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Songs sung true: Philippa Hanna and life on the road

"My call is to be something of a go-between" says singer-songwriter Philippa Hanna ...

Singer-songwriter Philippa Hanna tells RUSS BRAVO about her new album, her faith journey over the last 12 years and life on the road …

Philippa Hanna has built a reputation as one of the busiest touring performers in the UK with 150–200 gigs a year.

Yet while she’s been off on tour supporting Leona Lewis at sizeable venues this year – and has done the same with Lionel Ritchie, Wet Wet Wet and Rebecca Ferguson in the past, it’s nothing if not varied.

When we meet for interview in a Surrey commuter town, she’s booked to play a children’s party that night – part of the Rocket Fuel initiative, where fans and supporters can book bands and musicians for events, as well as make pledges to support their recording, touring and Christian ministry.

And through the spring this year she’s touring plenty of church venues in the lead up to the release of her new album Speed of Light at the end of April.

“I think my call in life is to be something of a go-between that is comfortable in both settings,” says Philippa. “My dad is a country singer and I started in the mainstream, yet I’m an outspoken Christian and spend a lot of my time in churches.”

Last year’s tour with her father Pat saw Philippa perform onstage with him for the first time since she was a child.

“Ordinary people are a lot more open to hearing about faith and life experiences than you’d think, so long as it’s done respectfully, and it really breaks down some barriers. I like the idea of an atheist sitting down next to a devout Christian at the same concert – we’re all just people at the end of the day!”

Philippa’s music has always crossed boundaries with appearances on BBC’s Songs of Praise mixed with airplay on Radio 2, and increasing experience writing in Nashville with some of country music’s most respected songwriters.

Mixing searching, honest lyrics with music that blends folk, country and gospel with contemporary sounds has often made people think about the faith and inspiration behind her songs.

“I played at a wedding in January where the bride explained she had come to see me on the Collabro/Britain’s Got Talent tour last year and loved the music. She played it to a group of students she worked with, teaching them the dance moves to my song Lighthouse. She said to me, ‘I’ve figured out who is behind your songs, and it’s inspired me to explore faith.’ I’ve had a few stories like that.”

Drawing on her experiences growing up, she wrote a number of songs on her first two albums addressing issues of identity and self-image, all the time refining her craft and working hard to create authentic songs that communicate.

“I think that’s why it’s taken me three years to release another album!” she admits. “I write a lot of songs and a lot end up on the cutting room floor because they don’t tick the right boxes for me. I need to get not just the song but the narrative right – ‘who am I singing to and why?’

“I expected to make more of a country album but God has led me in different ways and it’s ended up being an amazing dynamic pop album. Writing in Nashville has been a real refining process – I’ve had to let go of songs I really like and rewrite songs I was attached to, to make it cohesive. It’s challenging but brilliant and really helps you raise your game.”

First single Even Now has prompted a great response from Christian fans and the mainstream “because it sounds contemporary so people are really open to it”. And Philippa believes her faith comes through more directly on this album.

“It’s more important to do what you’re called to than be successful in the world’s eyes. You can sell a million records but would it really matter in two years’ time? I’ve had powerful testimonies from people and I think that’s only happened because I’ve been open, vulnerable and honest.

“It’s me sharing my story that will reach the few – and hopefully it’ll be real and have real value.”

Philippa and husband Joel plan to head out to the US in July “just hitting the road, touring, investing time in writing – I’m like a kid in a sweet shop writing songs in Nashville; it’s just the songwriter’s Disneyworld.”

She concludes: “I believe God has a plan for us: to stay authentic, be obedient and do what we’ve been asked to do.”    

+ Speed of Light is out on 29 April 2016 – find out more at www.philippahanna.com

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