A SINGER who once appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest final is looking forward to a fresh start by performing with her new band in Chester this month.

Vocalist Ani Connolly will be taking flight with her band Commoncranes for a free gig at Alexander's on Rufus Court on Thursday, July 28.

Attendees can expect an exciting range of original indie-pop tracks, including their latest song Make More Music, to be released as a single the following day.

It will be a welcome opportunity for the recently formed four-piece group to perform live, with chances having previously been limited during the Covid pandemic.

Speaking to the Standard, Ani said the live show and performing with Commoncranes has provided her with the chance to "reinvent" herself and her music, having more creative control over the songs and the way they are performed.

She said: "It feels as though for all of these years I have been working for a company, and now I'm going independent!

"No-one really knows me here; I'm liking this challenge. This is the first time I am ready with my music style."

It has been quite the journey for Ani. As Anjeza Shahini, she became Albania's biggest pop star in her teenage years, winning the country's version of Pop Idol in 2003 before representing Albania in the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest.

Talking about those formative years, Ani explained: "I did come from a family that was always into music and, as a little girl, I was addicted to classical music and wanted to be a ballerina, but that was quite impossible at the time, so I didn't follow that – I don't think I was that good at it anyway.

"I had an interest in singing and I was a bit of a shy girl at first, but in school I was singing for the first time in a competition."

Then came new Albanian TV talent show Friday Night Fever, heavily inspired by the Pop Idol franchise which was sweeping the globe at the time in 2003.

Although Ani said she did not know much about the show, she "took a chance" on it, and was crowned the overall winner.

The resultant success propelled her to be the country's pick for their debut entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, after she also won Albania's first Festival of Song.

Aged just 17, Ani performed in front of hundreds of millions of people as 'The Image of You' finished seventh out of 24 countries.

Ani said the "great experience" made her grow very quickly and she continued her music career for a while in Albania, before taking a step back to reinvent herself.

She married and moved to her husband's home city of Chester, taking in the local music scene with acts performing at Alexander's and Telford's Warehouse.

Ani said: "I wanted to see and hear the music in the Chester community, and perform as soon as I was ready.

"When you are young, you feel you're not ready for anything. The bigger composers were writing for me and I was very blessed, as it's not easy to write your own songs.

"I have had the chance to restart, I have found that urge and confidence to do it once I met Chris [Turton, drummer] and became very good friends, and we're writing together."

Commoncrances singer Ani Connolly, left, with drummer Chris Turton.

Commoncrances singer Ani Connolly, left, with drummer Chris Turton.

Chris is a drum teacher and Ani runs a vocal class. When they were teaching at music school together, Chris saw Ani wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “music is the answer to your problems.” Immediately, he saw a song in these wise words and a musical partnership was born.

The pair have already released three singles – State of Mind, In Hell and Left to Say. Hometown radio station Circl8 jumped on their debut ‘State Of Mind’ straight away, DJ Dan Schott calling it “the most beautiful, coolest song I've heard in so long” and making it ‘track of the week.’

Now a four-strong band, Ani said of the chance to perform their material live: "I can’t wait to perform our songs on stage. For every song we have worked so far, we have always had the live sound in mind, how they would sound on Jools Holland or at Glastonbury.

"The music has gone the way we wanted it to develop. We are now more of a complete band."

The band had their first live gig at Tattenhall's Jubilee Fest last month.

As for future plans, the aim for Commoncranes will be to make an album and perform across the North West.

"There is a lot out there," Ani added. "We need to find our niche and keep true to ourselves. I have got this baby that is Commoncranes and I am focusing on enjoying it."

Commoncranes will be performing at Alexander's on July 28. Admission is free. Their latest song, Make More Music, will be out on July 29.