My lovely friend Hannah McPhillimy, (I’m still struggling to spell her second name right after four years of friendship- past attempts include McPhillimmy, McPhilmy, McPhilimmy and my personal favourite, McPhilliminy), is moving to America this week. I am very sad. It’s been quite the summer of precious people leaving and they’ve all left holes behind them. Big, slightly lonely holes. However, while Belfast might not be the same for the two years Hannah’s off in Michigan composing glorious new pieces of music, I have every faith that America will be greatly improved by her presence and, let’s face it, America could use all the help it can get right now.
I’m a really lucky person. Over the last twenty odd years I’ve got to know and love a lot of incredibly talented, creative people. Sometimes I stand at the back of different pubs, venues and gathering places in Belfast and am literally astounded by the beautiful things my friends have managed to coerce out into the world. Stories. Poems. Pieces of theatre. Art installations. Films. Songs. You lot work magic in a wide range of genres but I have to say that when I’m standing there, dumbfounded at the back of a music venue, it’s usually Hannah McPhillimy who’s turned the room upside down. There’s something about Hannah’s voice which can take an entire room hostage. It’s not a demanding voice. It’s kind. It’s generous. It’s incredibly pure and gentle But it’s also powerful, and when coupled with the incredibly beautiful songs Hannah has been writing over the last few years, it has a holiness about it that cannot help but leave leave you marked by the encounter. Blessed. Refreshed. A little more easy in your own skin. Listening to Hannah sing is a little bit like a long, hot shower. I always feel cleaner afterwards. I am actually a little bit jealous of the people in America who haven’t heard Hannah sing yet. They don’t know what’s about to hit them.
I’ve had the tremendous good fortune to collaborate with Hannah many times over the past few years. We’ve written songs and stories based on each others’ work, (Songs- Hannah, Stories-me, World- not quite ready for a reversal of these roles), and toured the results all over Europe, (when I say Europe, I mostly mean Northern Ireland, a couple of visits to Dublin and one quick jaunt to Belgium where we ate chocolate toast and couldn’t find waffles, and were driven about by a man in a tinted window limousine). We have had many adventures/mishaps/minor triumphs together. We have played old people’s homes, book shops, music festivals, book festivals, embassies, hotel conference suites and once, were even on the television together, looking more glam than we actually are in real life. We have spent more time than I’d care to mention hauling an enormous keyboard into the car, and out of the car, and up many, many flights of stairs in high heels. We have wired our own sound system, following quickly googled instructions off a mobile phone. We, (I), have accidentally driven up the Luas tracks into an oncoming train. We have repeatedly used the Ladies’ toilets in Applegreen’s as a makeshift changing room, occasionally asking other toilet users for a second opinion about our stage outfits. We have been mistaken for a mother and daughter act, (more than once). We have been heckled by old people because we do not know any Van Morrison covers and we have not provide tea at our gig. We have been photoshopped to within an inch of our life by the Arts Council photographer, (end result: Jan- skin of a Barbie, Hannah-face of Fearghal Sharkey). We have met a lot of lovely people we wouldn’t have met if we hadn’t formed an odd writer/singer-songwriter/cellist type girl band with Lizzy. In short we have had a complete blast.
I am going to miss Hannah immensely. I am going to miss being creative with her, bouncing ideas of each other, talking up a series of unlikely-ever-to-come-to-fruition-but-nonetheless-inspiring storms over coffee, or wine, or long drives home from Dublin. I’m going to miss listening to her sing and I’m going to miss the way she is always there to listen to me and to encourage me and say the right, powerfully wise thing in the gentlest way possible. I’ve learnt so much from my friendship with her. There’s a song of Hannah’s which we all love. It’s called “Running” and it begins with the line, “In a living building there is room for you.” Over the years I’ve come to see Hannah as the human embodiment of this living building. She always has time for people. Not just the easy to like people, but all the broken, messed up, downright irritating people too. She is gracious and patient and sees the good in everyone. She makes people feel like they belong. She does this naturally, possibly even unconsciously, but I’ve noticed and I know many of you have too, and we are all grateful to have learnt, from Hannah, a little more about what it means to bring kindness into every situation you find yourself in. I am also grateful to have experienced this kindness myself, to have had the opportunity to feel at home with Hannah these last few years. I don’t believe this is the end of our adventures together.
I have lately come to realise that you can make incredible art and be a truly horrible individual. It’s not as rare as you might think. There are a lot of people out there who don’t care about how they create art as long as it is successful. However, there is something about an artist of Hannah McPhillimy’s calibre imagining, producing, and performing art from such tremendous depths of character and integrity which makes her music that little bit more miraculous. Songs like hers, sung with a voice like hers, cannot fail to destroy people, in the very best way. So, Godspeed my dear friend. For selfish reasons I wish you were staying but I am so very proud of you for bravely pursuing excellence in everything you do and I am confident that this next period of learning will grow you immensely as both an artist and a human being. I have no doubt whatsoever that the next few years will challenge you and sometimes terrify you, that some aspects will fail to live up to your expectations and others will blow all those expectations out of the water. I hope your creativity flourishes. I hope you find honest and encouraging community. I hope you get to reach hundreds of thousands of people with your incredible songs. But most of all I hope you hold tightly to those remarkable, indefinable things which make you, you. You will be missed. You will be thought of often and fondly, while you are away from us.
Hannah is hoping to record a debut album of her songs this year. If you’d like to help out financially you can check out her Go Fund Me page here.