songs like Old Romantics. Her songs are all self-penned and are well crafted with hints of folk and pop influences.
In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Una Healy. I was aware of the Saturdays as a bit of a pop phenomenon from maybe 10 years ago and was wondering (in a vaguely Spice Girls way) were we about to get Posh Spice’s solo work or Mel C? Thankfully, the latter was the case. Healy starts out with Battle Lines, from her debut album The Waiting Game, a very country rock type of number and you very quickly notice that there is a real slice of star quality about the way she carries herself on stage. Backed by Mitch (keyboards) and Joe (bass) the overall sound is understated and restrained with Healy the focus of attention.
Early on we get a tribute to the late Delores O’Riordan and Healy’s breathless delivery of Linger was very different to the fragility of O’Riordan’s voice but it worked. This sets the tone for the rest of the evening with Healy mixing and matching her own material with some interesting covers. Angel Like You is a tender ballad that speaks of loss and grief whereas her latest release In Case You Don’t Know is a very modern country song, originally recorded as a duet with Brett Young. There is a hint of some George Ezra-style guitar playing on Please Don’t Tell Me.
A cover of What If God Was One Of Us is done really well, with a thumping chorus before Healy leads us through the co-writing process and explains how she got to write with Eric Bazilian (writer of the above song) and then performs Wild Grasses, a song which they wrote together. This track shows a different side to Healy’s voice with an almost traditional Irish phrasing in places. After a brief hiatus for an inadvertent banana joke, Healy performs two songs written at ages 12 and 15, Miss You and Raider of My Sleep. These are both very delicate, simple but personal songs which bring out the warmth in Healy’s voice.
Out of nowhere, Healy offers the audience “something cheesy – but good cheese” before launching into Country Roads. This marks my first audience sing-a-long of the festival. A mention of The Saturdays brings the biggest cheer of the night and Healey sings Last Call from the album On Your Radar, the band’s third studio album. Heading towards the end of the concert, Healy sings Staring at the Moon, written for her daughter and loaded with great Oh-La-La-La-La-La choruses. This is followed by what was maybe my favourite song of the night, Stay My Love, which blends country, pop and trad but remains simple and uncomplicated. The show’s finale is the title track from her debut album The Waiting Game.
Una Healy is a very good story teller through her lyrics and she packs a lot into a one hour set. With new releases on the horizon and a well-honed live show, it’s fair to say that she has already established herself as an artist in her own right.