Electronic artist, arranger and composer, Hannah Peel, heads to ARC, Stockton this month so Stephen Thompson caught up with her to talk about Mary Casio, her inspiration, and her new album.
Tell us a little about the show you’re bringing to ARC in Stockton alongside Tubular Brass, and how you feel about playing there…
‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ is a new piece of work combining vintage and new electronic synthesiser keyboards with a magnificent colliery brass band – it’s not a usual combination! However, the depth of sound when played live is incredible and extremely powerful. There is something about this traditional English melancholy sound that really resonates inside when combined with the electronic instruments. It’s very exciting to be bringing this piece to Stockton for the first time with its history of brass band music too.
So Mary Casio is an 86 year old lady from Barnsley with a penchant for star gazing and a longing to visit the distant Cassiopeia. What on earth inspired this incredible story and the music that scores it so beautifully?
My last album, ‘Awake But Always Dreaming’, was inspired by the loss of my grandmother to Alzheimer’s. We could only connect through music and singing as she would ‘awake’ when she heard familiar songs…so the experience inspired me to follow a path deep into the rabbit hole of her mind and explore what exactly was going on.
Journey to Cassiopeia continues that theme and takes us to a place completely unknown to most of us. A place where only dreams can travel to. There are as many stars in the galaxy as there are neurons in our brains which I find fascinating! We never find out in the music if Mary Casio makes the journey, as the whole piece ends with a recording of my grandfather in 1927 singing as a choirboy in Manchester Cathedral on the last movement, ‘The Planet Of Passed Souls’. I wanted it to feel like she had stepped into a planet which drew out her memories from long ago – a playful trick almost, but it leaves the listener wondering if she had even left her back garden or is this her final breath passing into another realm of life.
There’s something about blending synths and electronic sounds with those of a brass band that speaks of a kind of merging of the future and the past, of cultural identity and heritage with future looking progression. Is that what appealed to you when you came up with this idea?
It seemed like it was in my creative DNA to somehow write for a brass band and relive all my teenage years playing trombone in Barnsley. It’s a sound and history that seeps into your blood and stays there. Combining it with my passions now for electronic music has been very exciting. I never thought in a million years I would have the chance to make it all a reality!
As well as being a live show, ‘Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia’ is also a fully fledged album now. Where is the best place to buy it from? And where can people learn more about you and your music?
Yes. It was released on Friday 22nd Sept as a new album with a beautiful cover designed by David Bowie’s last album ‘Blackstar’ collaborator, Jonathan Barnbrook.
Available online for streaming, download and CD from places like Amazon and Rough Trade shops… but if you are into vinyl and have a record player I highly recommend the Limited Edition metallic space album cover from my shop at www.hannahpeel.com or order it at your local record shop!
Hannah Peel plays ARC, Stockton on Saturday 30th September. Tickets, priced at £16.50, are available from arconline.co.uk.