Most people who know me know that I love my girl groups. Hell, I even write a weekly column about it for the music website Buzzjack. But one thing I love, perhaps even more so, are the solo ventures of former girl group members. In fact, if I went on Pointless, I can almost guarantee you I would nail a round asking for the names of solo singles by any former girl group member of the last two decades.
I can talk at length about records like Cinderella’s Eyes, the critically lauded but commercially underperforming 2011 effort from Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts, or about former Eternal star Louise Redknapp’s 2001 cover version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’, complete with its Reservoir Dogs aping video. Of course, I draw at the line at some points, and can’t understand why Beyoncé is still deemed saviour of everything when her Destiny’s Child bandmate Kelly Rowland has made far more interesting endeavours musically, but each to their own.
I think my fascination is with seeing members of these groups breaking out as their own entity, however successful or terrible they may be in doing so. When they’re brilliant of course, it’s all the better. So the recent arrival of the debut solo record from Una Healy has, as you can imagine, been something of great excitement for me.
Up until a couple of months ago, the last time I’d seen Una was in September 2014, with the rest of The Saturdays, dressed as glitzy air hostesses at Wembley Arena for their greatest hits tour. They took a hiatus after that tour to pursue their own projects – although up until earlier this year, only Vanessa White and Mollie King of the Higher and What About Us hitmaking girl group had dipped their toes into solo waters, with distinctly disappointing results (Frankie Bridge and Rochelle Humes however, have moved away from pop, and are instead concentrating on TV and fashion vehicles respectively).
County Tipperary born Una meanwhile, spent time as a judge on the Irish version of The Voice for two series, before she quietly signed a deal with Decca Records early last year. She spent the best part of two years writing and recording for The Waiting Game, which stormed into the top 10 of the iTunes chart upon release in February, on the back of some very positive exposure usually unreserved for someone with a pop past like hers.
But anyone who knows of Una’s pre-Saturdays past knows that this is very much a return to her roots. Her uncle, Declan Nerney, is a well respected name in folk and country music in Ireland, reinforcing her pedigree in this field of music. She also extensively gigged and did the circuit around the Irish music live scene for some years before girl group stardom came a-calling. And as well as appearing as backing vocalist for Brian Kennedy at Eurovision, she even self released her own EP in 2006, titled Sorry, one of the tracks from which, Had it With Today, went onto be a B-side to Higher for The Saturdays in 2010, establishing her songwriting credentials.
Anyone that saw the girls’ tours will also know that she played guitar on their acoustic sets, proving her talents in that field. And all of which really comes across on The Waiting Game as an album. The opening track – and her new single – Battlelines, is a perfect example of this. Gently strummed and easy on the ear, it’s an upbeat and melodic number about staying strong in the face of adversity. Her last single, Stay My Love, a beautiful duet with Sam Palladio, a Cornish actor and country singer better known as Gunnar from the hit US series Nashville is also one of the highlights.
But so too is the title track, and songs like the upbeat Staring at the Moon, which she wrote for her daughter Aoife Belle, Out the Door, a punchy number about not letting the travails of life get in the way of what really matters like love and family, and the haunting closing ballad Angel Like You, that talks about the spirit of loved ones being around even after they’ve gone.
Her passion for her new solo venture really came across when I saw her launch the album back in February, at the beautiful but intimate Old Church in St Pancras, London. It was just the right venue to showcase the material, as well as a couple of choice covers that married perfectly with her original songs – amongst them, The First Cut is the Deepest, which Una’s long standing idol Sheryl Crow covered in 2003, and also the traditional Irish song Black is the Colour of my Lover’s Hair, which I remember from my mum’s Mary Black albums growing up.
It seems as well that it’s not just her old Saturdays fanbase on board with her. The same audience her new music is aiming at that has sent the likes of sisterly duo Ward Thomas (whom Una supported last year) and The Shires up to the top of the album charts and sold out venues in the last two years have been accepting and welcoming of her new venture too. It’s safe to say therefore, that she’ll be making waves as Una Healy: the solo artist for some time yet.
Una’s new single Battlelines and her album The Waiting Game are both out now on Decca Records. She performs at Bush Hall in London on 15th May, and will also perform at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville with Sam Palladio on 17th May. Twitter: @UnaHealy