For more than ten years, Lorna, Karen and Joleen McLaughlin – better known as The Henry Girls, named in honour of their grandfather – have been writing and playing music together to widespread critical acclaim. Hot Press described their most recent record, December Moon, as 'very engaging'.
No pressure, then, as the Malin-born trio prepare to step into an absolutely packed Playhouse Theatre in Derry-Londonderry. TV cameras are positioned at either side of the stage, ready to record footage from the evening (for a live DVD, one presumes). A huge array of traditional instruments are laid out on stage, and the lighting is ambient and warm.
First up, though, we have an eight-song traditional set from local musician Paul Herron and his collective, Faduda, also consisting of flautist Sarah Murphy, keyboard player Kevin Murphy, and fiddle player Padraig O’Brien. Highlights include the instrumental 'A Sack Of Potatoes', which apparently 'hypnotised a screaming child to sleep', claims Herron, and 'The Donegal Dream', a pleasant ode to the group's homeland.
After a brief interval, the Henry Girls and their group of accomplished backing musicians launch into the catchy, hypnotic 'December Moon'. 'Fools Gold' and 'Rain and Snow' follow, with the Henry Girls' three-part harmonies tight and atmospheric. The jovial mood extends into 'Sweet Dreams', a lullaby written by Karen for her own children.
A space is left at the front of the stage for three members of the Echo Echo Dance troupe to strut their stuff during a cover of Elvis Costello's 'Watching The Detectives'. The impressive fluidity of the troupe’s is an unexpected distraction, but works well with the Girls' stripped-back version of the song.
It’s undeniable that some parts of the gig work significantly better than others. Bostoner Ry Cavanaugh’s Ryan Adams-lite vocal solos seem a little out of place with the overall tempo of the show, but thanks to the stage presence of the girls, he becomes more at ease as the night wears on.
More successful in backing the band up are the brass ensemble, who perform in the second half of the gig, and the Inishowen Gospel Choir, who take the stage for the last few numbers. It’s impossible not to lose oneself in the band and choir’s cover of the annoyingly catchy 'Iko Iko' from Rain Man.
The calming encores of 'Farewell' and 'Should I Fall Behind' are necessary breathers for an energised audience, described by Karen afterwards as 'the best we have ever had'. Hyperbolic perhaps, but given the atmosphere in the Playhouse by the end of the night, few would disagree.
The Henry Girls will perform in the Empire Music Hall in Belfast on Friday, February 24 as part of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters' Festival.