Award-winning singer-songwriter Jade Helliwell told David Hennessy why she is looking forward to getting back onstage, how her passion for country came to her and how a viral video on a night out gave her the courage to quit her teaching job and pursue music full-time.
Since she arrived on the country scene in 2016 with her Forget the Night EP, Yorkshire country singer-songwriter Jade Helliwell has won countless awards including two British Country Music Association female vocalist of the year awards.
She has also played esteemed festivals like C2C festival at the O2 Arena in London and Nashville meets London.
She also has Irish blood with a grandmother who she knows came from Sligo.
Jade will share the stage with country superstars The Shires when she plays Buckle & Boots festival this July.
Jade told The Irish World: “I’m really looking forward to that.
“I’ve got the band sorted and the set list and everything and just hoping that they don’t change the restrictions.
“I love the Shires. I’ve been to see them quite a few times so it’d be nice to actually get to meet them.
“Buckle & Boots is one of my favorite festivals so to be playing a really good slot time, I’m just really looking forward to it.
“And it’s gonna be the first gig I’ve done with the band since 2019.
“To actually get back with a full band with that full sound of what your music is actually meant to sound like is gonna be so good.
“Obviously for the last twelve months, I’ve only been playing it acoustic so to be able to play and have like it does on record, it’s going to be fantastic.
“But it definitely will be a case of blowing the cobwebs off, I’ve been practicing so much.
“Vocally as well. I’ve got used to just sitting down and singing a little bit.
“After two songs I’m going to be exhausted.”
It was at a previous Buckle & Boots festival that a Jade, who had just quit the day job to follow her musical dreams, got the powerful affirmation that she could make a go of it.
“I was playing Buckle n Boots and they moved me to the BCMA stage. If they think you are sort of up and coming, they’ll put you on that stage.
“And then they offered me a slot in a writer’s round and there was Jenn Bostic and Sonia Lee from Nashville.
“And I remember that was a massive pinch me moment. I was like, ‘Is this a mistake? Did they mean to put me in this round?
“And I’d literally left my job as a teaching assistant the day before to do music full-time and I was a little bit like, ‘Have I done the right thing?’
“And then playing that round, it was packed out and the reaction was incredible.
“I remember just thinking, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve made the right decision’.
“That’s when I started to realize that I had done the right thing taking a chance and following music.”
There were also a stressful time when Jade thought a career in music could be killed before it started by some worrying voice problems.
“I went through a stage of not really having a voice. My voice was cutting out all the time.
“And there were loads of medical things to find out why I was losing my voice.
“That’s when I decided to do the teaching assistant job. Because I thought, ‘Maybe it’s not an option anymore. If my voice is going to go then that’s it forever.
“But then it turned out I just had some acid reflux problems,” she says laughing now.
Jade’s style is a blend of pop and country influenced by the likes of Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, as well as contemporary artists such as Maren Morris and Cassadee Pope.
In May 2017, a video of Jade singing with a busker on a night out in Leeds went viral and reached 23 million views across Facebook and YouTube.
“I was on a night out and talking to a busker we passed and my friends were like, ‘She sings, Could you sing with you?’
“I was like, ‘Oh, that’s awkward. He’s busking. Leave him alone’.
“But he was fine. He was like, ‘Come sing. I’m going to play Hallelujah’.
“I was like, ‘I don’t think I really know any of it other than the word Hallellujah.
“He was like, ‘You’ll figure it out. Come and play’.
“My friend put it on Facebook and then weirdly, It just completely blew up and I was just being requested all the time to go and do radio interviews and meetings in London, writing sessions and stuff.
“I got too busy to stay as a teaching assistant then, but it was definitely the thing that gave me a bit of a kick, and a bit of a push forward.”
Her 2016 EP then quickly re-entered the charts and reached #1 in the country charts and #8 in the official charts.
It was in 2018 that Jade picked up her second award for Best Female at the British County Music Awards as well as Best Song for single Boom Tick.
It was in 2019 that Jade would be honoured with further British Country Music Awards for Video and Song of the year.
“To win awards like that is always a huge compliment: That people appreciate what you’re doing enough and enjoy it enough to want to nominate you for awards, I am massively thankful for that.”
Jade is part of a group of exciting new country artists that have emerged in the UK. Others include Gary Quinn and Kezia Gill who are two friends of hers.
“Gary Quinn was probably one of the first country artists in the UK that I ever became aware of and whose gigs I started going to watch and stuff.
“So to then go on and become friends.
“And same with Kezia. I remember watching her first spot at Buckle & Boots a couple of years ago, and then we went on the Buckle & Boots tour of Australia together. And now she’s one of my best friends.
“It’s just really good to have people who completely get what you’re doing and it’s great to have those people with the same sort of opinions on music, the same taste. And we support each other as well which is really cool.”
It was in 2019 that Jade would travel to Australia for a tour that would finish with a slot on the International Stage at the famous Tamworth Country Music Festival.
“I think that was quite a big guy career high for all of us: We couldn’t believe we were on the other side of the world playing our music for people and seeing people enjoying it.
“It was just a dream, that you travel around and play your music for people in different countries, different cities. It was so incredible and it definitely brought us all a lot closer to each other as well.”
Jade would not have described herself as a country fan growing up and credits Taylor Swift for converting her.
“I didn’t grow up listening to country music other than I knew Dolly Parton and Shania Twain.
“It wasn’t until I was about 18 or 19 and I started writing my own songs and playing guitar. And Taylor Swift had just released her first album.
“I was listening to that and then I got into Kellie Pickler, Carrie Underwood and Lady Antebellum.
“I was like, ‘This is amazing. I love this’.
“And then it started naturally influencing how I was writing my own music.
“And then that was it. I was like, ‘This is the genre for me’. I just love it.
“I love the storytelling element of it and the harmonies.
“I knew it wasn’t the go to music, obviously with how hard it was to find gigs to go to over here.
“My taste and my own music is quite modern country.
“I say to my friends who don’t listen to country that if I played them a playlist of my favourite country music at the minute, they probably wouldn’t even realize that it’s country music. It’s very pop-influenced.
“I do definitely think it’s getting cooler as well. Loads more people are getting into it.
“Pre- Covid it seemed like every weekend you could find a country gig somewhere to go to whereas back when I got into it I used to struggle and would wait months to get to a gig.”
2020 was set to be another exciting year for Jade until the pandemic ruined all those plans.
How has the last year been? “It’s been very up and down. Restrictions would ease off and then I would be really excited and like, ‘Yeah, let’s book some gigs’.
“The diary would start filling up and you might do one or two and then we’d get put back into another lockdown or they announce new restrictions.
“It was getting so close and then being pulled away again.
“So until I am stood on the stage, I don’t believe that the gigs are happening.
“I think the live streams definitely help and keep me motivated and wanting to perform.”
Jade has Irish heritage with a grandparent of hers coming over to England at a very young age.
“My grandma was from Sligo. She passed away when I was nine months old so I never met her. I just know that she was from Sligo and her and her sister moved over to Yorkshire when she was about 14.
“I need to try and retrace where my grandma came from and where she lived.
“My brother lives in Portadown. His fiance’s from there so they moved over there just before lockdown started last year. They’ve had a baby since then as well. I’ve got a little nephew there that I have not met yet.”
Has Jade ever been tempted by any of the reality shows that proclaim to find stars? “When I was younger, I did X Factor. I went when I was 16 and it was my music GCSE.
“I had it in my head that I was going to go to the X Factor and that was going to be the big break that I needed.
“So I skipped my GCSE exam to go and audition. I didn’t get through and then I couldn’t take music at sixth form,” she laughs.
“But at 16, I didn’t really know my sound. I didn’t know what could do my voice. I didn’t know what genre I was really into, what genre I wanted to pursue.
“I just sang. I didn’t play any instruments. I didn’t write then.
“I was pretty young really, thinking I was going to go to the X Factor and everything would be great.”
Jade’s latest single If I Were You came out last month and she says there is more new music on the way.
“I was actually in Edinburgh last week recording some new music. There will be some stuff coming out in the next few months.”
If I Were You is out now.
For more information, click here.
Buckle & Boots runs 30 July- 1 August. For more information, click here.