Barnsley based singer Philippa Hanna has been gaining critical acclaim since her arrival on the Christian music scene several years ago. Recently she has been gaining more mainstream attention and has been supporting Lionel Richie on his area tour. Philippa has an extremely busy schedule, from all her musical commitments to charity work and even writing a book. We had a chat with her to find out how the support tour is going, how she first got into music and who she thinks is a good female role model in the music industry.
How did you first get into music?
I’m from a musical family so my first memory is of my dad entertaining people. He is a singer and all round entertainer, he used to do comedy, play guitar, tell jokes and stuff. He dragged me on stage with him when I was about 2 years old, I used to learn Whitney Houston songs and sing them to the family, it feels like something that I always did.
You worked as a session vocalist for a while, did you always want to be recording your own material?
Absolutely, everything that I did was always trying to make in roads and create relationships with people. When you are a musician you just want to do music so you will take whatever comes, if someone says they will pay you to sing a jingle you think ‘well its better than sitting in an office’.
You have been supporting Lionel Richie on tour, how’s that been?
It’s been really amazing, a real education for me in what the world of arena touring is like. What a big event it is and how many people are involved in putting it together. It’s also been an adjustment as I am used to playing in smaller venues, I’m used to playing to people who have heard a bit of my music and come to see me but playing to 20,000 people who have no idea who you are is very challenging and a really good stretch, its good to be out of your comfort zone.
How’s the audience reaction been so far?
Really good and the feedback from venues has been really good and Lionel’s team has been really happy with it and that’s good as they took a chance on this unknown girl from Sheffield and they have been really pleased with the results so I feel like I have done my job.
How did you react when you first met him?
Well actually it was a bit of a sad thing because my mum and dad had been asked to go on the One Show and I just went along to keep them company. They were on the show to talk about me getting this support slot. Lionel was there, my mum and dad were waiting to give their piece to camera and the show ran out of time and so my mum and dad got cut from the show. I was busy thinking about how gutted I was for them and Lionel Richie was there and he came over and started consoling them, being really apologetic because he had given long answers to the questions. He was really sweet and very understanding because he has been in this position, he’s been a support act, his first major support slot was with the Jackson’s so he knows what its all about.
What have you learned from watching him perform each night?
I’ve been learning how he gives it 100% every night, he always goes the extra mile every night, sings and performs to his best and he makes time for people. It’s a really good people skill, to make a fuss of the people who have come to see you, make a fuss of the people who have come a long way, he takes time to say hello to people, after 40 years in show business I think that’s really good.
How did you get involved in filming a talent show in Hong Kong?
In 2010 I was invited by producer and songwriter Eliot Kennedy to go to Hong Kong to be a vocal coach and mentor on a talent search. They scoured five territories in Asia for five special girls to become a new pan Asian girl band and the result is a band called Blush and they are rocking at the moment. They supported Justin Bieber, Jessie J, the Black Eyed Peas and they are working their way up the charts in the US all the time so they are doing really well. Being a vocal coach was not want I set out to do but I thought this is a great project, it’s going to put me in the middle of lots of great music stuff so I thought just go for it.
Do you feel quite proud of what they have achieved?
It’s great yeah, especially when you remember the shy girls that came into the audition rooms and you see them strutting their stuff and being really confident, it’s amazing to think you are a part of that.
Is it something you would consider doing again?
I think if the right opportunity came forward I would do it, it’s totally all consuming. I feel for people doing things like the X Factor because it is so much more emotional that you think. When I watch the X Factor now and see the judges shaking, hesitating and crying because they don’t want to send anyone home it’s easy to think it’s just a game show but when you are in the thick of it it’s not, it’s peoples lives and peoples dreams and careers and it’s really full on. When we were out there we all worked around the clock for six weeks so it’s not something to enter into lightly but at the same time it’s 2 years on and I still think about it and miss being in Hong Kong so it was worth it.
You have written a book and it talks about your teenage years, how was it detailing all those memories?
Yeah, it can be. When I started doing it it seemed like such a good idea and about 3 weeks in I just thought ‘what am I doing? I am reliving all this horrible stuff’ even just pulling out my old diaries and getting into my head as a 13 year old was really depressing and I was really glad that I’m not there anymore. The point was to help people so I think if you can go through that and then realise ‘I am in a really positive place now, there is light at the end of the tunnel’ it’s worth the pain for the results.
You’re releasing a new book, when’s that out and what’s it about?
That one will be out in summer next year and that is about everyday miracles so it’s kind of about how your life can really transform when you surrender your life to a higher power. So for me, I became a Christian in 2004 and I was in a dark place at the time and I asked God for help and I started to notice these changes happening and because it was so significant to me at the time I kept a list of all these changes. When I looked back at it and started to see how the dots all joined up I was like ‘oh I see what was happening the whole time’. It’s kind of like a taste of how your life can really turn around and that anything is possible if you really believe it. If anyone was to tell me 2 years ago that I would be touring with Lionel Richie I just wouldn’t of believed them. It’s only come from having faith and being positive and believing something better to happen, so that’s what the book is about. It starts with me being in debt, in an unhappy relationship and feeling like I had no future and the book ends with me being married, my family being restored and being on this tour and having music out. It’s not me going ‘oh look I’m on tour with Lionel Richie’ but more ‘wow, I really never thought anything this good could happen to me, and yet I feel so blessed that maybe there is a God out there that loves me so much that he would give me this opportunity.’
What’s your song writing process like?
There are a couple of things that I do. Sometimes I have a song idea like a theme or a title, a picture in my mind and that idea will form into a few words that I will write a melody for. It sort of starts as a little seed and starts to grow in your mind into a little tree. When the tree is starting to look like a tree you can then pick up a guitar and start to write the words properly. I have to chew it over in my mind for a while before it becomes anything. That’s the usual way but there have been other ways. Sometimes people will give me a poem or a lyric and I’ve helped them turn it into a song, for me I think it’s really important to have a strong idea.
Both you and your husband are touring musicians, how do you cope being away from each other so much?
For the first year of our marriage it was really hard. We have been married 3 years now and the first year was the hardest as a few things came up in quick succession. I went to Haiti for 2 weeks, that was a trip with a charity to see the work they do out there and being away from Joel at that time was really difficult. Then I went on a Christmas tour with a Christian artist and then I went to Hong Kong. It did feel hard to rely on each other when you don’t see each other but we have been getting so much better as we have been touring together so it means we get to be together so it’s a lot easier.
Who do you think are good female role models in the music industry?
I think Adele is a great role model for two reasons. One, she obviously doesn’t fit the stereotype of what you think a pop star should be in terms of her look and her image, she’s not stick thin, she’s not showing her flesh all the time, she dresses stylishly and modestly. Also because she has been uncompromising in her music journey, she has had lots of opportunities to go in different directions but she has really stuck to her identity. In a time when people are listening to a lot of electronica and lots of really commercial stuff, she has just stayed really raw, to the point of not using auto-tune and keeping it real. Low and behold she is the biggest selling female artist ever so I think she is a great role model, sometimes I think about her when we are in the studio and I think ‘but will people get this’ and I think ‘Adele just did what she did and that’s all you can really do.’