Chris Mountford spoke to the Sheffield-based singer/songwriter PHILIPPA HANNA
Philippa Hanna has been dubbed Britain's most popular Christian female singer by Cross Rhythms. She has spent 13 years building up a fan base performing in venues big and small and recording as an independent artist. Earlier this year she signed her first record label deal, teaming up with Integrity Music and her album 'Stained Glass Stories' is out now. Philippa spoke to Cross Rhythms about her new project and her change in ministry approach.
Chris: Tell me about the events leading up to 'Stained Glass Stories'.
Philippa: I kind of dated record labels for about five years just recognising that I was limited in how many people I could reach under my own steam and so keen to share my story with as many people as possible and hopefully bring people home the way I was brought home by somebody else's testimony. So I spent a lot of time in Nashville, a lot of your listeners will have seen that journey going back and forth and speaking to people. And then this natural situation unfolded. About 18 months, two years ago me and my family had a really tough time. In a short space of time there was a bunch of separations and divorces especially key people in our lives who had been parent figures, who had been leaders for us. And following straight on from that a church division where our leadership changed. Everything changed. Everything we knew about being in the Christian walk, everybody that we sort of relied on for spiritual guidance, they were suddenly in chaos. We felt like we were walking the walk without a net, so to speak. It was very unsettling, a very difficult time. We were just about to do a trip to Nashville to write songs and I had it in my mind that I was going to write a bunch of pop songs, country songs, all my usual kind of CCM style. I just ended up in bits in every single writing room I went into, telling them all about what was happening in our lives, and worship was what came out of that. The whole time this had been happening - I've had a good relationship with Integrity for years, knowing very much that they're a worship label though, and what I was doing at the time wasn't strictly worship so Integrity were like pastors. They used to set up writing sessions for me, just me when I was in Nashville because they've got an office there as well. And then it turned out that I wrote a worship album. So it made absolute sense for me to come into the fold and become part of the family officially. So that's what happened. We realised we had 11 songs that were a record and we needed someone to help me put it together and get it out there.
Chris: You say worship music. What IS worship music?
Philippa: Well, on this particular album for me it's communication and dialogue. It's like having a loving conversation with God, the living God who has saved and changed my life. These songs are me sometimes asking for help from God; sometimes thanking him for help and sometimes just declaring who I believe that he is. I think that's really important. On a song like "Oh, The Power" I'm describing the fact that there's nothing the power of Jesus can't break, no chain that can't be broken by it, no prison that can't be opened by it. I would say it's a love conversation, a gratitude conversation and also a declaration of who I believe God to be.
Chris: Why the title 'Stained Glass Stories'?
Philippa: Coming towards the end of the making of the album you're always looking for that phrase or word that will tell people what this album is in a quick sound bite. I was really struggling with that. On my way to my last performance before lockdown, (I didn't know it was my last performance at the time, although I did have a strange sense that something was about to happen), I walked into this big traditional church, gorgeous, really old building. It was nearly dusk and the sun was pouring in through the stained glass windows; everything was covered in this explosion of coloured lights and I was transfixed by it. I was walking through it, watching it make patterns all over me as I walked through. I spoke to the caretaker and said what is stained glass? Why is it here? What's it all about? And he said it's story telling. It was always made to tell stories and it was designed so that anybody from any walk of life could see the picture and know the nature of Jesus, know who God was even if they couldn't read or even if they were from different backgrounds or didn't speak the language. I thought that is so incredible. To me, that is what these songs are. They are like a stained glass window that is a snapshot of my journey with Jesus and what God was helping me with, sort of my way through. When God shines his light on our situation, however dark, whether it's losing your job because of the coronavirus pandemic or whether it's your marriage falling apart or a bereavement, a miscarriage - any of those things. When God shines his light through it, it becomes this story that other people can see and other people can learn about God from. So that's where the name came from.
Chris: Tell me about some of the other songs. What about "My Hope Is In The Blood"?
Philippa: Like I said, some people very close to me had made some really, really big mistakes - world altering, life altering mistakes. When a leader that is close to you falls in some way it is very traumatic. It rocks your understanding of leadership and your understanding of humanity as well, especially if you've been betrayed or lied to. And as I was thinking about that, God convicted me: all of my mistakes were dealt with on the cross and Jesus' blood is always enough for anything I do wrong and it's always enough for anything that anybody else has done wrong as well. I was suddenly in awe of the cross because of what it enabled; it enabled me to be free of all of my past mistakes. And I need to remember that when the people around me fail as well. So that is where "My Hope Is In The Blood" came from.
Chris: Even though the pandemic came out of nowhere and it wasn't on our horizons, do you feel this is timely in some of these songs?
Philippa: Definitely. It would never be my ideal campaign climate. I'd much rather people weren't going through the worst times of their lives and losing loved ones. But, having said that, you look at it and think it is quite an important resource. There are a lot of things that can be taken from this time that are very positive. And in a way that's God shining his light through the situation. The situation is grim, there's no doubt about it, but the way he's brought families back together, the way he's given us time with our families - especially parents with young children who are usually working, kids in child care or school - precious time. One of the other singles that came out, "Everything Is Possible", I made a video for that you can watch on youtube. It's a compilation of everybody's lockdown highlights. There's everything in there from people learning new skills like baking and crocheting to kids having fun outside and dog walks, just precious time really. And those super precious moments when we've been allowed to see our families again. Would you ever have thought you'd be so grateful to hug your Mum? Or pick up your grandchild? It's good to have wake up calls like that, isn't it, to remind us what's really important.
Chris: We've been in this period of lockdown and that's changed all our worlds so much. Has lockdown affected you massively?
Philippa: Yes, it's affected the situation and it's affected me because there have definitely been days when I just wanted to cry all day because I felt like lockdown was robbing me of this moment when I could have gone out there and shared these songs live with people. It was such a big deal for me to sign with a label properly for the first time it was like, what an anti-climax. But I guess it helped to put things into perspective knowing that people have had operations cancelled, weddings cancelled, school leaving do's, school, everything. Lockdown has robbed everybody of something. And so rather than feeling really sorry for myself about it I thought I have these songs and I can still get them out there so it's not like all is lost. I have to trust that God knew and I absolutely believe that he did know because we did the photo shoot very quickly. Once we'd decided to do a photo shoot we did it in two days and we got it wrapped up so quickly and lockdown happened the next day. We'd just finished everything, perfect timing. It would have been way worse if I'd been half way through it. So all was not lost.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.