First Published December 2020
YOU CAN CALL HER SAL
Imagine, if you will, this scenario. You’re already a highly respected and extraordinarily blessed young musician, but it’s 2020, so your world has been pretty much turned on its head. One particular day starts off just like any other. Exactly like all the others, in fact! And you have no reason to think it will be any different to any of those that have gone before it, either. Because it’s 2020 after all, and there’s not exactly much happening on any given day.
But, what you don’t know is that on this particular day, your phone is about to beep, and that beep will make it one of the most memorable days of your whole life… !
Well that’s exactly the kind of day that Mayo woman SAL HENEGHAN had earlier this year. And it’s just one of the many reasons why she’ll always be able to look back on 2020 with a smile on her face.
Sal is an incredibly talented musician, and those gifts have won her multiple All-Irelands, ensuring that she’s already a well-known name and face on the Irish trad scene. But thanks to a certain NATHANCARTER, who cast her as the main character of SARAH JANE in the video for his recent single of the same name, Sal has become a name and a talent that pretty much all of Ireland now knows of. And rightly so.
Nathan gave us the low-down from his side of things about how he ended up working with Sal when we spoke to him a few weeks back. And last week, we had the absolute pleasure of catching up with Sal herself. Out chat began with her sharing how it all unfolded from where she was standing…
“Well basically, I was out walking with my mum, Maura, one day, as all good stories start [laughs] – and within the five-kilometre radius that we can go in – and I received a text from a man called Peter Maher, who knows me because of a show I do in Galway, called Mise Eire. It’s a traditional Irish music show which I play fiddle and harp in. Peter co-writes some songs with Nathan, and he had mentioned my name to Nathan at some stage. So he gave me a text that one day and said, ‘Would you like to be in Nathan Carter’s new music video?’ And to be honest, at first I thought it was a joke [laughs]. I was a bit shocked! But then it all happened very fast. I met up with Nathan in two weeks’ time, after having a listen to the song, ‘Sarah Jane’ – which was absolutely fantastic – so I was definitely on-board with it all!”
And of course Nathan didn’t just want Sal to play in the background, she was very much front-and-centre to the song, as the character of Sarah Jane herself. How did that feel?
“It was a weird feeling. I mean, I’ve never been in a music video before. When I met Nathan we had to make loads of eye-contact obviously, and we were falling in love and everything [laughs]. So it was very different, but it was so much fun. We did the video on Grafton Street. Nathan is such a big name, and the amount of people that just crowded around, even though it wasn’t a busy day at all, people just gathered around him. And he was so nice to all of his fans. It was such a fantastic day.”
Had Sal ever met Nathan before they filmed his video together?
“No, I’d never had the pleasure of meeting him properly before, but we did actually do one event, a charity concert for Virgin Media One, just a bit before the video in August this year. So that was the first time I met him.”
Everybody knows that Nathan is one of the biggest stars in Irish entertainment, but anybody who has actually got to work with him will always tell you that he is one of the soundest and most down-to-earth people that you could ever meet. So how did Sal find actually working with Nathan?
“Absolutely fantastic. As you said just there, he is soooo down-to-earth. He made me feel so relaxed and so comfortable. We honestly had such a good laugh as well, it was such a brilliant day. He was just so warm and welcoming.”
But it’s not just one Nathan’s new album (The Best of The First Ten Years, which features Sarah Jane) where people can find and enjoy Sal’s talent, because she’s the star of her own album as well – Sal – released recently, too. Now there’s no doubt that it’s been a strange year for anyone involved in the music business. And you can double, if not triple the strangeness factor for anyone who has been able to go ahead and release an album. So I was wondering if an album was something that Sal always had planned for 202 anyway, or was it more a matter of when Covid came along she decided that even though she might not be able to play ‘live’…she could still get into the studio and record?
“Well back in March when everyone was at home and we couldn’t record anything, when we were just twiddling our thumbs in the sitting room [laughs], mum and dad had mentioned to me that I should make a cd, because I am currently doing music in college. At first, I wasn’t totally on-board, because I was only nineteen at the time. But then I kind of thought about it, and I picked out a few of my favourite tunes, and I thought, yeah, I definitely should do one. Why not? I’m not doing anything else [laughs]. So I started picking out all my tunes and I got in contact with a guy, Stephen Doherty, who is also from Mayo, and I was just asking him to help me with a few of my sets, and arrangements, and harmonies. Then he mentioned that he actually had a recording studio in Foxford, in Mayo. So that was just really handy. We went down every day to his studio and he was absolutely fantastic. It was great fun. My sister, Kate, who also plays music, and my mother, they both helped me totally along the way, they came to the studio with me the full time.”
I wondered exactly why Sal had been initially reluctant to record her album when her parents first mentioned the idea to her?
“Well basically, I’m a bit of a scared person, I must say! [laughs]. I just thought I should probably wait until I’m finished college. But then I was like, no, I’m young, I should do it now. I’m literally not doing anything else, so why not?”
I asked Sal if her sister Kate had been involved with the Mayo based country-rock outfit Hurricane Highway [Ed Holland and Kevin Collins], as I seemed to recall her name showing up in a lot of press coverage about the band?
“She was! Aaw, they were so good to her , she had so many lovely gigs with them. And they’re still in contact with her, actually.”
Sal has released two singles from her album so far, the gorgeous Farewell To You and Siocán Sneachta /The Gold Ring. I asked her to tell me about choosing those tracks for the album, and indeed, as her first singles, too.
“So, the first track on the album is ‘An Siocán Sneachta’ and ‘The Gold Ring’, which are two jigs on the fiddle. I chose the first tune because a Mayo man actually composed it. His name is Joe Carey, from Belmullet. I just really liked it because it’s a very groovy tune. And following that, I played ‘The Gold Ring’, and that’s actually my dad TJ’s favourite tune, so I had to put that in as well [laughs]. That’s just a really nice traditional tune. ‘Farewell To You’ then is actually a song, I think it’s the third track on the album. It has lovely lyrics, and it’s written by a guy from Carlow called Eric Butler. It’s really nice and simple, and I just love the lyrics.”
Sal is not alone in loving that Farewell To You. It’s easily one of the most beautiful I’ve heard in a long, long time. But I couldn’t figure out if it was a really old song, because it kind of has that feel to it, or something penned more recently, because there are moments in it that indicate that as a possibility too…
“Yeah, I know. Eric Butler, a guy from Carlow wrote it, so it’s actually a very modern song, if anything! But it definitely has that old feeling to it. And the male voice that you hear on that song – now that you mention it – is my brother Paddy. He’s a fantastic singer, he does Fleadhs and everything like that. He has such a good sean-nós voice, so I just had to put him somewhere on the album. And his voice fits in really well there, because the song is a love story.”
Not only does Sal have the most angelic of voices, she’s also gifted on the fiddle – as we know – and the violin, and the harp as well! And all at just twenty years of age. I could only assume that her folks had handed her her first instrument on about her second day on Earth! I asked Sal to tell me about her love for these different instruments, and to clear up that age-old area of confusion about the difference between a fiddle and a violin!
“[Laughs] Well that’s a great question! So a fiddle is for traditional Irish music, and simply a violin is for classical music. But they’re the same instrument. It’s just the genre of music that’s different. I play both of them, and I love them both. But I have to say the fiddle is the love of my life [laughs]. I also play the harp, which I took up when I was twelve. My two sisters – Kate and Maggie, who are older than me – played the harp before me. I just loved the way it sounded. so I took it on after them. We actually get lots of gigs on the harp, like weddings and stuff, it’s very popular for three harps.”
Before this year came along, as well as being busy with weddings, Sal also toured the United States with a group called The Young Irelanders…
“The Young Irelanders started out in or around 2014, I think, they’re a great group. I got offered that tour in January 2018, and I was absolutely delighted because I’d never done a tour before. It was a three-week tour around the U.S., and it was amazing! Lots of travelling involved, but we got to see everything. It was just unbelievable. And unfortunately because of Covid and everything, I haven’t done one since. But I’m really hoping that next year will be a great year for the tours.”
Did Sal tour with The Young Irelanders at the same time that country star Clodagh Lawlor was involved with the group, I wondered?
“Yeah, she was there when I was touring. And she actually knows Nathan as well, of course. Clodagh is absolutely fantastic, she is so talented. She would just light up when she was on the stage. The Young Irelanders line-up does change a little bit, I think, like last year when I couldn’t go to Canada, for instance, my sister Kate took my place.”
In speaking of times before this year came along, we can’t really ignore the fact that THIS year did come along. And with it, so many challenges for everyone. As a musician, what has been Sal’s experience of 2020…
“I suppose, yeah, to everyone this year has been a huge shock. I had loads of plans for 2020 but a lot of them were cancelled. I was meant to move to Inishbofin just to play a few tunes for the summer and work in the bar there. And I was meant to be going on an Erasmus to Sweden next January, to Gottenberg, but that got cancelled just this week, so it did. It’s been a difficult year for absolutely everyone, but I suppose we’re all just hoping that next year and 2022 will be amazing years for music and for performing.”
Going back to Sal’s album, now that it’s been recorded, has been released, and is out there, what does she plan to do next with that? Will there be another couple of singles coming from it? Is it something that she’d like to tour in 2021 or 2022?
“Well first of all, I’d love to have a launch for it! [laughs]. It was a pity I couldn’t have one, but I’ll definitely have one whenever I can. I did launch my website just after I released the album, so that people could buy it there, that’s just salheneghan.ie. And I’d love to tour around with it if I could. I know my sister Kate, who helped me with the album, she’s definitely be on-board with that. But we’ll just have to see how it all goes.”
With so many amazing songs to choose from in the traditional Irish music genre, what was Sal’s process for actually selecting the songs for her album?
“They’re just tunes that me and my family play at gigs. They’re sentimental and nostalgic. A lot of them are tunes that I’ve been playing for years. And there’s also a few that I’ve just recently learned in the Irish World Academy in U.L. (University of Limerick), that I just really loved. And my tutor, Siobhan Peoples, taught me a few of the jigs and reels. I just loved the melodies of all the tunes I put on the album. They’re all completely my own style.”
Does Sal have a favourite track on the album?
“Well…there’s a song on the album called ‘The Cabin With The Roses Round The Door’, and originally my brother sings that song. And he does such a wonderful job. I’ve always had a soft spot for it. So I definitely think that’s one of my favourites. Again, I just love the melody. That’s an old sean-nós song.”
As Sal had mentioned, she’s currently doing her studies in the University of Limerick (she’s also studying for a Diploma in Classical Music from the Royal Irish Academy of Music at the same time). I asked her which area of music she was studying in U.L., and what direction she was hoping to take her life in when her time there comes to an end.
“So, I’m completely following in my sister’s footsteps, Kate [laughs], I decided to do the course Performing Arts in U.L. It’s basically about making you a better performer, and you also learn music theory, and you study world music as well. So it’s a fantastic course. Now with the direction I’m going, I’m actually really not sure. I mean, I never thought I’d feature in one of Nathan Carter’s music videos [laughs], so you never know where life is going to take ya! [laughs]. We’ll just see how it turns out! I’d love to just tour for a while, for as long as I can if I get that opportunity again. And yeah, just see where it goes from there!”
I don’t think Sal will ever be short on opportunities to tour, given her outrageous talent, that’s for sure.
Onto our last question, and as we move ever closer – hopefully, and fingers crossed – to a moment in time where the ‘normal’ we know once again is a world removed from what the normal of 2020 has been, I wondered what would be the first thing Sal would do tomorrow if we were back in a world where it was like Covid 19 had never existed?
“Oh, it would be travel! I said it once, and I’ll say it again, touring. That’s what I’d love to do. And I really thought now, because I’m in third year and I’m on work-experience at the moment, I really thought my work-experience would involve touring. So if you told me there was a tour going tomorrow, to anywhere in the world, I’d be on that plane in one second, there’s no doubt!”
~ SAL, the beautiful debut album from SAL HENEGHAN, is out now and available on all platforms, and from Sal’s official website, www.salheneghan.ie You can also enjoy Sal’s talents on the track Sarah Jane, which features on the brand new album from NATHAN CARTER, The Best of The First Ten Years.