Wearing an appropriately Halloween-esque, long black dress, Lisa Hannigan breezed into the debate chamber of the GMB on October 31st to speak to DU Music society. She received a plaque recognising Irish artists and their contribution to the Irish music scene. Hannigan also received two Seamus Heaney first editions from the society. The discussion was led by DU Music events officer, Aoife O’Shea, who introduced Hannigan as “a true national treasure”, noting that she maintained a show “untainted by gimmicks”.
After some directions to the sound engineer regarding feedback from the PA, Hannigan dove straight into playing one of her famously delicate songs “Little Bird” from her second album Passenger. The moment Lisa Hannigan began to sing, it became glaringly clear that her voice is intrinsic to the emotional power of her songs. A voice so pure in its clarity you could mistake it for a witnessing of divine intervention. When performing live she adopts a free rhythm, seemingly feeling her way through how the song should be presented at each moment, dependent on her mood. Intricate ornamentation flickers beautifully between notes, not incorporated into the recorded versions. The unspoken rule of being a humble Irish musician means Hannigan laughs praise off, deciding instead that “the whole idea of song writing is incredibly embarrassing”. She finds it difficult to show people close to her music she is working on but names her best friend Úna as a voice of reason in her creative process.
With a speaking voice as lyrical as her singing voice, Hannigan deconstructs the making of her newest album; At Swim. She recalls being “musical penpals” with The National’s Aaron Dessner; a process through which they would email each other recordings for the other to develop. After her tour with the album Passenger, she admits to falling into a pit of writer’s block, self-described as “not full on depresh mode” but low in her ability to create. In an attempt to tackle this lack of inspiration she began reading literary works which resulted in Seamus Heaney’s poem “Anahorish” being on her newest album. On the same album “We, The Drowned” was written in response to the overwhelming feeling of anguish she got from watching the news, particularly recent events in America resulting in a realisation that there may be “an inner gobshite” in all of us.
At intervals during the discussion “O Sleep”, “We, The Drowned”, “Fall”, and “Lille” were also performed. Hannigan speaks with a stereotypical Irish humility that allows her to praise the work of others frequently, naming Saint Sister as her favourite band of the moment. When asked about her current creative exertions she disclosed that she was working on a new project alongside Aaron Dessner but that it was only in its early stages.
Lisa Hannigan is a humble, ethereal presence that seems to ooze musicality. Her claims that she has limited understanding of music theory has no bearing on the extent to which she can craft stunning melodies. With an ability to honestly penetrate the essence of emotion and accurately convey that through lyrics, Lisa Hannigan’s music is a priceless addition to the longstanding history of Irish music.