The Hippo


May 27, 2020








Hannah Sanders. Courtesy photo.

Hannah Sanders 

New Hampshire tour dates
Friday, Sept. 4, 9 p.m., Portsmouth Book & Bar, 40 Pleasant St., Portsmouth (trio with Liz Simmons and Katie McNally)
Friday, Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m. at Franklin Opera House, 316 Central St, Franklin (Dual CD release show with Low Lily) – tickets $14-$18 at
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’Cross the pond
English folksinger begins quick tour in New Hampshire

By Michael Witthaus

In February, Hannah Sanders released her first album, a gorgeous collection of traditional English folk songs spiced with American roots music. 

Called Charms Against Sorrow, the record is far from a debut, however. It’s the culmination of a musical lifetime, one that Sanders tried to suppress but couldn’t. 
Born in Norwich, England, Sanders grew up in a musical family. Her mother sang at the local folk club in the early 1970s, a time when performers like Pentangle and Fairpoint Convention were leading the genre’s revival. Her stepfather’s record collection included rare Dylan bootlegs and early Nic Jones LPs. 
“We used to call it his pension, and we were never allowed to touch it,” she said recently. “It was filled with so much great stuff.”
As a teenager, Sanders and her siblings toured the continent with her parents’ band, The Dunns.  
“Singing, busking, playing — you name it, we did it,” she said. 
But it had worn thin by her 20s. 
“Living on the road is hard; you’re only as good as your last gig,” she said. “I was ready to do something else, so I went back to college.”
Academic life led her to Boston. She taught at Emerson College and let music remain in the past. 
“I didn’t have room … until I had my kids, when I had lots — endless boring time,” she said. “I would walk up and down Jamaica Plain pushing the stroller, and as a source of inspiration I started singing again to myself … all the songs of my teen years.”
One night, some friends took Sanders to an Irish session hosted by Liz Simmons and Flynn Cohen; the husband/wife duo coaxed her into doing a song. 
“I literally hadn’t sung anything outside of my kitchen for maybe a decade,” she said. “I think Liz saw something before I even saw it myself. … She helped me find my voice, and I owe her a lot.”
Sanders and Simmons soon were playing together regularly, eventually working in the studio.  Just like that, Sanders was all in, a full-time musician. 
“I tried to be like a normal person, but it didn’t go so well,” she said with a laugh.
Now living back in England, Sanders made the new disc in a country cottage with Ben Savage from The Willows producing. On the 11-song collection, Sanders’ singing voice evokes Joni Mitchell’s Blue period, as does her fingerpicked acoustic guitar work, which is rich and textured, particularly on “Bonnie Bunch of Roses-o” and “Lord Franklin.” Both are venerable folk tunes, and Sanders views her interpretive role as both a joy and a responsibility. 
“I think that is one of the beauties of traditional music; you’re just the carrier of the song,” she said. “But it’s not about me, the song has a life of its own and it’s your job to carry it on. You are part of the canon of this material … but the music is bigger than me. I’m more than happy with that.”
Sanders plans a whirlwind tour to support the stateside release of Charms Against Sorrow — eight shows over 10 days in six states. Simmons and fiddler Katie McNally join for many, including opening night at Portsmouth’s Book & Bar. 
“I did that gig with Liz the last time I was in the States and just loved it,” she said. “It had everything I wanted — lovely food and books everywhere … and a lovely audience. I’m really excited to kick off my tour there.”
She’s co-billed with Simmons’ and Cohen’s band Low Lily, also promoting a new record, at Franklin Opera House on Sept. 11.  Simmons is looking forward to again making music with her friend, including a house concert in Freeport, Maine, where they’ll revisit material from last year’s EP, World Begun.
“Hannah and I share a unique musical bond, having grown up (although an ocean apart) in similar childhoods traveling with musician parents, and surrounded by folk music,” Simmons wrote in a recent email. “When I heard her sing and play for the first time, I knew she had something really special, and felt I just had to collaborate with her and bask in her glow. She’s also a joy to tour with.”
Echoed Sanders, “We’re definitely kindred spirits.” 
As seen in the September 3, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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