Not many people can claim to have done the conga with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge but singer-songwriter, Hannah Nicholson from Colne certainly can. After performing at their reception as part of their party band the royals allowed them to stay and party. “It was unbelievable,” Hannah says when I ask her about the experience, “Some really interesting sights and tales to tell.” And the food? “It was amazing, I managed to get some of their cake. I kept it and froze it!”
Hannah has enjoyed a wide and varied career. After performing her first solo gig in a student pub whilst studying at the University of Salford, Hannah started playing on the local and Manchester folk scene before embarking on session singing where she ended up singing with Ellie Goulding for four years which she describes as amazing.
“I was just catapulted to doing top level pop stuff. I had to pinch myself”
“I had a bit of a whirlwind really,” Hannah explains, “I was just catapulted to doing top level pop stuff. I had to pinch myself.”
After touring around the country as part of Ellie Goulding’s entourage, Hannah eventually returned to the North, settling in Trawden forming psych-folk duo, Bird to Beast where Hannah enjoyed yet more success touring the country and playing at various music festivals.
However, Hannah is now focussing on her solo career with her first EP, Breathe, released in September which she describes as very honest.
“It’s really soulful and a bit melancholic. It’s about love and breaking up. The pain and then the strength that comes after.”
While her EP may be melancholic, life as a solo artist definitely isn’t. “It’s kind of empowering to be honest, just doing it by myself. I’ve definitely learnt a lot and I’ve grown a lot too. It was really scary at first but I’m really loving it. It’s just a totally different thing being solo to being part of a duo because you always have that dynamic of the other person and you can kinda hide a little bit behind them.”
But if the reaction to Hannah’s recent music is anything to go by, she has absolutely no need to hide. She recently performed a sell out gig at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge and launched her EP at The Castle in Manchester complete with a string quartet. When we speak, she’s fresh from performing Gisburn’s Cloudspotting Festival. Having previously performed there with Bird to Beast, she admits it was great to be back under her own steam.
“I absolutely loved it, I love the festival and a lot of people were coming up to me afterwards saying how much it moved them. Loads of people were in tears! It’s good to know my music has got that kind of effect. It’s the highest compliment that I can have.”
But how does one write music so touching and profound that it incites an emotional response?
“Sometimes I write quite methodically, wake up and start writing. But other times, I’ll be driving home after a gig. Like I was listening to Scott Walker on my iPod and I was just really inspired to write some melody and lyrics so I just pulled over in the service station and started writing. It was three am in the morning! Sometimes things just stick with you like something you’ve read in a book and you just think woah, that is something I need to write
When she’s not singing, Hannah works as a vocal coach. She recently coached on BBC’s Let It Shine which Hannah describes as very exciting. “It was lovely to work with the boys and help them to perform their song and get to the meaning of them. I think it really helps that I’m an artist because I can coach them through the technique of singing in quite a technical way but also add that creative colour.”
Hannah is currently still based in Colne capitalising on the contacts that she has up North to launch her EP. When asked whether she thinks the North is a good place for artists to be, Hannah is very enthusiastic.
“I do! I think it’s amazing, there’s a lot of talent especially in small, mill towns like where we are. There’s a lot of poverty and struggle. I think the greatest art comes from hardship. I don’t think you’re going to get anything ground-breaking coming out of say, Bath, there’s too much contentment and money!”
Hannah is undoubtedly busy but she stills finds time to relax. A self-confessed bookworm, Hannah also enjoys life drawing. “The human form is really interesting, it’s really expressive. I love painting people’s faces, especially unusual faces. There’s such a beauty in everyone’s
face. It’s amazing what you can get from someone’s face and body.”
And has her hobby ever influenced her music?
“Definitely the way I look at things and the way I view life and people. I have written about other people and things like that. I just like people and their lives. I find everything about them really fascinating.”