Lisa Hannigan - out from the shadows, into the spotlight

JUST UNDER 10 years ago Lisa Hannigan drifted into the public consciousness as the otherworldly backing vocalist in Damien Rice’s band and featured prominently on Rice’s chart-topping debut album O.

Over time though Lisa began to shimmy into the spotlight more and more and many earmarked her as potentially an accomplished artist in her own right.

In 2006 the County Meath-born songstress provided vocals on Rice’s second album 9 but by then the cracks in their partnership were beginning to show. Early the following year Rice announced his professional relationship with Lisa had “run its creative course” and their collaboration had ended.

Lisa began writing and recording her own songs and in September 2008 released her debut solo album Sea Sew in Ireland. It was a critical and commercial success and garnered the singer-songwriter a Choice Music Prize nomination and a Best Irish Female Artist in the end-of-year Hotpress Readers’ Poll Awards.

Almost a year to the day from Lisa’s album release, she was nominated for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize alongside Kasabian, Glasvegas, La Roux Florence and the Machine, and Bat For Lashes. She narrowly missed out on the top prize to rap artist Speech Debelle but raised her profile significantly in Britain.

Over the past year Lisa’s musical talents have shone through and she rounds off a busy 2009 with an extensive Irish tour which takes in a performance at The Live Lounge in The Radisson Blu Hotel on Tuesday December 8 at 8pm.

The year began with the release of Sea Sew in America through Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. In May she performed on Later With Jools Holland and during the summer she played Glastonbury and Electric Picnic. Within days of her Stradbally appearance she received word of her Mercury Prize nomination.

“It was a big shock but very exciting,” she says of her nomination for the best UK and Ireland album prize. “It was amazing and completely unexpected because I hadn’t even thought about it as a possibility. The timing of the nomination was exactly a year after the record came out in Ireland.

“There were five ladies on the list of 12 nominees so it was a great year for women. I was excited about seeing Bat For Lashes live and she was as good as I’d hoped she would be. I’d gotten Speech Debelle’s record when she was nominated and I thought it was really good. Everyone that was nominated got to play and it was just a brilliant night.”

Prior to her performance at the ceremony in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel on September 8, Snow Patrol front man Gary Lightbody introduced Lisa by saying “her voice is magical”. It was a fitting endorsement and highlighted that Lisa was a serious contender for the award.

“He rang and told me he’d been asked to do that,” Lisa says of Lightbody. “All of the nominees sort of got someone to champion them and he did it for me and it was very, very kind of him. I did a little tour with Snow Patrol a couple of years ago and they were really lovely.”

Since the awards ceremony Lisa has been busy touring and promoting Sea Sew, which the Los Angeles Times describes as “charmingly idiosyncratic”. Building on her international success Lisa recent toured the USA with David Gray and was delighted to go on the road with the Welsh warbler.

“It was brilliant,” Lisa states. “I’d never met him before so it was great to finally meet him. We had three and a half weeks with him and it was fantastic hearing the songs from his new record every night. David has got a lot of Irish people in his band and crew so it felt very homely. He loves Ireland and so he was very friendly and kind and welcoming. We got to play 40 minutes a night and it was brilliant to connect with new audiences and get the songs out there.”

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone Lisa described her band as “like the von Trapps – only with less harmonies and lederhosen”!

Lisa has built an impressive backing band of friends around her which includes former Damien Rice drummer Tom Osander, ex-Mundy bassist Shane Fitzsimons, and multi-instrumentalist (and solo artist ) Gavin Glass. Her roommate from Dublin also doubles as her tour manager so there is a distinct family feel to her touring entourage.

“It is absolutely important to have people around you that you know because on the road you’re living with people day in and day out,” Lisa says. “Normally you’re occupying a space that’s considerably smaller than your living room so you really have to get on. I’m lucky in that the people I’m working with I’ve known for years and years.”

The band regularly gets together for jam sessions and out of these come ideas for the live show. One of the hits of the recent US tour was Lisa’s rocking version of Depeche Mode’s ‘Personal Jesus’. It has featured prominently on Youtube and has garnered attention from fans in high places

“We just started playing it and it took off,” Lisa says. “Gavin Glass bought me an Appalachian dulcimer as a present and I was messing around with it at home. The Johnny Cash version of ‘Personal Jesus’ is one of my favourite songs and it’s kind of the only version I really know.

“The band and I began playing it at rehearsals and then we did it live. It is great fun to play and actually the guys from Depeche Mode have put a link to it on their Twitter page. There’s been no direct contact with Dave Gahan or anyone but the fact that they’re aware of our cover of their song is pretty cool.”

Following her upcoming Irish tour Lisa will take time out to concentrate on her second solo album and this time next year could well be on her way to major international stardom.

“I’ll be at home for a good bit of the next year,” she says. “I’ve written a few songs and I’m looking forward to getting a bit of time to write more. Hopefully in January/February it’ll be full on writing and then I’d hope the album would be out by late September. It’ll be done when it’s done but I’m not going to rush it.”

Tickets to Lisa Hannigan at the Radisson are €23 (subject to booking fee ) and are available from Ticketmaster, Zhivago and the venue. See www.lisahannigan.ie

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