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Sisters doing it for themselves

Award-winning Dublin singer-songwriter RuthAnne told David Hennessy how the Irish Women in Harmony collective has exceeded all expectations, how it showed the power of raising your voice and that she sees changes in the Irish industry which was unconsciously biased against women.

She has written songs for big names such as Niall Horan and Britney Spears but it was when the London-based Donaghmede singer-songwriter/producer RuthAnne brought together many different female artists for the collective that became known as Irish Women in Harmony last year that she really captured the imagination of many.

It was in the throes of the first lockdown that she brought together from isolation 39 of Ireland’s best female artists for a cover of The Cranberries’ Dreams to help victims of domestic abuse and pay homage to the late Dolores O’Riordan.

Imelda May, Caroline Corr, Lisa Hannigan, Moya Brennan, Una Healy, Emma Langford and Orla Gartland were among those who answered her call for the song that went to the top of the Irish charts while also raising funds for a worthy cause and making a point about the unconscious bias towards female artists in Ireland.

They followed this with Together At Christmas, a festive number in aid of ISPCC Childline and the more recent Only A Woman, a reworking of the Eleanor McEvoy classic

Irish Women in Harmony have been the Irish music story of recent times. There are now plans for an album and live shows.

RuthAnne told The Irish World that Irish Women in Harmony is something that has exceeded any expectations she may have had when she started messaging female singers to see if they would get involved.

RuthAnne says: “It blew up way past everything that I could have thought.

“I was a bag of nerves the day of the release of Dreams.

“I was like, ‘Oh, no one will see it, it’s fine’.

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“I was so nervous.

“And then when it went viral and everyone was sharing it and there was just so much positivity for the whole thing, it became this movement and not just a moment.

“We are also working on an Irish Women in Harmony album and shows and everything for next year.

“So it’s very much still going and I think that’s so important because I think it represents something so much bigger than all of us.

“It’s about bringing people together and working together and uniting and inspiring younger artists out there.

“And we all love doing it. It’s kind of like our little passion project on the side.”

RuthAnne says that the project was a ‘saving grace’ in bleak times.

“I Think Irish Women in Harmony was a saving grace for all the girls, myself included.

“Because it was the first time we all kind of had a community because a lot of the time, you wouldn’t really get to be around other artists or talk to other artists. You were kind of kept away from each other.

“So during lockdown to kind of come together and do what we did, and raise the money for Safe Ireland but also grow this community of support has been great because you start seeing how much we have in common in the music industry and how we all are going through the same stuff.

“I think it helped all of our creativity because during the first lockdown we lost all our gigs. We weren’t sure what was happening with anything.

“And so to kind of do this, it gave us all that motivation again, and that drive to keep trying to break down the barriers in Ireland for women in music.

“So it definitely was a saving grace.

“And it’s really nice to kind of have that support from other women in music who understand what it’s like being an artist.

“It’s been almost like a support group,” she laughs.

Dreams raised over a quarter of a million euro raised for Safe Ireland. RuthAnne says she has been overwhelmed by how much the song meant to women going through unbearable hardship.

“It just shows the power of raising your voice, the power of speaking up.

“I think we were just so appreciative and grateful for the Irish public for donating the amount of money that they did for Safe Ireland because every penny makes such a difference especially in a year where charities really were making no money.

“Women and children were suffering so much from domestic abuse and all the telephone calls, the violence, everything was rising.

“So to think that a song and our voices could have that effect and raise that money, it just shows you the power that music has.

“It’s so important, I think, for all of us to use our voices for the right reasons and the right things.

“It was just a huge, huge thing for all of us to feel like we’ve made some type of difference.”

For a long time, women were playing second fiddle on the Irish music scene but RuthAnne says she is seeing change for the better with two of her fellow Irish Women in Harmony members, Una Healy and Loah, now presenting a prime time show being one example.

“I definitely can see changes.

“Seeing the line-up of some of the pilot gigs and seeing so many more women, eeing Una and Loah hosting a TV show, hearing more female artists on the radio- We’ve definitely made huge progress.

“But do I think there’s more progress that can be made? Absolutely. One hundred per cent.

“I’ll always keep banging down the doors for the females. But I think that we’re getting there.

“I think that people- radio stations, TV stations and press- really, really paid attention to what we wanted to do, which was to raise our voices and show that there is too much talent in Ireland to ignore it on the female side.

“And I think that we’re starting to see a lot more breakthrough artists on the female side and people starting to know the female artists by name.

“We couldn’t believe the amount of people who didn’t know some of these artists when Dreams came out.”

RuthAnne mentions Denise Chaila and her success in the last year as just one example of Irish female talent flourishing when given a platform.

“Because the International acts weren’t able to get here, we were able to give people like Denise Chaila and Lyra TV slots. We were able to give the platform to our own.

“And I think even the new show The Heart of Saturday Night- I’m blown away by the Irish talent.

“We have it all in our own country and I think it’s important to remember that and keep celebrating that.

“Because the thing about Irish musicians is no two are the same.

“That’s what I love about Irish Women in Harmony.

“You’ve got Pillow Queens, you’ve got Lyra, you’ve got Erica Cody.

“There is no two really in the same lane.

“I think that’s amazing. I think that’s more than other countries.

“Especially because I write for other artists, a lot of the time labels can name me maybe ten different females that could sing the same song.

“Whereas with Irish artists, we’re so unique and we all have our own thing going on that we couldn’t always sing the same song.

“There’s just so much talent coming out from our country.

“And I think Covid gave everybody a chance to see it.”

For their most recent single Only A Woman, Irish Women in Harmony reworked Eleanor McEvoy’s iconic Only A Woman’s Heart with the original songwriter still very involved.

The original song, accompanying album and tour that featured Eleanor and other Irish females like Mary Black, Frances Black and Sharon Shannon really captured the imagination of Irish women in the 90s.

Similarities between that movement and Irish Women in Harmony have been noted.

RuthAnne says having Eleanor’s endorsement on the relatively fledgling Irish musical initiative meant a lot even if there was a risk in reworking such a classic song.

“It was definitely risky because it’s a modern, contemporary version.

“My parents were a good gauge because they’ll tell me if they don’t like something.

“So I played it for them and they loved the spin on it and how we had added spoken word and made it urban and contemporary and what is going on in music today, but also kept Eleanor on it and paid homage to her and Mary Black.

“I was just so thrilled when I emailed it to Eleanor.

“I was nervous because it’s her baby.

“She was just so supportive and she re-recorded her vocal for us and wanted to be part of it.

“And I think for me, that was the best thing to come out of it: The original songwriter of such an Irish classic to give their blessing is all you ever want as a musician and artist.

“She’s a legend and A Woman’s Heart is legendary.

“When Irish Women in Harmony first launched, a lot of people were saying it reminded them of that collective and that album.

“So I thought, ‘What better way to kind of pay homage than remake that song, but also add originality with Felispeaks’ beautiful spoken word lyrics and the girls with their vocals?’

“And we’re always about taking something and making it new, not doing a karaoke version or copying.

“And that’s what we’ve done with Only a Woman.

“Irish Women in Harmony is about giving platforms to artists you may not have heard of.

“Adding Felispeaks as our newest member, it’s giving another artist a platform to show what they can do.

“That’s also what it’s all about.

“I think, back in the day, there was sometimes a competitive thing about music and entertainment, like there’s only room for one person.

“And that whole mentality just needs to go.

“We just have to help each other rise and help each other get on the map because it’s a hard industry.

“It’s just gonna make all of us more powerful in the long run.

“The more great music we have coming out of Ireland the more that we inspire younger people, the more that we get Ireland on the map and represent our country.”

RuthAnne’s new single and EP, both titled The Way I Love You, are out on 27 August.

The EP covers topics like mental health, relationships and unconditional love.

It will feature the previous singles Remember This, FLY and Safe Place.

“The first single Remember This and even FLY and Safe Place, they’re all about togetherness and being around the people that really look after you and look after your mental health and give that unconditional love.

“And I think, in these times more than ever, what we need is family and friends and our loved ones around.

“I think that Covid really kind of showed us all who those people are and how important those people are.”

Safe Place was inspired by her fiancé’s steadfast support after her miscarriage earlier this year.

The couple have since been delighted to announce they are now expecting again.

“Safe Place felt very timely to release at the time because a lot of people were going through a lot with losing jobs or losing loved ones or realising they need to spend more time with loved ones.

“So I felt like that was the right song for the time.

“Remember This is about not taking for granted all the moments that you have.

“Sometimes, I think before Covid, we all would sometimes be places and not fully present.

“Covid made us fully present again.

“And when you did get to see your loved ones, you’re spending less time on your phone because you haven’t seen them and you want to chat.

“All those moments we’re not taking for granted as much as we used to.”

RuthAnne has been in the industry for a long time. She flew to LA straight after her Leaving Cert and three days later wrote the hit Too Little Too Late for American pop star JoJo. It sold over a million copies.

She was nominated for a Grammy in 2019 for working with superstar John Legend on his album, A Legendary Christmas.

She released her debut album Matters of the Heart in 2019.

Although she was based in LA for years, she says she now feels at home here.

Based in south-east London, she has even built a studio on the grounds of her home so she can continue to work from home.

“It definitely is (home from home).

“I love our house that we have here. My fiance is here and my dog and so we’ve built a life here which is lovely.

“I was in LA before that. That definitely didn’t feel as much home as London does.

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“It was hard not being able to get home but this year my family have been able to come over here so it’s been really nice to be able to have some family time.

“But yeah, it’s definitely been tough not being able to go home as much but we’ve done our best.”

RuthAnne is now looking forward to playing shows next year.

How has she dealt with the absence of gigs? “It’s definitely something that I’ve missed.

“I love performing live.

“And I just can’t wait for it to all come back and I hope the government starts kind of looking at it a bit more fairly like they do with sports, and starts seeing the rest of the world, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and start giving a proper plan.

“Because for musicians, for crew, for all the people that work for this huge industry- a lot of those people are struggling to make income at the moment.

“It’s people’s income and people’s lives and I think that we’re kind of always the last priority.

“The government needs to realise that it’s the arts that keeps people going, the arts is what keeps people’s mental health okay.

“Music and dancing and all of that is so important for all of us.

“It’s in our DNA.

“My mam and Dad raised me on sing songs.

“Live music and entertainment and jokes, everything to do with the arts is so important for Irish culture.

“So without it, we’re kind of missing an arm.

“I think that it’s time that we really start giving a proper roadmap to getting that back.”

RuthAnne’s single and EP, both called The Way I Love You, are out now.

For more information, click here.

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