PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN: Recently described as, “Authentic, haunting roots music from a first class duo” (Seth Lakeman), Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are one of the most exciting and innovative duos to appear on the folk/roots/acoustic scene in recent years – a journey that has resulted in their winning the ‘Best Duo’ in the 2014 BBC Folk Awards. With a rapidly expanding following and a truly unique sound that effortlessly spans many genres, the duo have been touring constantly for the past three years, winning new fans of all ages wherever they go. Festival appearances have included regular Glastonbury slots; all the major folk festivals including mainstage slots at Sidmouth Folk Week; Broadstairs; Warwick; Shrewsbury; Gate To Southwell; Shepley Spring; Priddy; and a constant presence on the greenfield festival circuit, at events such as Larmer Tree (mainstage); Sunrise Celebration (mainstage); and Green Man. Over the past year they have also visited Japan, South Africa, the USA and across Europe and have upcoming tours to Canada, Australia and India already lined up for 2016.
In October 2015 Phillip & Hannah released their brilliant new CD ‘Watershed’, described by Hannah as “A time of decision, a moment of change, a turning point. Each of the songs was written with a specific person in mind; I hope they know who they are, and that this is for them, with our love, grief and joy. Except the track Watershed, which was written for everyone”. It is an exceptional record that marks a huge step forward both in terms of musicality and in the breadth and depth of the material.
Hailing from Lancashire, Phillip Henry is one of the UK’s top slide guitarists and harmonica players. Over the past decade he has immersed himself in the music of the Deep South of America, traditional music of the British Isles, and Indian classical music. Specializing in lap slide techniques, his masterful Dobro playing draws together these diverse influences to create a truly unique voice that has been described as “Stunningly good” (Dick Gaughan), and “utterly captivating” (Steve Knightley). His innovative harmonica style combines country blues and folk styles with beat-boxing to create a jaw dropping and much coveted 21st century harmonica sound heavily steeped in tradition.
Hannah Martin is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Devon. Her songs weave folklore and legend old and new with beautiful melodies, creating haunting compositions delivered with “a bold and beautiful singing style all her own” (BBC Radio Two). Writing mainly on fiddle, viola, and banjo, and drawing on the traditions of the British Isles, she has been commended by Mike Harding for her “really fantastic singing” (4/5/11). 2012 saw Hannah selected to be part of the National Theatre’s War Horse School, working with John Tams, Nancy Kerr, John Kirkpatrick and Chris Parkinson. She was also involved in The Nursery Rhyme Project for the Bristol OId Vic, co-writing and performing in a show exploring one of our oldest oral traditions.
In 2009, Phillip, one of the UK’s finest slide guitarists and harmonica players, moved into a tent in south Devon. He had just returned from studying Indian classical guitar in Calcutta with world expert Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. He had his tent, his car, and a five year plan to earn a living through his music. Playing in alt-folk outfit The Roots Union, he met Devonian fiddle-singer Hannah Martin, and the pair instantly recognised a very powerful musical connection. When the band ended, they continued as a duo, playing all over the country, from Glastonbury festival to busking sessions on the seafront at Sidmouth Folk Week.
It was during one of these busking stints that they were spotted in an encounter with Steve Knightley (Show Of Hands) that now goes down in folk legend. Recognising the potential of Henry and Martin’s partnership, Knightley invited them to accompany Show Of Hands on a nationwide tour, culminating with a show at the Royal Albert Hall at Easter 2012.
The pair’s first album, Singing The Bones, was released in 2011 to warm praise, “I was completely knocked out by this duo…just a terrific album…absolutely great, wonderful” (BBC Radio Two). Constant touring followed, including an Arts Council funded tour of south west arts centres in autumn 2012. The duo went on to win “Best Folk Act” at the 2012 South West Music Awards, and began 2013 by being voted “Best Duo” by the public at the Spiral Awards. Their second studio album, Mynd, was released to great acclaim in September 2013, appearing in end of year best-ofs for The Guardian, The Telegraph, fRoots Critics Poll, Mark Radcliffe’s Radio Two Top Ten, and Songlines. They were voted Best Duo at the Radio Two Folk Awards almost exactly five years since Phillip sat in his tent and made his five year plan!
The last 18 months have been their busiest to date. They recorded a concert, Live In Calstock, to make a record of their sound during these initial years; the resulting album once again went down a storm with the critics, “utterly inspired and magnificent” (Spiral Earth). They toured with (previous Mercury nominee) Seth Lakeman. They attended Folk Alliance in Kansas City, and bookings for Canada and Australia in 2016 swiftly followed. As well as around 130 UK dates, they have also played in South Africa, France, Norway, Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium during this period.
Watershed, Henry and Martin’s keenly anticipated third studio album, is their most emotionally charged, personal and pertinent work to date. A collection of 12 inspired original songs and tunes, recorded live with the Watershed band in Devon’s Blackdown Hills, it centres around the idea of turning points. Moving away from the historical figures and events that peopled their highly acclaimed previous album Mynd they explore the idea of a modern folk tale – drawing on personal experience to create edgier, grittier material whilst retaining an ‘everyman’ empathy.
Kith and kin inspire many of the tracks, from foundlings to mill workers, all bonded by a theme of split second decisions and forked paths that shape sliding door destinies.
The alchemy of Martin’s ever evocative songwriting, fiddle and banjo playing and the much extolled skills of Henry on dobro, harmonica and lap steel fuse into a wholly distinctive world sound – songs of lament, tunes of hope, and totally unpredictable twist and turn music, burgeoning with deft double bass from Matt Downer (Jamie Smith’s Mabon) and the textured percussion of James Taylor. A mesmerising release to further endorse the reputation of a duo who have deservedly gained a rapid and sure foothold in the higher echelons of the roots genre.
What the critics say:
“On hearing the first notes of the first track I knew that I was listening to a modern classic. One of the most exciting albums I’ve heard in years” – Mike Harding
“Subtle, atmospheric, bravely original. A combination of virtuosity, intensity and charisma”
Robin Denselow, The Guardian
“An imaginative and innovative album – songs that linger in the memory held together by the fine musicianship of Henry and Martin. Strong and original – an unusual treat” – Martin Chilton, Daily Telegraph
“A thoughtful and moving album with great arrangements” – Mark Radcliffe, BBC Radio 2
“Eloquent performers – a musical success story” – Fiona Talkington, BBC Radio 3
“It is hard to imagine a more ambitious yet fully realised album being released this year. A remarkable achievement”
“Keen, curious and concerned intellects are at work here. Anyone who thinks English folk isn’t world music should listen” Judith May, Songlines