Belfast Telegraph

Q&A: Alana Henderson

The Dungannon-born singer/songwriter and cellist (25) will be adding another string to her bow when she peforms at the Open House Festival this weekend

Alana Henderson
Alana Henderson

By Joanne Savage

Tell us a bit about your childhood

I loved growing up in Dungannon. With my family being from Armagh, I feel I benefitted from a whole tradition of folk music. I went to St Patrick's Academy where there was always a really strong emphasis on drama and music. I grew up singing and surrounded by music.

What music did you listen to in your teenage bedroom and does it make you cringe now?

Well, I had the benefit of being the youngest in the family, so I was saved by my older siblings' good taste. I listened to Counting Crows and Crash Test Dummies – I've always had a thing for clever lyrics. I was a bit of a pretentious little brat, although I will confess to going through a serious ABBA phase.

Did you always harbour ambitions of becoming a recording artist?

Not really. I wanted to be a vet, then a lawyer, then an actor – I even did drama at A-Level and so wanted to go to drama school. But in the end I was persuaded to do law at Queen's University. Law was incredibly dry, quite boring and I really began to feel frustrated and so I started songwriting. Ironically, it was studying law that pushed me to pursue music as a form of escapism and ultimately set me on the path I'm on now.

Are you conscious of being influenced by any other artists in terms of musical style?

I wouldn't say I draw inspiration from anyone when it comes to writing lyrics because that is very much something that comes from within, from drawing on my own experiences, emotions and thoughts. Sometimes it's just about building on a story in my head. But some artists I have been compared to, and I'm very flattered to be in such company, are people like Joni Mitchell, who's a hero of mine and somebody who always pushes the boundaries.

What is the best thing about life as a musician?

Definitely the freedom. But it's precarious. At the minute I am basically touring the world with Hozier [an Irish artist and singer/songwriter from Wicklow] as part of his backing band and we've been on Letterman and on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which has just been amazing.

We're doing all the major folk festivals all over the world, including Glastonbury. Since one of Hozier's songs went viral last year he's been on this steamroll of success and I am so delighted to be a part of this. It's given me a real flavour of life on the road.

Generally it's the grand themes of love, longing and despair that inspire lyricists. What sort of themes act as most of a stimulus to your songwriting?

Definitely relationships, but not just romantic ones, also familial relationships, feelings of frustration, feelings of regret, mostly just emotions I've experienced myself or emotions I've witnessed others going through. My song Wax & Wane grew from ideas about paganism and astrology!

Just as Jimi Page, Hendrix and scores of others made the guitar cool, do you think you can do the same for the cello?

I hope I am doing something to make the cello cool outside of an orchestral setting and showing what can be done on this instrument. I incorporate a lot more percussive elements to my playing, I do a lot more plucking and chopping to create different sounds. I really love to get a sort of guitar-y feel to the way I play cello. To me, it is a very cool instrument and one I love.

Alana Henderson plays the Black Box, Belfast on Sunday as part of the Open House Festival. For details, visit

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