Music interview – Jade Helliwell: ‘Nashville has helped get younger audiences into country music’

Jade Helliwell
Jade Helliwell
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The songs on Jade Helliwell’s new EP might have been written at different times but there’s a common theme that binds them.

“All of the songs on the record in the end related to different aspects of infatuation,” says the Leeds-based country singer. “Whether you’re infatuated with somebody who’s returned or if you’re infatuated with somebody who doesn’t pay any attention to you or you’ve been infatuated and you’re heartbroken afterwards. I thought it was a good theme to tie all the songs together.”

Infatuation has already garnered “quite a few good reviews” and some airplay on the likes of Chris Country Radio as well as several Spotify playlists and the iTunes country chart.

Interest in Helliwell’s music began to significantly pick up last year after a video of her singing the Leonard Cohen song Hallelujah with busker Dawid Osial in Leeds city centre was viewed more than eight million times on YouTube. “From there a lot of things changed,” she says. “I was working as a teaching assistant and I left my job to do music full-time.”

As well as recording the new EP, she played at several summer festivals. “I think it’s definitely done me a lot of good that the video went viral,” she says.

Having already appeared at the 2017 Country 2 Country Festival in London after winning a Yamaha competition, Helliwell’s star was in the ascendant. In September she won a Yorkshire Roots Award. “Unfortunately that night I was poorly and I couldn’t make the awards but then I got a message from them to say I’d won Outstanding Musician of the Year – that was really nice,” she says.

I think it’s definitely done me a lot of good that the video went viral.

Jade Helliwell

In July Helliwell is due to play at Nashville Meets London, “a big festival at Canary Wharf where they’ve got some stars from the TV show Nashville to headline and then they’ve got a lot of up-coming British acts as well”.

There are also dates next month in Blackpool, Blackthorn Festival and FSA Festival in Newark.

Helliwell feels the success of the TV series Nashville has helped repopularise country music in the UK. “I think as well it’s helped get younger audiences into it,” she says. “They can see it’s not just line-dancing and wearing cowboy boots and the honky-tonk music. It is quite a modern sound now, country. Shows like Nashville have definitely got younger audiences involved.”

She points to the likes of Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini and Maddie & Tae as inspirations. “My new stuff on the EP is definitely taking a lot of inspiration from their music.”

Further back, she recalls listening to Taylor Swift’s first album, which led her to discover others such as Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. “I liked the story-telling and the lyrics of the songs,” she says, adding that playing such music in her house “all the time” even converted her parents to country.

In the longer term, Helliwell would like to release an album when the time is right. “I’ve only released EPs since 2015, so I would like to release an album and then tour it,” she says. “I’m really keen to play new cities as well throughout the year, so hopefully I’ll be popping up around the country.”

In the meantime, there’s a chance to see her at Brighouse Arts Festival on October 8. For details visit jadehelliwell.com.