Breaking down the month of May with Holly Henderson

It’s been an incredibly active month for Holly Henderson, a talented musician and songwriter (and guitarist in female rock combo DORJA) who I have been following for some time now. At the beginning of May she played her first gig with her new live band at a music event in her home town of Maidstone, which your correspondent saw, having made the crazy decision to drive all the way there from Merseyside, watch her set, hang for a while and drive back – all on the same night! More on that later, but hot on the heels of that, one of the tracks from her upcoming album (‘Loneliness’, which she performed at that gig) has now been aired on BBC Radio Kent, and if that isn’t enough, she has just unveiled the promo video for her song ‘Breakdown’, a track taken from her ‘Opium Drip’ EP.

As well as all of that, she has been performing with DORJA, and has also appeared in a promo video for their track ‘Reaching Out’ which was shot in April, while all five band members were in the UK. (Vocalist Aiym Almas is based in LA while drummer Anna Mylee lives in Belgium.) DORJA will return for more UK live dates in July and I intend to see at least one, hopefully more of their shows.

Regarding the gig, which took place on the May Day bank holiday at The Style And Winch in Maidstone, this was as part of an all-day music event featuring several acts. However, I was only concerned with getting there in time to see Holly’s set and despite setting out in early afternoon, barely made it there in time. With the exception of the song ‘Your Hands’ (performed in rearranged form to suit the band format), taken from ‘Opium Drip’ I was unfamiliar with all of this material, since the album that will feature it is still to be released. The pacy rocker ‘Loneliness’ impressed me in particular, and she proved to be a natural fronting a band, displaying a welcome sense of humour in her between-song chats. She did have a few serious messages too, urging us (as a species) to ‘stop raping the planet’ before performing a number dealing with that topic. (As an aside, Delain’s ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’ is also concerned with that issue.)

Many of the audience were known to her, including her mum who was situated to the left of the room close to the front. She was backed by her ‘guitar compadre’ Jamie Chellar, backing vocalist Katy Chellar, bassist Martin Taylor and drummer Luke Phillips. All were impressive players themselves (especially the drummer, who got the chance to kick up a storm close to the end of the set) and a cover of Radiohead’s ‘High And Dry’ provided Jamie with a moment in the spotlight. This outfit is tasked with recreating live the music made in LA with guitarist Pete Thorn, drummer Blair Sinta and bassist Jon Button and although I’ve yet to hear the finished album, on the evidence of what I saw this group will more than do it justice.

At that gig Holly declared that ‘Loneliness’ would be the album’s first single, and it was played on BBC Radio Kent’s ‘Introducing’ programme on May 13 2017. This is a very ‘immediate’ sounding song, combining hard-driving guitar with Holly’s more tender vocal. She has said that while previously she has preferred to cover her vocals in reverb and other effects, she was encouraged by Pete Thorn to give her voice more prominence during the sessions for the album. Described as ‘awesome’ by BBC Kent presenter Abbie McCarthy, it bodes well for the album as a whole.

Finally, her video for ‘Breakdown’ was released on May 16 2017. This video was directed by George Mays, who personally invited Holly to LA in order to produce the clip after having heard her ‘Opium Drip’ EP. She flew out in November 2016 and spent around a fortnight on the project. The finished video features some special effects, literally of Holly putting herself back together after a ‘breakdown’ – there are scattered limbs everywhere, but it isn’t quite as horrifying as it sounds! The low lighting in the clip suits the mood of the song perfectly, and she is a natural in front of the camera.

Holly has come a long way from when I first saw her live (here in Liverpool) a little over two years ago; her inherent talent meant she could never be expected to play rhythm guitar in a covers band for ever. Even while doing that gig, she had uploaded to her Facebook page some snippets of her own playing, and demos of material she was writing (some of which ended up on the ‘Opium Drip’ EP) so the more awake fans of her then band could see clearly she was headed for bigger things. With the imminent release of her album and live dates in the pipeline, it won’t be long before the ‘tastemakers’ come calling. I fully expect her to appear on BBC Sound of 2018 at the start of next year… no pressure then 😉

Holly and her band at The Style & Winch, Maidstone

Clockwise from left: Holly, Katy Chellar, Luke Phillips, Martin Taylor, Jamie Chellar

The BBC Introducing Kent radio programme featuring Holly is linked here (available until mid-June 2017) and her song is featured at 45:27.

The video for ‘Breakdown’ (dir. George Mays) can now be viewed on Vimeo (YouTube coming soon)

Breakdown from George Mays on Vimeo.

Lastly – the video for ‘Reaching Out’ by her band DORJA (dir. Dan Coffey):

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