Philippa Hanna Live At Bilston Academy

Friday 12th February 2010

Bilston Academy, Saturday 6th February 2010 concert review by Mike Rimmer

Philippa Hanna (photo: RC Bakker)
Philippa Hanna (photo: RC Bakker)

Bilston Academy isn't like Brixton Academy, it isn't a club venue, it's an educational establishment. And for this evening, the main hall has been hired and transformed into a concert venue and about 150 locals have taken the time on a Saturday night to sit and listen as Philippa Hanna sings her songs and shares a few stories.

Backstage has a pile of gym equipment but no seats so we gather round a rowing machine to have a chat. This is the second gig of a 19 date tour. Last night was the opener on home territory and so as Philippa later describes it, this is the first time they've faced a "real" audience. Not that they should be nervous since the four piece do an extremely good job, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.

Opening the show is Andy Baker, Hanna's producer and long time musical collaborator. He shuffles into the light and welcomes us to the show, picks up an acoustic guitar and plays a couple of songs. His album is 'Far From Over' and it showcases his songwriting. The test of great songs is whether they work when totally stripped down. Baker's songs pass the test.

Before the gig Baker is self deprecating. Hanna jokes that he invited himself into an opening slot. Baker says, "Nobody will book me so I book myself for gigs. We want people to experience what we do and having Roo Walker on the tour, we thought we'd let him loose so they can have a taste of what he does. It's nice we can take our own support acts within such a small unit."

Walker is a spontaneous support act. He chooses to do a completely different set than the previous night and obviously has a very low attention span so likes to keep himself musically entertained. He does the same for us with a series of solo instrumental pieces that simply demonstrate his dexterous guitar playing on both acoustic and electric guitar. Walker is then joined by Andy Baker on bass and Pete Dawson on drums for the rousing title track of his debut EP 'Positive Music'.

Talking to Walker beforehand he confesses that 'The Positive Music' EP will be available by next week. He hangs his head and says, "It should be available now but I forgot to pay the people. This is my life, this is what I do." To illustrate Hanna hints that he did a launch gig for the EP last year! Walker confirms, "I got loads of people to come and then had to tell them I was sorry because I hadn't finished it!" But by the time you read this, copies should be available and judging by his performance, it's definitely worth checking out.

After Roo Walker's quirky pop, the band fire up "He'll Love Me" and while the intro is playing, Philippa Hanna strides onto the stage, looking confident and comfortable and launches into the song. The set draws on her first two albums and the band have settled into a tight groove with a little help from backing tracks which subtly add some backing vocals or keyboards here and there, but don't think that this is anything else than live pop rock dispensed with effective skill.

Hanna is a consummate professional, communicating with the audience in a friendly down to earth fashion as she plays favourites like "Just Your Girl" and "Work In Progress". The mix of pop, rock and a touch of funk suits her voice and live, Hanna proves to be a more soulful singer than is captured on her releases.

In between the songs she weaves something of her story, sharing her journey to faith and speaking without shame but in a very natural way about how she became a Christian. Hanna is obviously very at home in front of an audience. The 12 song set is full of bright moments but I particularly like the understated funk of "Return To Love" and the powerful catchy pop of "Changing My Mind".

In the dressing room Andy Baker explains the aim of the tour which follows on from a couple of previous acoustic tours. "It's good to take the band out on the road to showcase the latest album," he says. "We want people to come out and experience a special event and we've been really blessed with Big Blue Box doing PA and lights. There are 19 dates and it showcases what Philippa does with a band and raises some awareness for Compassion UK."

Philippa chips in, "You take each night as it comes and everybody deserves to have a good night." The work of Compassion is close to her heart and a video of her trip to Haiti in 2009 is shown. Then she sings a new song, a single of which will raise money for that earthquake devastated country. The song is "Ave To Love" which she co-wrote with Elliott Kennedy whose songs have been big hits for the Spice Girls, Bryan Adams and others.

Returning after a short interval, the second half kicks off with "All Those Years" and "Summer Bride". Hanna likes to share stories behind some of the songs. She says, "I am trying to go to the places from where I wrote the song and thinking about how it might affect the people in the audience." She shares a witty reminiscence about how another new song, "I Am Amazing", was inspired by a brochure for plastic surgery.

The set closes with a stripped down piece of funk called "Mr Right" which sees Roo Walker letting loose on guitar. Overall Philippa Hanna does an excellent job of communicating through a set of well crafted and tightly performed songs. There's no doubting that her on stage talent equals what we've already heard on CD. I can imagine she's gaining new fans with every performance. "I like making friends," she giggles, and that's exactly what she's doing! CR

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.
About Mike Rimmer
Mike RimmerMike Rimmer is a broadcaster and journalist based in Birmingham.


Reader Comments

Posted by Jen Booker in Rugeley @ 10:11 on May 18 2010

Seeing Philipa and Roo was amazing!
They are both SO talented, they truely have a gift from God. Fair play they show it to the word...It's something to shout about.
Also from everyone at Victory Christian Centre in Rugeley...(Stafford.. ;) ) SOUL SURVIVER!!!

We all thought you were amazing and hope you come again soon.

Posted by leonie in wath up on dearn @ 09:23 on Mar 3 2010

I came to one of her gigs n it wa mint (good)

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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