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"My Phone" by Hannah Woof

Review

During the last sixteen bizarre months or so, coverage of Coventry & Warwickshire artists in these pages has taken on unusual patterns.  Several names have been very prominent as they have found ways to keep on making and sharing their fine music, others have made more occasional appearances (some I'm pleased to say for the first time) and others, previously regularly covered, haven't featured at all. One such, whom we've not mentioned since our review of her single, the startlingly prescient "Self Care" which came out in March 2020 as the pandemic first hit the music scene, is Hannah Woof: however very thankfully her follow-up, "My Phone" is out today.

As you might imagine with an artist of this calibre, although she has been off our radar for a year and a quarter, her imagination has not been dormant in that period and she re-emerges in very fine form indeed.

Some aspects of her craft and identity remain gratifyingly in place: the trademark Hannah Woof feistiness & sassiness are still there as is the incisiveness of her lyrics: Hannah never pulls her punches with those. Her characteristic wit is also to the fore: the single's title derives from an analogy which I've never before heard used in a song to capture a sense of having had enough of something or someone..

What has however evolved is the sound these words accompany. We can, I think, trace this development back to her ground breaking single of November 2019, "Sweet Talk" (which you can also sample on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two') wherein we first saw her departure from earlier tracks which were characterised by what I once described as "very fragile & haunting songs played with a very very spare style".

Written with Jack Arnold and Danny Connors (and Jack produced the song too), "My Phone" has a much denser and contemporary arrangement than those spectral tracks & the fragility has evolved into a vocal tenacity and assertion to match the lyrics (which were often very feisty regardless of the musical framework).

That characteristic Woof articulacy is certainly all present and very correct and despite the months which have elapsed, none of her powers have disappeared in that time: quite the reverse. As Hannah herself told me "It feels so refreshing and uplifting to be back recording music. The space between "Self Care" and "My Phone" has felt so humongous but has also given me an opportunity to fall in love with writing and recording again."

Some things are well worth the wait & "My Phone" is definitely one of them. It may have taken a while, but building anticipation in one's audience is no bad thing and Hannah has previously shown a great care to spend time to get things right on record. Compelling & quite intoxicating, this new single is prime Hannah Woof in so many ways, yet another step along an evolutionary road for her work which will lead her goodness knows where.

Sharp eyed readers may also have noticed Hannah's ongoing creative relationship with photographer Emilié Cotterill of Transluceo and her work graces the single too: as indeed it does for Ian Todd's latest ("What Goes in is What Goes Out") which we reviewed earlier this week. It's good to learn that other professionals such as producers, engineers and photographers who work with musicians are slowly coming back into public view. We wish them all well for getting up and running again and sustaining their businesses.

You can check out the video for "My Phone" which Emilié created at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNHer-poB1U

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"Self Care" by Hannah Woof

Review

A mere few hours ago, on the stroke of midnight in fact, Hannah Woof released her new single, the zeitgeisty "Self Care", her first since her equally stunning  "Sweet Talk" which was reviewed in the magazine on 1st of November  and of course it also appears on "Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two".

Her last single caused a great many heads to turn and not only did it do so by its effervescent nature, but also because it was so different in tone from her previous release, the ‘Sleepless Nights' EP of May 2017.

"Self Care" (written by Hannah and Jack Arnold, produced by Jack and mixed by Matthew Cotterill) takes elements & qualities from both these records & is another one which will set your head reeling. Returning to the more sombre thoughts of the EP after the optimistic bounce & strut of "Sweet Talk", it contains all the elements of classic Hannah Woof: the ones you look for & respect, yet somehow enhanced & certainly intensified.

"Intensity" is a Hannah hallmark throughout her work & I find it impossible in reviewing her work & her performances not to keep on returning to the stark emotional truth of all she does: I'd apologise but surely every artist is entitled to have defining characteristics? She never holds back and pulling punches with her words is not part of her style. Under the words she, if anything, is paring back even further with her arrangements on each release. The music is as much space as playing & exists to frame & amplify the words, not to distract from them nor obscure her messages.

And so to the message itself. Sitting writing this in a similar state of physical & emotional isolation as you who are reading it, it is hard not to consider this song Hannah's response to the current drama. Rational consideration would tell me that even had it been written this week, recording would have been impossible & Hannah tells me that it's actually a piece she wrote a couple of months ago. Therefore the zeitgeist element might be seen as what Elvis Costello calls a "happy accident", or you might see her as clairvoyant. Both may be true, but for now I'll suggest that it is in fact the product of excellent songwriting: when a track written under specific circumstances or about a specific person or situation can be taken by listeners to apply just as equally to them: and that is a good test of the best songs.

Like all her work, "Self Care" is a song you feel immediately immersed in: this is not lightweight background music for some other activity. Put this on & you are committed to listening & sharing in the passion of the track. When it's finished, you may feel shaken & stirred: but that's surely how it should be: what value has a piece without having an impact?

Whether you choose to take it as plea for taking care during a time of medical crisis or the original intention of someone determined to be kinder to herself after being mistreated by another is your decision & we naturally extract what meanings we favour out of songs anyway. In either case the lyrics hit home hard as hers always do. There is also some plea in there for outside assistance and support & again I think that works for either interpretation.

Fundamentally, despite the frequent anguish in many of her songs, there is always a quietly stated or implied strength & determination to fight (back) & that's here in "Self Care" too. It's a strong message for all of us & a timely one too...

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"Sweet Talk" by Hannah Woof

Review

I wrote last week of the issues & tensions which must exist around even the best artists as they develop their individual voice & sound yet need to ensure each release, while being true to their own individual style & sound, is however distinct from what went before: possibly via new influences, working with new collaborators & of course via their growth as a writer & performer. Thus it is great to follow certain artists over a long period of time & see such evolution, often gradual & occasionally in leaps & bounds. Seldom if ever however can I have recorded such a contrast between one musician's latest release & their previous one. "Sweet Talk" by Hannah Woof, released today,  is a real quantum shift from its predecessor, the ‘Sleepless Nights' EP  of May 2017 (have we really had to wait two & a half years? Thank goodness the wait is now over).

The differences are considerable: radical even, though the essential qualities Hannah brings to her craft remain. Thankfully.

If you have read my earlier reviews, you'll know that Hannah's trademark has been "very fragile & haunting songs played with a very very spare style". I think the sparseness remains (Hannah seems to believe in a "less is more" approach to accentuating the excellence of her lyrics & her remarkable vocal delivery through tastefully restrained arrangements) if though the emphasis has shifted from a more "classical" previous approach on acoustic guitar or piano to something more "contemporary" using electronic sounds and a more hip hop vocalisation. (Before I go much further, I'd like to give due credit to Jack Arnold who co-wrote the song, plays on it with Hannah & produced it plus to Matt Cotterill who mixed it).

If the sound is a real shock (in a very good way), so is the lyrical content & tone. The previous EP was the product of the writer's insomnia as the title suggests & possesses a nocturnal feel. This single in contrast is a much more uptempo track (though the action in the lyrics could I suppose be still happening after dark).

 

But there is much more to it than that. The earlier songs tended towards the more reactive, being often accusatory (possibly towards a person responsible for causing the sleeplessness?) and delivered intensely in Hannah's characteristically no holds-barred wit & articulacy: the impression was of a strong person speaking her own mind but maybe coming out of a dark place ("Addicted To You" is a song I massively admire but it's not a light one). The Hannah of "Sweet Talk" is as strong & witty but it would seem a darned sight happier & in total control now of her own life.

I said she holds nothing back in the pursuit of emotional honesty & "Sweet Talk" is almost the flip side of the coin to a song such as "Blue Eyed Bastard" and delivered with as much commitment & frankly grown-up lyrics. This is a great song & I hope it gets the airplay it deserves but it won't appeal to the prudes out there. To be honest, personally I think it's to be applauded for doing so. The charts are full of "love songs" which to me simply recycle lyrical clichés & tropes on the subject whereas Hannah has written something here which is a lot of fun & rings properly true.

Like all the best music, these senses of honesty & the artist enjoying what they do underpin what I instinctively feel in the song & why I respond emotionally positively to it. And enjoy it. And I rejoice for Hannah who seems to have had a ball making it. If you use the "Sassy Rating" patented by Izzie Derry then you'd need to give it a very high one: I wouldn't argue if you wanted to give it the maximum (Hannah sounds like she is trying for it too). Think "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye only more raunchy.

So there you have it: a track as inventive & true as her previous work yet which managed to surprise a fan: how great is that?

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Hannah Woof with John Connearn supported by Ellie Gowers

Review

I'm going to go with "spell-binding" as my key word (two words?) for last evening's gig. As you'll have noticed, I am hugely obliged to Paul Newbold of Lightspark Music Photography  for his marvellous photos for many of my reviews, but nevertheless I still like to take a few of my own & the occasional video. So spellbound was I last night that for long stretches of time I was so caught up in the performances of Hannah Woof & Ellie Gowers that I forgot my camera...

In theory, any review of these two incredible writers & performers should be really difficult as I have done so for each of them recently: in practice new reflections on my part & new revelations of aspects of their art on theirs made it really easy.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating as I think this is a point which lies close to the heart of why our local music scene is thriving currently, but so many of our best musicians go out of their way to really back up their friends. The Magic Lantern was absolutely rammed for the gig. Friends were there, families were there. People who had never seen either artist but had picked up on the word of mouth were there. There were many musicians too as both are so popular & regarded including (amongst many) Callum Mckissock who was originally going to be the support act but was unable to for health reasons & Joe Dolman who co-wrote one of Hannah's songs she played.

Ellie, whose own stunning headline show at the venue is still reverberating around our minds only a few weeks on, opened with another breath taking set, one "Robin" being a cappella & the rest on her guitar. As I noted last time, she sings like an angel yet moves like a rock star. I was thinking as I watched her again how much she reminds me of the folk artists with attitude: I'm not surprised she admires Richard Thompson as you can detect his influence not merely in the music but also in her uncompromising approach to both a full commitment to her delivery but also in her lyrical frankness of emotions. I'd also bracket her for this energetic style with favourites of mine like Billy Bragg or Kate Rusby & hope I'm not offending her by so doing.

She is recording new material in 2019 & quite a bit of this appeared in her set: it is really compelling & I am greatly looking forwards to hearing it: some incredibly high quality songs with real emotional punch set in exquisite melodic frameworks.

My last two Hannah Woof gigs were when she was supporting her friend Izzie Derry and one remarkable thing has been the over the arc of those three performances I have seen her gradually revealing her talents like a bud slowly opening in the Spring sunshine to display its secrets. The first time, she accompanied herself on her guitar & was great. The next time, she split her time between her guitar & the Magic Lantern piano, unveiling some very fragile & haunting songs played with a very very spare style: watching her play keyboards is interesting: her fingers move slowly as if reluctant to play more notes than is absolutely necessary nor make too much noise. Last night she played guitar and her own electric keyboard & occasionally sang without either, as this was made possible by her accompaniment by (Ellipsis) guitarist John Connearn. This was an excellent development. They had worked hard on all the songs in the set & John was able sometimes to provide the only instrument to free Hannah & on most others added extra layers to the  arrangements. Their two guitars entwined beguilingly on several numbers & the guitar & keyboards complemented each other on the rest. He also sang backing vocals throughout: if that's the best word: sometimes they were backing but often they harmonised yet he always let Hannah's voice take precedence.

And what a voice: much as I have praised it twice before, headlining her own gig seemed to lend Hannah an extra fillip of confidence & there was a considerable power which she unleashed when appropriate. She  writes very personal songs & this gives them a distinction & personality which helps them impact. There is a considerable wit in both her words & her delivery of them: another of her strengths I think is in interpreting lyrics.

This was a really high class gig which had attracted a lot of buzz beforehand & to which a number of people had taken considerable efforts to be able to attend. It has received wonderful feedback not only from those who knew full well how good it was going to be but also from those who have seen these artists for the first time. Please do go & see them both, especially if in a venue where the full quality of their talent & intensity of their performances have maximum impact: they are among the finest current local musicians & who knows where their destiny lies?

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