Ferna: Understudy – NI Music Prize winner delivers auspicious debut album

Coleraine musician Hannah McPhillimy delves beneath the surface

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Artist: ferna
Genre: Folk/Pop
Label: Stunt Double Records

Under her non-stage name of Hannah McPhillimy, Belfast-based Ferna emerged several years ago singing alongside Irish acts such as The Gloaming, Foy Vance and Soak, as well as performing at the Other Voices and SXSW festivals. She returned to Ireland in 2019 after completing a master’s degree in music composition at the University of Michigan, rode out the pandemic while simultaneously restructuring her music, and unveiled herself as Ferna about 18 months ago.

The genesis of her debut album came via a chance meeting with the producer Stuart Reid in 2018, in her hometown of Coleraine. Through continuous development, songs arrived with questions that ask what exactly lies beneath the surface, what is not being said, and how we live our true lives without being overly influenced by negativity.

Such curiosity (“Every single note, effect and instrument has been handpicked and agonised over at some point,” says Ferna says) is upended by 10 songs that blend indie sensibilities, confident pop music and tender folksiness. Wasting (her debut track, which nabbed the NI Music Prize for best single of 2022) pulls back from full-blown bluster due to a canny awareness of push-pull dynamics, while the likes of Open Up (the first track), Morning After, River, Bleed, Go Quietly, and Lights Out (the album’s final and bravura track) effectively bring the overall themes full circle.

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea

Tony Clayton-Lea is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in popular culture