Jo Frost catches up with the Irish doctor and piper-turned-singer Jarlath Henderson as he launches his debut solo release
Seasoned folk fans might ask why the uilleann piper Jarlath Henderson needs introducing. After all, he first made his mark in 2003, becoming the youngest ever winner of the BBC’s Young Folk Awards (aged 17). So frankly he’s more like a veteran than a newcomer. However, he’s about to launch his debut solo album, Hearts Broken, Heads Turned – comprised entirely of traditional songs. “I wasn’t really wanting to rush it,” says Henderson, “it’s been over ten years since I got the Folk Award, so I was like, it’ll happen when it’s right.”
The Northern Irish musician has lived in Glasgow since 2010 and his new album involves some top-notch fellow Glaswegians – Hamish Napier, Innes Watson and Duncan Lyall, plus some sonic wizardry from adoptive Scot, Andrea Gobbi.
Known largely for his piping skills and collaborations with the Scottish piper Ross Ainslie, it comes as a surprise to hear Henderson’s highly distinctive singing voice. “I love singing but I never really sang that much at secondary school when I was playing the pipes – it was tough enough in an all-boys school to be a piper, it wasn’t exactly very cool!”
The group’s first live airing was at this year’s Celtic Connections festival in the Old Fruitmarket where Henderson and his band played the album in its entirety. The songs are largely drawn from Henderson’s Irish roots. “I guess they came from osmosis really. It’s a collection of songs that represent me musically in the last ten years… Songs I’ve literally grown up with,” he explains. And they’re a sombre lot too, with themes of darkness, despair and death predominating. “I make no exception for the sentiments of the songs, they’ve stood the test of time for over 400 years so far! These songs are closest to my heart. I think I’m just a bit of a dark soul. I guess I do a lot of light music in other bands, particularly with Ross [Ainslie]; we have a laugh. This is something different.”
This serious side to Henderson possibly results from his double life – when he’s not lugging his pipes and whistles around on tour, he’s scrubbing up and doing A&E shifts or locum work in a hospital. Juggling two completely contrasting careers as musician and doctor surely takes its toll? “I think too much of one thing would be bad for me – I like the balance,” says Henderson, explaining that the two do complement each other. “There’s a lot of time management issues, multi-tasking issues – communication skills is what it’s all about. I remember a really good lecture at uni, about ‘medicine is not a science, it’s an art.’ There are massive similarities in some respects.”
The album’s title, Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, is a quote from a book written by Dr William Osler, who died in the early 1900s. “It’s really kind of early mindfulness; Osler was basically saying live for today, don’t be walking around in bits about what happened yesterday and hoping what’s going to happen tomorrow.” This transpires to be the overriding message in the songs too – “things happen in life, we feel them and the same things have happened a hundred times before, so don’t dwell on it.” Henderson’s new singing venture may be unexpected but it’s certainly impressive and marks him out as an innovative musical talent.
DATE Jarlath Henderson and his band will play at The Old Queen’s Head, London on March 30 for the tenth anniversary of the Nest Collective
ALBUM Hearts Broken, Heads Turned will be reviewed next issue (May, #117)