Hannah James and Toby Kuhn offer Shoreham date after first album together

Hannah James and Toby Kuhn perform together in Shoreham on their Sleeping Spirals 2022 tour marking their first album together.

Hannah James Credit Matija Solce & Elly Lucas

They will be at the Ropetackle Arts Centre on Wednesday, March 30.

Hannah James (Lady Maisery, Maddy Prior, Sam Sweeney, Seasick Steve and Songs of Separation) is a singer, accordionist and dancer who has made her unique path across the varied landscape of English and European folk music.

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Toby Kuhn (Wild Strings Trio, Bipolar Bows and Old Salt) comes from an altogether different background, a French cellist with classical training who has developed a unique style.

“The album came out in November,” Hannah says, “and this is the first proper chance we have had to tour with it, the first album I have done with Toby. We met in 2018 at a festival in Slovenia and it’s where I live now. I’d never met Toby before and he was at this festival. I played a little solo slot in one of the concerts at this festival and Toby came up to me after and said ‘If you ever need a cellist…’

“We just sat together and had a couple of jams together just to see what happened. I had this song that was half written and I thought I would try that to see what we could do with it and it just clicked, the way we work together. I think the way we work just really complements each other. I like to write lyrics. My musical strengths are a lot to do with rhythm, the vocal stuff, the storytelling and the melodies as well. Toby comes from a classical background and has got more and more into traditional music. He’s really good with the harmonies and the chords and accompanying as well as improvising so it just really works together.

“We started recording the album at the beginning of 2020 in Belgium in the January and February and we had a couple of tracks that we still needed to do. We didn’t get to record those until the autumn. Toby ended up suck in Turkey and I was in Slovenia and it was not until September that we were able to record the last few tracks together. We had two album launch tours booked and then had to cancel so we decided not to rush it and decided just to let the various locks downs play out.

“The lockdown was really tough. At the beginning of the lockdown I was in Slovenia. I didn’t live there at the time. I was just visiting and I just got locked down there but luckily I was in the countryside with six other musicians in a house which was great but my whole work calendar just got wiped off. It was very difficult but fortunately I was able to start doing online teaching which took off quite quickly. I was able to support myself from Slovenia during a pandemic which was quite something. But I do think musicians and artists really do have to be quite creative and resourceful anyway. I’ve always managed to support myself but I do think artists have to be resilient people so when a situation like this comes along we are actually quite well equipped.”

As for the album there’s one fairly traditional song and one set of traditional lyrics; otherwise they are all original compositions by Hannah and by Toby: “There is a lot of delving into what it means to be human. We are also both people that travel quite a lot so quite a lot of the album has got a sense of space and reaching out and feeling connected. There is also a theme of being on a journey and finally landing where you want to be.”

“I do think we will quite quickly make another album together. One of the things that we noticed was how quickly we managed to create things. It all happened pretty rapidly so I do think there will be another album along quite soon.”

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