We The Drowned – Lisa Hannigan & S t a r g a z e

We The Drowned Lisa Hannigan & S t a r g a z e
Photo by Gerry Sugrue

Lisa Hannigan’s spellbinding live album in collaboration with Andre de Ridder’s contemporary-classical s t a r g a z e orchestra is out now via Play It Again Sam. To celebrate, the Irish singer-songwriter is sharing a new video of her and s t a r g a z e playing the emphatic, hauntingly-beautiful ‘We The Drowned’ at Dublin’s National Concert Hall on the night the LP was recorded. You can watch the video for ‘We The Drowned’ below.

Originally taken from Lisa’s 2016 album At Swim, produced by frequent collaborator Aaron Dessner of The National (who’s latest full-length features guest vocals from Lisa), the live performance of ‘We The Drowned’ is complete with an orchestral arrangement written by another member of the cult American band in Bryce Dessner. It’s a gorgeous, widescreen reimagining of her otherworldly folk that swaps the sparse, delicate sensibilities for an all-encompassing and deeply moving chamber ensemble comprised of mesmerising piano, emotive string and brass sections and dreamy backing vocals.

Talking about the track, Lisa says: “This is probably my favourite arrangement on the record. Thank you so much to Bryce Dessner for bringing his incredible talent to this song! And of course, thank you to s t a r g a z e for making me want to weep throughout.”

Live In Dublin is comprised of one new cut titled ‘Bookmark’ and 13 more tracks plucked from her extensive back-catalogue; one that’s spanned 17 years and several award nominations, from the Mercury Prize to Ireland’s Choice Music Prize and Meteor Music Awards. This meeting of minds captured on the album was the product of a chance-encounter at Cork’s Sounds From A Safe Harbour Festival in 2015. Both performing at the festival, it was there where Lisa met André de Ridder and the conductor would discuss his work with his European orchestral collective named s t a r g a z e, who had been busy working with everyone from Terry Riley, Nils Frahm and Julia Holter, to Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, These New Puritans and Iceage.

The following summer, at Berlin’s PEOPLE Festival, s t a r g a z e would end up inviting Lisa to perform a couple of her songs with them on stage and the project spiraled on from there.

“Walking in I felt vaguely trepidatious. Sometimes working with classically trained musicians can be slightly nerve-wracking as a singer songwriter because they speak a language so beautifully fluently that I can only fumble towards,” Hannigan recalls: “In a band, so much communication is done through the shoulders, the lift of an eyebrow, the feel of a small group breathing and dancing together. It’s hard to extrapolate that out into twenty, forty, even eighty people! It can feel like a glorious ocean liner tied to a creaking rowboat.”

Live In Dublin by Lisa Hannigan and s t a r g a z e is out now on digital platforms, vinyl and CD via PIay It Again Sam.

Thankfully, Hannigan’s apprehensions would prove to be unfounded: “When we started to play though, it felt like all of s t a r g a z e had climbed aboard my rowboat. They approach a song very much as a band would, with an enthusiasm and musicality which immediately felt like home. I was overwhelmed to hear my songs in such a widescreen way, going from black and white to technicolour, and hoped we could do more.” And just like that, the idea of a live album was born: “The idea of eventually making a record and playing more together felt very natural and easy. Having made three records of my own I had a notion of making a live record but wanted to do it in a slightly more unusual way. We called on some wonderful arrangers over the following couple of years and built our setlist up one song and festival at a time.”

Artists’ website: https://lisahannigan.ie/

Two very exciting pieces of Nick Drake news…

WAY TO BLUE THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKEThe first, is that WAY TO BLUE – THE SONGS OF NICK DRAKE is released on Navigator Records, April 15, 2013.

The concet features Teddy Thompson, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Lisa Hannigan, Scott Matthews, Krystle Warren, Danny Thompson and many more and was recorded live in London and Melbourne.

“Every week, somewhere in the world, singers gather in clubs and halls to sing the songs of Nick Drake. It is sobering to think that more people now hear his songs in a month than ever heard them in his lifetime.” – Joe Boyd

Undoubtedly one of the most influential English singer-songwriters of the last 50 years, Nick Drake found little mainstream success during his lifetime; however, since his untimely death at the age of 26, his fragile acoustic, autumnal music has touched the hearts of millions of people.

Over the years since Drake’s death, his original producer Joe Boyd has explored the possibility of producing an album in tribute to his songwriting. But despite many well-known artists wishing to participate, he always resisted, because it seemed the only practical way to accomplish it would be for each artist to supply a track recorded separately, with their own chosen musicians.

Boyd felt that the only way to avoid the pitfalls of the typical Tribute Album would be to have everyone together for a week in a rural studio, backing each other with harmonies and guitar parts, creating an organic whole of an album. By performing Way To Blue fifteen times over the course of four years, he has accomplished something resembling his original dream.

The songs have been honed and shaped over the course of time, and the spirit of togetherness among the Way To Blue company has proved inspiring to all participants.

The recordings on this new CD are the edited highlights of concerts in London and Melbourne; the interpretations provide evidence, if such evidence was ever needed, of the timeless depth of Nick Drake’s qualities as a songwriter. The result is an album with the quality of a studio production and the spontaneity of a live performance.

Writing in the album sleeve notes, Joe says,

“Selecting singers has been one of the most rewarding parts of this exercise. One criterion was that none of them should sound like Nick.Vashti Bunyan is the one singer who actually knew Nick. I tried to get them to write songs together, but should have known that two such self-contained people would have trouble provoking one another into a collaboration. Since that time, the arc of Vashti’s career has been almost as remarkable as Nick’s, with the gratifying difference that she has survived to enjoy the late (but not too late) adulation of a generation of singers, songwriters and fans.

Robyn Hitchcock was too young to know Nick, but not by much. He grew up, he says, “with his nose pressed up against the glass of the Sixties” and has carved out a brilliant career, bringing to his own songs and his interpretations of Dylan, Syd Barrett, the Incredible String Band and Nick Drake a genuinely original evocation of the mad spirit of those years.

Shortly after the Birmingham Town Hall show, as I was preparing a concert of Incredible String Band songs at the Barbican, I learned that Green Gartside, whose Scritti Politti recordings I had loved in the ‘80s, wanted to come and ‘play some back-up guitar or sing harmony’. I asked him whether he was equally fond of Nick Drake. You can hear the response in his performance of “Fruit Tree” on this cd.

Lisa Hannigan is a magnetic and melodic singer with clever, thoughtful songs. I had but to mention Nick to her and she was on the team. Her wild take on “Black Eyed Dog” brought down the house the first night and has done so ever since.

Scott Matthews, a Midlands singer-songwriter who went from small clubs in Wolverhampton to earn an Ivor Novello Award, sell 80,000 copies of his debut cd and duet and tour with Robert Plant. The passion and power of his version of “Place To Be” has all the more impact for the fact that it sneaks up on you.

Krystle Warren is an African-American woman with a powerful voice and impeccable taste who loved Nick and wanted to sing “Time Has Told Me”.  I saw in her the realization of a dream I had from the time I first heard Nick’s demo of  the song and was convinced it should be Roberta Flack’s follow-up to “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”.

Teddy Thompson is the talented son of my old friends and colleagues Richard and Linda Thompson. Teddy has his mother’s exquisite phrasing and sense of humour and his father’s intensity. Teddy’s seemingly effortless rendering of “Riverman” became one of Way To Blue’s highlights.

When we received an offer to tour Australia, we decided to bring six singers with us and add two locals. The male choice of Shane Nicholson was easy – he has become one of Australia’s favourite singers, winning award after award. Shane slotted easily into the show and delivered the impeccable “Poor Boy” you hear on the cd.

The female voice proved more difficult until I discovered the mesmorizing singing of Australian Zoe Rendell who with Steve Hassett, comprises the duo Luluc. The lineup was complete.

From his characteristic entry at the start of the second verse on “Things Behind The Sun”, many will recognize the “Danny Thompson feel” underpinning Way To Blue. A jazzer, he has lent his skills to dozens of my productions and hundreds of albums by artists across the pop, folk and jazz fields. Nick loved Danny, both for his playing and for the way he teased and cajoled him, never letting him retreat into his shell, drawing laughter from him whenever they met.

Nick was never a folkie and some from that world have been uncomfortable with his privileged education and accent. Yet Neil MacColl, son of that founding anchor of British folk, Ewan MacColl, is the most supremely accomplished virtuoso of the impossibly complex Drake guitar parts. Which needn’t be that much of a surprise – his mother Peggy Seeger is a banjo and piano virtuoso who can startle the uninformed by playing brilliant renditions of Debussy and Scriabin!

Kate St John insisted on Zoe Rahman for the piano chair. Zoe has been a revelation.  She is a jazz player, but her own albums deftly weave in the music of her Bangladeshi heritage; making the leap to the very English art-song of Nick Drake seems just another effortless step accomplished with the fluency of a virtuoso devoid of any hint of jazz cliché.

Guitarist Leo Abrahams warmed my World Music heart by adding the Ukrainian bandura to his adventurous use of effects. When he was unable to make the Australian tour, Steve Jones proved a more than able deputy. He shares with Leo a background of working with Brian Eno and composing film scores.

Also bringing World Music chops to the party is drummer Martyn Barker, who performs with the Justin Adams and Juldeh Camara duo as well as Billy Bragg and Beth Gibbons.

Each concert featured a section of seven string players. The personnel have altered with each tour, but first violins Oli Langford and Jules Singleton have provided brilliant leadership and all the British, Italian and Australian players have given us wonderful energy and have clearly loved playing Robert Kirby’s and Kate St John’s arrangements.

The sadness of honouring a poet who died so young was compounded when Robert Kirby passed away as we were preparing for the first Way To Blue tour. Robert was a classmate of Nick’s at Cambridge; the musical context of Nick’s first two albums is that of a collaboration between two friends. He took Nick’s music on its own elegant terms and created a body of work that has lasted far past both his and Nick’s life spans.

It would be impossible to imagine Way To Blue without Kate St John. Her impeccable taste on accordion and cor anglais combine with her arrangements and direction to provide the glue that holds this diverse project so sweetly together.”

NICK DRAKE BRYTER LAYTER REMASTERED AND BOXED VINYL EDITIONThe second piece of news is that the NICK DRAKE – BRYTER LAYTER – REMASTERED AND BOXED VINYL EDITION is OUT 29TH APRIL 2013 ON UNIVERSAL MUSIC CATALOGUE

Continuing the ReDISCovered boxed vinyl series of Nick Drake’s albums, Island Records presents his second album BRYTER LAYTER in a format similar to that used for the release of Pink Moon in 2012.

The album itself is a near exact replica of the original 1970 release, pressed on heavyweight audiophile vinyl, and remastered at Abbey Road from master tapes by the album’s original engineer John Wood.  Although the first generation master tapes were found to be unusable, Wood had made a safety copy of the album in 1970 and it is from this that the new album has been struck.

The vinyl comes in an Island card inner bag in a single pocket textured sleeve just as the original release would have done. In addition it is housed in a box containing a copy of the original shop poster, a smaller ‘Live’ poster/brochure and a reprint of Nick’s handwritten set list together with reproductions of the master tape reel and tape box lids.

The album comes with a selection of downloadable electronic formats, including either high-resolution files, the usual MP3 files or unique Dubbed-From-Disc files for that authentic play-back experience.