Previously operating under a self-titled artist name, Coleraine born musician Hannah McPhillimy has rebranded herself and released her debut single under new moniker “Ferna”. The track, titled “Lapsed”, is a song that was commissioned by the church group that McPhillimy grew up in to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with the lyrics written with one specific question in mind; “If Northern Ireland was a person, what would it say right now?”
Framing a song’s lyrics from the point of view of a country is certainly an ambitious angle to take on songwriting, but there’s never a tasteless or tone-deaf moment here; the situation and conflicts of Northern Irish history are addressed without ever being directly named, but are still recognisable as Ferna’s gentle vocals sing of a consistent sense of crisis: “Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to get out of this hell/Have you ever asked if you really do want me to get well?” Poignant lyrics are paired alongside a slow moving and cinematic instrumental, fuelled subtly by a quiet and gorgeous string section arranged by producer Stuart Reid. The track’s instrumental pieces gently work in tandem from the outset, then gradually swell to a climax during the song’s hopeful coda, soaring along side Ferna’s cries of “I believe”.
It’s a bold and adventurous subject to write about as a first release from a new project, but Hannah McPhillimy crafts her lyrics in such a way that is never too brash or on-the-nose. If this is the benchmark from what we can expect from Ferna’s future output, she may well become one of Northern Ireland’s most adaptable and imaginative young songwriters.