When the first song commences, with Hannah Peel’s folky lilt rising above swirling synth riffs and retro dance beats, you might be forgiven for assuming you are in for a comfortable night of sweet pop. However, this music slowly peels back its many layers to reveal a flavour which can be sharp and raw.
The writing uses many musical styles at once, encompassing rock, folk, jazz, pop and dance, overlaid with an ethereal voice which belies the earthly content of her lyrics. Each song explores the ups and downs of her grandmother’s life with dementia, a theme which was sparked by a rare connection they made whilst singing a familiar song together. Hannah bends the sound of her violin with effects pedals, mixes recorded speech with live vocals and contrasts drum machine loops with Daisy Palmer’s live percussion, which is as fine and intricate as lace. They create a complex, distorted and often disorienting sound which mirrors her grandmother’s state of mind. It is a radical way of engaging Hannah’s younger audience with the themes of aging and memory loss.
The video, which runs on a loop behind the performers, flicks between the confusing snowstorm of a badly tuned cathode ray TV and the sharp loops of home videos taken from memorable times in her grandmother’s life: family picnics, holiday films and weddings. Both music and visuals mimic the haze of her grandmother’s memory, through which crystal clear moments of the past burst into view and are lost again.
Hannah explains how she has to hand-punch the rolls for the vintage music box she uses as accompaniment and I am reminded of the ‘craft’ that goes into making music, which seems to have been lost from our charts. Here in Kent we have our own musical craftsman, Henry Dagg, with whom I was not surprised to discover Hannah has collaborated in the past. They share a desire for spectacle on stage, not just people huddled over laptops pressing buttons, and a love of using old technology to create a new sound. As the music box sounds its final note, the roll drops to the floor like the last leaf of autumn signalling the onset of life’s winter.
After enjoying this display of skill, creativity and hard work, I am left wondering why is it still so unusual to see an all-women line up on the music stages of the UK? Perhaps because the industry is still so dominated by men? We need more initiatives like the PRSF Woman Make Music scheme to help drive talent like Hannah Peel beyond the fringes of the industry and place more women on our stages. (AB)
- Anna Braithwaite
Links Relevant to this Diagnosis
Hannah Peel - http://www.hannahpeel.com
Sidney de Haan Research Centre - https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/health-and-wellbeing/sidney-de-haan-research-centre/
Experiences of Women in the Music Industry - Marie Claire
Guardian - Music Industry Dominated by Men