FOR most musicians 2020 was annus horribilis. Gigs were cancelled, livelihoods were lost and futures became uncertain. In some respects, that was true for Josh Cunningham, of The Waifs.
However, in other ways, 2020 was "one of the best years" of his life.
The Lighthouse-songwriter found new love and formed a blossoming musical partnership with Central Coast country artist Felicity Urquhart.
Next Friday the fruits of that relationship emerge in their album The Song Club.
The 11 tracks on the album were written as part of a song club Cunningham and Urquhart joined at the invitation of Nashville-based Australian musician Sam Hawksley.
The Song Club featured a group of creatives who were tasked with writing a song a week, based off a random prompt, and then sharing it with their peers.
The pressure of weekly deadlines initially perturbed Cunningham, but he came to revel in the routine.
"I was kind of terrified going in because I thought it's very different from how I typically operate, sitting around and waiting for a song to fall out of the sky, so to speak," he says.
"To actually have a disciplined and focused approach with a deadline, I was terrified.
"I reluctantly said yes to the invitation. I thought it was a good chance to stretch myself and go somewhere outside my comfort zone because that's where a lot of the growth happens."
The prompts like "spare parts" became the duo's first single, written by Cunningham, and others included "catching a feeling" and "no such luck" which both were used for song titles on the album.
Another was " a year to forget" in reference to COVID, which Cunningham turned into the positive A Year To Remember, to reflect the growing sense of optimism he felt as his bond with Urquhart developed.
"While I resonated with that whole idea, because there was a lot of things that we forgettable and regrettable about it, I thought rather than dwell on those things, I'll flip it around and talk about all the things that are very memorable," Cunningham says.
"In some ways it's been one of the best years of my life."
Prior to the past year Cunningham and Urquhart were only casual acquaintances, having bumped into each other occasionally at shows and in studios dating back to 2000.
When Urquhart's late husband, musician and producer Glen Hannah, took his own life in May 2019 Cunningham was among a plethora of peers in the music industry who reached out to offer support.
Urquhart has spoken publicity about the importance of performing and writing music in helping her heal from the tragedy. The Song Club is the first album she's recorded since Hannah's death.
Cunningham says Urquhart is a "remarkably resilient person."
"I definitely think music has been a big part of that journey for her as well," he says. "As songwriters, music is one of the deepest things within and whatever you're going through, whether it's difficult times or beautiful experiences in life, music is very profound and important in processing and communicating those things.
"It wasn't something we were conscious of really in the process of writing songs for this project, because it was fun, inspiring and exciting. There was a lot of healing that comes naturally through that."
The pair's relationship has also been central to the healing process. The Song Club's country-folk tunes are full of tenderness and a positivity and wonderment only seen when fresh love is blossoming.
That's most clearly heard on Flying, one of two tracks Cunningham and Urquhart wrote together. The track opens with, "Darling I love you/And I hardly know you yet."
"Felicity is such an amazing musician and singer-songwriter and an incredible human being," he says. "She's got a very natural down-to-earth unaffected way about her.
"I've appreciated that in her songwriting, and as far as her personality goes, to get together and work on a project, it's really wonderful."
Felicity Urquhart and Josh Cunningham perform at Lizotte's, Newcastle (May 6); The Music Lounge, Wollongong (May 7); Bowral Bowling Club (May 8); Harmonie German Club of Canberra (May 14); Valencia Soldiers Memorial Hall (July 8); The Old Church on the Hill, Bendigo (July 10); Bangalow A&I Hall (August 6); Wauchope Community Arts Hall (August 7); Candelo Hall (August 21); Deni Ute Muster, Deniliquin (October 1) and Milton Theatre (November 20).