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Keeping it country

Una Healy told David Hennessy about her new music, how her uncle Declan Nerney inspired her to follow a career in music and that she would love for the Saturdays to get back together when ‘the time is right’.

As a member of girl group The Saturdays, Una Healy achieved thirteen UK top 10 hits and four UK top 10 albums. With her bandmates Rochelle Humes, Mollie King, Frankie Bridge and Vanessa White, she sold more than eight million records in the UK and Ireland and were Britain’s most popular girlband from their formation in 2007 with hits like Just Can’t Get Enough, Forever is Over and What About Us. 

The girls have been on hiatus since 2014 and while the girls have been taking a break, Una has returned to her country roots. Una was a singer-songwriter before her days in the Saturdays, releasing the EP Sorry in 2006. In 2017, Una returned to her own music and released her debut solo studio album, entitled The Waiting Game which was warmly received going to number 12 in the Irish album charts and number 28 in the UK.

Una has just released Until You, an emotive song that could precede her long-awaited follow-up album.

Una told The Irish World: “It’s a break-up song. I co-wrote it with Harleymoon Kemp (daughter of Spandau Ballet’s Martin and sister of Capital FM’s Roman) and Fred Abbott (Noah and the Whale). We wrote it, I would say a couple of years ago now, and it just felt like it was the right time to bring it out. 

“It’s all about that you haven’t experienced all these feelings until you met that person and that even though you’re not with them anymore, you’re going to take away the positives from it. That’s really what it’s about.

“I got to perform on Sunday Brunch last week. It was great to be out doing a little bit of performing again but to play to a live audience is completely different and so special. I really miss it and I miss going to gigs as well. I miss the whole experience really but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we’ll be back out again as soon as we can.”

Una was married to former England rugby player Ben Foden before the marriage broke down due to his infidelity. They have two children, Aoife and Tadhg.  

“I think the next plan would be to put another album together definitely. Yeah, that’s the plan anyway. 

“This is a good time to write as well. You can do so much now and you don’t even have to be in the same room- You never really did actually to write music. Hopefully I’ll get a few more co-writes done. You can always send your ideas over and work with people like that. I’d love to bring out an album next year, definitely.”

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The Irish World caught up with Una while she was in London for some promotion but she has recently relocated to Ireland after many years in the UK saying lockdown was lonelier for her over here.

“It’s lovely to be home. Even though I was over here in the UK for so many years, I never really felt like I left. I have always lived between both really. 

“It’s not that much of a massive culture shock either because it’s so close, you can hop over and back on a plane so easily. I definitely never forgot where I’m from anyway, that’s for sure. I didn’t lose my accent either. A slight little London twang got in there right in the beginning and they knocked it out of me. I came home and they were all going, ‘What’s she saying now?’ 

“I’ve always been flying the flag for Ireland, ya know? 

“I never left it long enough to miss home too much but with everything that’s going on, the lockdown, it’s just the best place to be. It just felt the right thing for now.”

Lockdown has given creatives like Una the time to devote to project but how was it for her as a parent of two kids? “It’s not so bad now because things have eased up a lot. 

“I was home schooling, that was a nice new challenge for me. The kids were so good though. I find it fascinating because they didn’t really complain and they get on so well the two of them. We would go out anytime we could on the bikes just to get them out of the house but I think more than anything they were missing their friends. It’s nice that the schools are opening back up now so it will be great.

“The actual lockdown itself was very intense and nothing we ever expected. We all had to play our part to control it and save lives. Everyone’s in the same boat. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to be cooped up in the house all the time but at the same time me and the kids.”

Una joined RuthAnne and a host of other Irish female performers for Irish Women in Harmony’s Dreams cover in aid of Safe Ireland.

“It did really, really well. The radio stations got really behind it so that was a nice thing to do during lockdown. 

“We’re like a little community now of female singer-songwriters who support each other. The thing that is frustrating is that we can’t perform (live) at the minute. I think that’s the hardest part of it really but it’s good that we’re all in it together.”

In addition to raising funds and awareness for a domestic violence charity, the collective’s other mission was to draw attention to how Irish females were not getting played on Irish radio in anything like the same way as the males.

“Hopefully this will become a little movement for people to become more aware because the talent is amazing. Some of those girls are just so amazing and not being heard enough. Hopefully this will change things.”

Prior to auditioning successfully for the Saturdays, Una was playing in pubs and clubs. She won the Glinsk Song Contest in 2004 and 2006. She also backed Brian Kennedy for Ireland’s 2006 Eurovision entry, Every Song is a Cry for Love which came tenth. 

Reflecting on her days of working for and looking for a break, she says, “It was hard. It’s always quite a struggle. 

“I hadn’t been signed by anyone and was just going independently. I was doing the whole singer-songwriter thing so I do know how it feels and I took that route for quite a few years actually before I got into the Saturdays and I’m back doing that again now, doing my own music.

“You just have to enjoy it and put the work in.”

Some may have been a little surprised to hear Una’s solo work if her work with the Saturdays was all they knew of her.

However, Una doesn’t think it should surprise anyone who knows the family she comes from.  

Country star Declan Nerney is Una’s uncle.

“If you knew Declan Nerney was my uncle, you wouldn’t be too surprised. I was raised on that music. My mother always listened to country and I started playing the guitar when I was 12 so Declan was always very supportive of me and my songwriting. He saw huge potential because as a teenager I was just writing loads of songs and he would have been a big inspiration to me as well. 

“I actually used to spend a lot of my summers with him. I used to write a lot of music when I was up in Longford and one of the musicians in his band had a studio so I recorded quite a few demos while I was up there as well.

“He always supported me and helped me. He and my mother are always the first people to hear my music. When I’ve written a song that I really like, I always send it to them to see what their response is because they’re very honest. If they didn’t like it, they would tell me which is a good thing I guess so yeah, he’s always been really supportive of me. 

“We did the Late Late one time together. It’s lovely to actually sing together as well. We always did. Growing up me and my cousins used to have little singing competitions. Everyone used to be a winner, everyone would get a pound. This was back in the day. To go from those days to be on a show like the Late Late together like that is very special.

“Anyone who would have known the Saturdays would have remembered that I always loved to bring my guitar on for acoustic performances. On all our tours we always had an acoustic part in our shows. And quite a few people might have remembered me from before as well when I was doing my own stuff so.

“The album I did was quite country-infused as well. Don Palladio from the TV show Nashville was on my first solo single Stay My Love and I went out to Nashville as well, go to play in Bluebird Café. I love it. 

“I think it’s a good time for country music as well. I feel like it’s growing all the time. Obviously in Ireland Country and Irish has always been very big and popular. It’s lovely to see it growing all the time.”

Una also presents her own country music radio, Country Hits Radio. Has she been continuing with this all through lockdown? “Yeah, I’ve been doing it from home because I had to really. Most people are doing radio from home now actually across all the stations because it’s the safest way. You can’t really have people together in a small little studio so it’s great that the technology has improved so much to be able to do it.”

Una has been a coach on The Voice of Ireland and this is far from her only involvement with reality talent shows as long before she found success with the Saturdays, she auditioned for RTE’s You’re a Star and Popstars with no success.   

Although she was heartbroken by the Popstars disappointment, she speaks highly of these shows and the opportunity they can provide performers.

“I think they’re great. I did audition and I didn’t get through, but it didn’t stop me either. I think a lot of people need to remember that it’s not the be all and end all. It’s a great experience. It toughens you up when you don’t get there but it’s also a great platform. I would always recommend people to give it a go. It’s auditioning, isn’t it? It’s like an interview for a job- albeit a very public one, you have to do it on TV. I think they’re really great shows. Everyone loves a good talent show.

“The Saturdays wasn’t a televised audition process but it still was quite intense. There was several rounds of auditions and it was very uncertain whether you were going to get in there or not. I think what stood to me was I had quite a few years of gigging and the pub scene and all that and that really toughened me up. And also the knocks you have from not making it through would make you all the more determined, I guess.

“You can study music if you want to be a music teacher but if you just want to be out there writing your own stuff and performing, you just need to go out and do it. It’s the best apprenticeship of all.

“At the moment, it’s obviously very hard to do that but if I was going to give anyone advice, I would say, ‘Just get out there and do it. Perform wherever you can’.”

From Thurles, Una is a proud Tipperary woman and loves to cheer on their hurlers.

“I love the hurling. I was at the All-Ireland final last year. That was obviously great and Tipperary won. It was a lovely experience. I actually went with my dad. He’s big into it. He used to play hurling himself. He played for Athenry and he won a minor county medal.”

Una reveals she never played camogie herself as she was more focused on swimming which she was an All-Ireland champion at the age of nine.

“I never got to play camogie. I think it’s because I was so focused on swimming and I knew I was quite good at it so I decided to stay in that lane now and gave it my all. I swam nearly every day as a child. I really didn’t much time for much else apart from school. It takes up a lot of your time but in a good way. 

“I think it’s great for children to get involved in sport. It was really fun going away on the bus to different galas around the country. It was lovely to be part of that. 

“I retired quite young. I think I was only fourteen when I stopped swimming. The guitar replaced that, I guess. It was my new passion. But as a child it was always swimming. I was swimming mad.” 

Una saw two of her former bandmates recently. When she shared a picture online, she was flooded with calls for some sort of Saturdays reunion. 

“I met up with Frankie and Mollie recently actually just before I went back to Ireland. It was just like old times, catching up. We spent so much of our time together for those years that we really do know each other very well.”

Could there be a reunion at some point? “Hopefully. it’s not going to happen anytime soon because we wouldn’t get to perform unfortunately but we’re all still really good friends and meet up when we can and keep in touch. The girls are all doing great.

“I guess when the time is right, we would love to do a reunion. I would anyway, for sure.”

Until You is out now.

For more information, click here

Una also has her own shoe range. For more information on this, click here

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