Natalie Henry has been making up for lost time since releasing her debut solo single If We Said Goodbye in 2018 at the age of 37.
Her performance career started just four years' prior, when she learnt some basic guitar chords and then started writing and singing with her then-husband Brock. The pair went on to become the Wayward Henrys and released album Cold Love in 2016.
The story goes that Henry was raised by her truck driver father, and she developed a love of country music while listening to him sing along to Willie Nelson classics as she lay in the sleeper cab of his prime mover.
Henry's solo career kicked into gear when her marriage ended (she and Brock remain close friends) and she released her debut album Apple and Pride in 2019.
Her life experiences read like a country tune and, lyrically, Henry pulls no punches. Apple and Pride is one woman's heart and soul laid bare, conflicted and torn but ultimately strong and beating to its own rhythm.
She had decided 2020 would be an "off year" away from performing but, creative to the very core, she has found time to write an album's worth of songs, maybe even two, while working a full-time job and being a mum.
Henry laughs loudly when describing the ups and downs of the year to date.
"It's been a bit trying, hasn't it? This year was all about doing my full-time job, writing and being creative and not worrying too much about gigs, and then COVID hit," she said.
"It was perfect timing for me, if there was ever perfect timing to have a pandemic.
"Personally, I've been really lucky and I was using this year as my down time, my time to write, while working.
"The company I work for kept us working the whole time from home which gave me lots of creative time to write and sing.
"I'm very, very grateful. I'm actually a hairdresser by trade and I work for a colour company in social media marketing, technology and sales."
Like many artists, Henry found not being able to perform live difficult and streamed performances online instead. And so Citrus Sundays was born.
"I did a little live session every week on a Sunday night so that I would still be playing and connecting with my audience, and it was great," she said.
"I've pretty much finished writing a whole album's worth of songs but I'm still going to hold off recording and keep writing - my producer is in Brisbane and there are still so many travel restrictions.
"I might even have enough songs for two albums but I just feel that at the moment, it's not the right time to be recording anything new. I'm not in a rush."
She plans to release a single, More than a Woman, in the coming months.
Peppertown Jam returned to The Stag & Hunter in late July, a weekly jam night introduced by Henry to link Newcastle musicians and give aspiring talent a platform - and a house band to play with.
Perhaps inspired by her daughter Gia who has entered an original song, What's Coming Next, in a songwriting competition, Henry is also about to launch a jam night for younger artists with good friend Catherine Britt.
"Yes, my life is crazy," she said, laughing again.
"With three kids and the show Woman Enough and Peppertown Jam and now Peppertown Jam Junior, I have tree branches going everywhere but I wouldn't have it any other way.
"I really want to get the kids of Newcastle interested in music and singing or playing along with bands, to give them confidence about being a performer in the future, if they want that to pursue that path."
Read more:The Herald Sessions: Natalie Henry
Henry has secured the talents of Piper Butcher, a young singer, songwriter and guitarist from Newcastle who is no stranger to the stage, as a mentor.
"I first met her a few years ago when she was 12. She's amazing," Henry said of Butcher, who last week opened for Richard Clapton at Lizotte's.
"I'm going to get her to lead the Peppertown Jam Junior band as the guitarist."
Henry also has a gig at the Stag on October 10 with her band The Little Strangers which she is looking forward to. It will give her the opportunity to perform her new songs in front of a live audience - with a band - for the first time.
"I'm really excited about being able to showcase my new songs, and Catherine is part of the band," she said.
"My ex-husband is opening the show with his new band The Tall Stories. I jokingly said to his new partner - she's lovely, and we get along great - 'So, who's going to have the kids that night?'.
"And another thing, how fantastic is it that all our shows are sold out now? We're all feeling very proud of ourselves with all these sold-out shows but in reality we're only allowed to seat 50 or so people.
"It's so great that live music is coming back, however slowly. Singing and playing and being around all your musician friends, you just can't beat it."
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