Hannigan’s star shows no sign of waning

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

NO superlative is too grand to describe Lisa Hannigan, the blissfully ethereal singer who has taken Ireland and the wider world by storm.

NO superlative is too grand to describe Lisa Hannigan, the blissfully ethereal singer who has taken Ireland and the wider world by storm.

Having already successfully built a heady profile around these shores and worked her way onto impressive stages and high profile television appearances in the UK and America, Hannigan recently made the trip to Australia to perform at a tribute concert to Nick Drake, taking a call from the Limerick Leader when she happened to be in Sydney.

The gig means that she gets to perform in none other than Sydney Opera House - a stunning measure of how far she has come since a former life as the nervous singer who once sang backing vocals for the waspish Damien Rice.

That chapter of her life is closed; now, she is a strong, confident performer, surrounded by a stellar cast of exquisite musicians who hang on her every word - weaving a musical web that still captivates when you experience them live.

Hannigan cannot conceal her delight at being invited to perform in the iconic building at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

“It’s only in the Sydney Opera House,” she squeals with delight, “I am so excited about it.”

Foolishly, we enquire if she has played there before, her playful wit gently admonishing us for such a silly notion.

“No! I haven’t even been in it! Oh yeah, I’m so sick of playing the Opera House,” she says in a voice dripping with genial sarcasm. “I am so excited it is going to be amazing.”

It does turn out as such, Hannigan receiving rave reviews, as she typically does wherever she goes. And it has been a busy few years since she released the wonderful debut Sea Sew in 2008, leading to much touring and an unsurprising title for her follow-up, the excellent Passenger, a number one in Ireland on its release recently. A more mature and often much darker effort, it shows Hannigan has drawn much from the experiences of the last few years on the road.

“Yeah, I think so,” she agrees. “I guess just from doing my own thing for the last few years I definitely feel more confident in it and more sure of my own self and trust my instincts a bit more I think. I certainly wanted it to be sort of a progression - even the artwork I wanted it to be simple and clean and it is definitely...I don’t know, I can’t say really, but I am really proud of it.”

The album cover continues her sewing theme - stitching together maps of the various places she recorded the songs.

“A lot of the record is meant or talks about being away and travelling and being in transit and I thought I wanted to use cartography of sorts for the cover,” she explains.

“The front cover is the map of the record, where I wrote most of it - a portion of Dublin, Brooklyn and Baltimore (Cork) where I recorded it and they all fit together really well, which is bizarre how they did. They are such different places and maps.

“It was then perforated onto paper and it was shot over a lightbox to make the lights come through, it looks sort of like you are on a plane and looking down and it is meant to be slightly confusing as to what it is.. It should be slightly ambiguous but now I have gone and told you everything,” she laughs.

For those lucky to have seen her play regularly, the songs on the album will not entirely be new, rather most are familiar, given that she has crafted them in the live setting, ignoring well established process. Being constantly on tour while writing it also helped avoid the build-up of pressure that comes from writing at home, that dreaded ‘second album’ pressure largely avoided as a result.

“With Sea Sew we literally toured for a year and a half and it was really brilliant,” she says. “I wrote lots of the record while I was away, and that was good as well, not be at home worrying about it. You know if you are writing songs while you are busy doing other things, it takes the pressure off a bit. I wrote loads at home when I did come home, but a lot of them started in that ‘being away time’ and it definitely made it a more natural and relaxed process.

“I think the moment you have a new song you want to play it. I know a lot of people say not to because of YouTube and that kind of thing, but I just couldn’t, you know, you can’t think about those things or you would never do anything, so the moment they are new you just want to play them, it is what happens. So some of them may seem older than they are nearly.”

Lisa Hannigan plays in Dolan’s Warehouse on December 18. Passenger is out now.