You’ve streamed the video, made the donation. Now read the backstory to RuthAnne’s Irish Women in Harmony
23rd Jun 2020
The Grammy nominated singer/songwriter/producer RuthAnne boldly went where no Irish artist had gone before, gathering the voices of 32 Irish female singers during lockdown. Here, she tells us all about the process of covering a Cranberries single remotely, while featured artists Soulé, Róisín O and Faye O’Rourke chime in about their own experience
RuthAnne Cunningham is used to living a life less ordinary. Born and raised in Donaghmede, Dublin she enrolled in the Billy Barry Stage School at the age of 12, formed a girlband at 16 and over the course of 12 years, wrote chart hits for One Direction (No Control), Britney Spears (Work Bitch), JoJo (Too Little Too Late), Westlife (Beautiful World) and Niall Horan (Slow Hands).
She’s also a singer in her own right, turning her dulcet tones to JRY’s track Pray, which featured on the Fifty Shades Darker soundtrack, and guesting on Avicii’s All You Need is Love, before releasing her own Matters of the Heart album last autumn.
The prodigious talent put both her pluck and wide-reaching contacts to good use this May, amassing 32 Irish female artists, plus seven musicians, to record a charity single from their respective lockdown locations.
“I’d been wanting to get Irish women in music together for a while, but lockdown really gave me the time to finally get it together,” says RuthAnne, of her cover version of The Cranberries’ Dreams, whose many guest vocalists include Lisa Hannigan, Loah, Imelda May, Moya Brennan, Saint Sister, Wyvern Lingo, Una Healey and Erica Cody, here collectively known as Irish Women in Harmony.
Its slick production belies the logistics of trying to gather together so many different vocals without the usual recording studio setting. Far from a Live Aid scenario of stars crowding and crooning around various mics, featured artists had to not only record themselves singing and/or playing the whole track, but also video themselves, the clips of which were sent back to RuthAnne for arrangement and editing.
“I pulled the audio and worked with it as best I could,” she says. “The string players – and some singers – just played into their phones and that’s what you hear on the song. We also had a tight deadline, for delivery to Spotify etc, so had to pull it altogether in about ten days. But all the hard work was so worth it – I’m so happy with how it turned out, everyone sounds fantastic.”
She also noticed that representation from the Irish music industry during the lockdown was “heavily male dominated,” despite the wealth of female homegrown talent
RuthAnne had been approached by UK charities, where she’s based, but “being Irish I really wanted to do something for the charities in my own home country.” She also noticed that representation from the Irish music industry was “heavily male dominated,” despite the wealth of female homegrown talent.
“I felt like it was time to get the women together to help an Irish charity, so started sending messages on Instagram to Irish singers and they started reaching out to more… before I knew it, we had 32 Irish female artists and seven Irish female musicians involved.”
Selecting a song by an Irish female artist was a no-brainer, with Dolores O’Riordan a unanimous source of inspiration for all involved. “I listened to Dreams and thought about how I could produce it and make it different from the original – and also fit 39 people on it! I instantly had the idea to start it off stripped and build up the vocals and instruments to a huge finish of us all singing together in harmony.”
They did just that, the project in the can at the end of May and released on June 18, with proceeds going towards Safe Ireland, a charity supporting victims of domestic abuse and coercive behaviour.
“My first reaction was ‘wow, this is an amazing idea and I’m down to do this,’” says neo-soul and hip-hop act Soulé. “I was pumped to get started and excited that so many Irish women in music would be involved. That it was for charity too made it the perfect combination and, actually, the process was pretty easy for me as I already have a home recording set up in my bedroom. I recorded my vocals over the instrumental that was sent to me and also the video was recorded using my iPhone. It all came out great.”
Singer/songwriter/musician Róisín O – also daughter of Mary Black and sister of Danny O’Reilly of The Coronas – was similarly effusive. “What was my first reaction? YES! Why haven’t we done this sooner?!” she says, of receiving the call from RuthAnne. “She completely took the lead from the start and got everyone involved. The names on the list just grew and grew, and it was so lovely to see such a huge amount of positivity in one email thread. It’s a really fun song to sing, especially the outro, so it didn’t really feel like work.”
Fellow participant, Faye O’Rourke, whose band Little Green Cars was last year reinvented as Soda Blonde, agrees. “I was delighted. It’s for a great cause, and a privilege to be included amongst so many of the countries best artists.”
With so many worthy charities in dire need of support during (and after) the pandemic, why Safe Ireland? “We had all the artists together on an email chain,” explains RuthAnne, “and we all felt a domestic abuse charity was the best, because for all of us, home has been our safe place during lockdown. The thought of it being a dangerous, hostile, violent place to be for so many people really broke our hearts.
“Safe Ireland is doing amazing things, and they need us now more than ever, with a 25 per cent rise in domestically violence calls to An Garda Síochana during the lockdown. Women and children are primarily at risk so what better cause for the Irish Women in Harmony to support.”
Dreams by Irish Women in Harmony can be streamed across multiple platforms now. Txt SAFE to 50300 to donate €4 or go to Safe Ireland website to donate what you can.
Read more: Lisa Hannigan reveals how she’s spending isolation – which includes an Other Voices performance
Read more: Missing live music? This rousing round-up of live music documentaries might help
Read more: Sierra Leonean-Irish artist Loah: “We’re getting to know ourselves differently as Irish people”
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