LISA Hannigan is no stranger to Australia. But the Irish singer-songwriter, who first toured here as a back-up vocalist and last visited with a tribute show, says she’s ”slightly more myself this time around”.
Right boot pounding, left hand pumping a harmonium, Hannigan’s performance of Black Eyed Dog was a highlight of the late-2011 show celebrating the songs of Nick Drake.
”That was my first time, you know, performing as myself,” she says of the tour to celebrate the musician who died of an overdose in late 1974.
She’ll sing her own songs and play guitar, ukulele and mandolin at this year’s Port Fairy Folk Festival with compatriot Glen Hansard and the Frames in Melbourne.
This time she won’t be lugging a hefty harmonium. ”Much as I love it,” she says, ”it is a beast and everybody dreads it. It’s all right when you’ve got a band with six boys who manfully offer to carry it to the airport. When it’s just me, I won’t have the patience.”
Hannigan has recorded two acclaimed albums – Sea Sew and Passenger – and contributed guest vocals to artists including Herbie Hancock. ”There’s so much jazz in the notes and phrases [Hannigan] picks,” Hancock has said. ”She was singing the ninths, the 11ths of the chords … some of the things sound like choices that Miles [Davis] would have made.”
”It’s my favourite quote in the world,” Hannigan laughs. ”Pretty much the best thing anyone has ever said about me, or possibly about anyone.”
She hastens to add that she is not nearly as knowledgable as Hancock seems to think. ”I fell completely in love with opera when I was a very young teenager and I used to have singing lessons. But in terms of harmony and things like that, my understanding is so rudimentary. Singing for me is a very instinctual, empty thing in that I’m nearly completely unconscious of what is happening.”
When writing songs, she says, she’s fumbling in the dark and wonders ”what it would look like with the lights on”.
She came out of the shadows six years ago after being sacked by singer-songwriter Damien Rice, with whom she had performed as a back-up singer