INTERVIEW: THE LINDSAY HANNON PLUS | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Considering Lindsay Hannon’s varied musical background, it perhaps comes as no surprise that jazz has become her latest love. The Newcastle-based musician earned her musical chops in an indie rock band but she soon graduated to blues and discovered a belting bluesy voice hidden inside her, which is used to explosive effect in one of her (many) other projects, indie pop trio Iceni. However, it was only when she began hanging out with a group of jazz musicians that she was impressed by a whole different level of artistry. “It was an eye opener to realise you could turn up with a music stand, some fairly rudimentary chord changes and be able to turn in a pretty great performance. I saw this as being true musicianship and wanted to know how it worked. And I’m still working on it!”

Lindsay’s cautious modesty is unnecessary, as evidenced on her second record with jazz fusion quartet The Lindsay Hannon Plus, she’s more than got the hang of ‘true musicianship’. Make Dark Heaven Light (a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, fact fans) heralds a period of change for the group; pianist James Harrison is off touring with Philip Schofield (as you do), and the dynamic has shifted to include Mark Williams’ multifaceted guitar. “In many ways that has changed our sound, not only in terms of the instrumentation but in terms of our approach; it feels very spacious at times, with a lot of dynamic, moments of tension and moments of tenderness.”

Alongside double bassist John Pope and drummer Russ Morgan, the group’s new album is a record full of subtle nuance. No doubt the highlight is Lindsay’s voice, which veers from discreetly mournful and introspective to brassy and uninhibited. Songs like Everyone, with its swinging rhythm and warm meandering guitar leaves little room to hide, and Lindsay’s vocal is faultless. The shuffling bossa nova of Maths offers up a fragile tone, while the delicate ballad and understated instrumentation of Morning Revisited is hauntingly beautiful; it’s a track that stands out, not just for its true tale of Lindsay’s mother’s experiences of being pregnant and alone in an unmarried mothers home in Salford, but as a story that needed to be told. The album’s storytelling nature rewards repeated listening, and Lindsay’s keen to explore this element regardless of the musical form it takes. “I used to worry about material being ‘jazz’ enough, either in its heritage or delivery, now I play songs that resonate with me or the stories I want to tell. Music gave me a medium to explore and express or even discover emotions safely, privately, emotions which I’d outwardly suppress. That sincerity and commitment to acting as a conduit for a story is the important bit to me, not the constraints or expectations of genre. I want to make people cry, or think about sex, or laugh, or be really impassioned.”

That sincerity and commitment to acting as a conduit for a story is the important bit to me, not the constraints or expectations of genre

Lindsay admits the record’s subject matter veers down occasionally uncomfortable paths. “It’s often variations of the same theme with me; unrequited love, frustrations with myself, the pathos to be found in life’s disappointments. That’s not as bleak as it sounds.”

When it comes to getting ideas down on paper, Lindsay rarely finds lyrical inspiration when she sits down to write melodies or harmonies, instead capturing her lyrics as they occur in the humdrum of normal life. Guitarist Mark fleshes out harmony ideas and the group further the ideas together. “Sometimes we don’t need to develop them too much; sometimes we lose all control and change the ideas radically.” An element of improvisation is key to the genre, but Lindsay observes that the group always start out knowing what they’re working around. “It’s a bit like a conversation around a topic; you don’t know exactly what you’re going to say but you know the parameters or direction of that conversation so you improvise around it. When recording we may be a little more restrained insofar as we’ve avoided any eight minute solos, but it’s still pretty much the same thing as we do live. Apart from the madness that grips the second you know you’re being recorded – reduces strong minds to jelly!”

The uninhibited structure of jazz’s nature is clearly what drew Lindsay to the genre. “Jazz is so often created in the moment that it can be fascinating to watch the communication and interplay of the musicians on stage.” For the uninitiated listener, or those who fear the genre’s moveable parameters, Lindsay advocates being open-minded. “Jazz is such a massive brolly in terms of the sort of music it can encompass, I think quite understandably people either perceive it to be fairly standardised or extraordinarily way out. In the same way it might be hard to appreciate modern art or conceptual art without having an understanding of its historical heritage or lineage from representational art; it can be very difficult to appreciate some more contemporary jazz without understanding where it came from. If you understand its background, then you understand what it was borne out of and that it didn’t just emerge fully formed.”

Lindsay observes that these preconceptions around the genre can often make getting gig bookings from ‘mainstream’ promoters challenging, but that audiences are often engaged. “Playing for audiences that wouldn’t call themselves a ‘jazz’ audience, like the students that go to the Jazz Café or people who watch the Jazz North East stage at NARC. Fest, they always seem to engage and appreciate the music. It often defies expectations about what jazz is – some of the most brutal rock and highly intense music I’ve heard in the last year have been from a couple of local bands, the Mark Williams trio and saxophone-led trio of Archipelago – and folk love it!”

When it comes to The Lindsay Hannon Plus’ own repertoire, it’s not merely jazz that the audience has come to expect. “We play blues, ballads, some swing, the odd bossa, some groove-based Pointer Sisters inspired moments…they could expect pathos, noise and tenderness. Frank Zappa said ‘does humour belong in music?’ and we definitely find a place for that too. Join us!”

The Lindsay Hannon Plus launch their album at The Lit & Phil, Newcastle on Saturday 28th October.



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