Tony Cummings spoke to the husband and wife backbone of ANNA ELIAS & THE FORLORN HOPE
The latest News message of the website of Anna Elias & Forlorn Hope will no doubt have struck hope in the hearts of numerous discerning music lovers. It read, "Looking forward to playing live again and maybe introducing some new songs to the set." For though they've only released one album so far, the independent 'Valleys In The Flatlands', the group - Anna Elias (vocals), Harvey Elias (guitars, backing vocals), Colin Dunkley (cello) and Matt Wendels (guitars) - have received more critical accolades in their short life than most bands manage in their entire history. After playing Forlorn Hope's epic "Evensong" track, BBC Radio 2 commented, "I think it's really beautiful"; Folk Radio enthused, "Anna's soft vocal style captivates from the first note"; while the Cross Rhythms reviewer commenting on their 2011 Greenbelt performance commented, "Their style was wistful, poignant and though 'slow and melancholic' as Anna described it, was also infused with glimpses of transcendence."
I spoke to Harvey and Anna Elias abut their music and began by asking them about the Forlorn Hope name. Harvey explained, "In the Napoleonic Wars, when there'd been a siege, and the siege guns had knocked down the first opening in the wall, the Forlorn Hope were the first group of soldiers pushed up through into the city. Most of them would die, but if you made it through, you tended to me made a captain or you got promoted, and you had a life after that. We just liked the idea of it; I thought it was a lovely name." Anna added, "It's the idea of there always being a hope. Where it feels like there's hopelessness, there is always a hope that comes through."
Anna Elias is well known on the Leeds music scene for fronting mainstram art pop band Bodixa. Between 1997 and 2006 Bodixa (sometimes known as Star*Bodixa) worked steadily and released four EPs and a full length album which won them an enthusiastic clique of fans and considerable Greenbelt popularity but never quite led the group to the big record deal their talent deserved. One thing that did come out of Anna's years with Bodixa though was a husband, as Harvey recounted. "I was playing in another band. It was band called Poon Tang, quite a loud Leeds rock band. Anna's band played with us, and we ended up on a circuit up there, then we met each other and ended up getting married in 2001."
When Bodixa called it a day, Anna found that being a wife and mother didn't stop her desire to create. She explained, "I've always loved writing songs and I guess when I had the children I thought, 'Is this going to just end now?' But actually it inspired new creativity. Harvey and I started to write songs in our attic when we moved from the Midlands in 2007. Then we met various musicians in the town that we live in. There's quite a big folk scene in Nottinghamshire, in the more rural areas. People like Karine Polwart (the renowned Scottish folk singer/songwriter), who was a real inspiration. Karine is actually on the 'Valleys In The Flatlands' album. Making the album took a long time. The songs have just emerged really slowly, and there's been no pressure from anywhere, so it feels quite true."
Harvey added, "You've got to play songs live before you know how they need to be arranged, then you go back and rearrange them - add bits to them. Songs have got to mature. It does feel like it couldn't have been done any more quickly. It's taken a long time, but it's been worth it. All the right people have been there."
Some of the "right people" on 'Valleys In The Flatlands" are the internationally known Southwell Minster Choir. Harvey explained how the Choir's thrilling contribution to "Evensong" came about. "I used to be a choir boy with Southwell Minster, a long time ago. Anna was saying, 'It'd be great to get the choir on!' I was saying, 'They're a professional choir, they do Radio 3! There's no way they'll have time to do this, unless we pay them a lot of money.' Anna was pushing the kids round Southwell Minster one day - she goes there to get some peace and quiet - and she ran into Paul Hale, who's the rector chori, and said, 'Would the boys come and sing on this song we've got?' Paul Hale, being a lovely guy, said, 'Yes, just come on down to one of our practises'. I said, 'I can't believe you just went up to him and said that and he said, 'Yes'! A guy called Guy Turner, who works with the Minister choir, did the arrangement. Everybody said, 'We don't want any money: we'll just do it for the fun of it'. We were very blessed."
The whole album, and especially the "Evensong" track, has received rapturous response from those who've heard it. Making beautiful music without feeling the need to indulge one's ego is something very close to Anna and Harvey's hearts. Said Harvey, "We've both been in bands before, and the whole idea of being famous or people admiring you is something we don't like. We don't get that, but we get the idea of music meaning as much to other people as it means to us. After it was played on Radio 2, the Mike Harding show, a couple of weeks ago, we got an email from a guy in Canada who heard "Evensong". That one email made everything worthwhile: one person that we'd never met, four thousand miles away. That's all it is, those moments of beauty."
Added Anna, "I'd like people to sense a spirituality in the music. It'd be good if people thought about, 'What else is there?' Life is mystery and God is a creative God. Some of the lyrics talk about it. It's not all blatantly obvious, but it's part of our lives, so it comes out when we're writing."
Harvey ended with a succinct one-liner, "You can't keep God out of the music."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.