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Beyond simply being a debut album by a beautiful new voice, Songs My Father Taught Me - a record that has already spent 5 weeks atop the Irish charts - is the culmination of two lives, of two life's ambitions. It might seem as though Hermione Hennessy has taken a somewhat circuitous route to the microphone - but then for a long time she was busy managing the career of her famous father, Christie Hennessy. If anything, though, Hermione's 'other life' was actually a detour from first love: singing.

I spent all my early years singing duets with Dad, Hermione recalls, or singing along to his playing while wishing and wanting him to be a star. He'd come home from the folk clubs with mad tales which would make us all laugh so much, but deep down I knew he invested everything and received so little in return that I desperately wanted him to receive the recognition he deserved. Christie was in his late 40s when 'The Rehearsal', the first of a string of albums to achieve multi-platinum sales in Ireland, was released. Though he died in 2007, aged only 62, Christie's spirit haunts Songs My Father Taught Me with a lovely and benign presence, not least because all the while Hermione was working to make he father a star, he wanted the same success and recognition for her.

If music was in her blood, it was also all around her as a child. Music was always being played around the house, Hermione says. Robert Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson and the first person I wanted to marry was Mississippi John Hurt! Dad rarely had a pair of drum sticks out of his hands, until he taught himself the guitar when I was also around three I think. In junior school, I remember wandering around the playground believing that I was going to be a famous singer. It was a way of escaping the hard-core girls who tried to give me a run for my money as let's just say, my schooling was a tough secondary-modern one and no-one bar myself and one other girl even sat for an O level, but I also did have this inherent belief that I could sing and it was possible, and that perhaps singing might be a way to lift yourself and those you love into different circumstances.

Fast forward twenty years and that dream had not so much been put on hold as forgotten. And then, a phone call: someone had seen Hermione performing on the Late Late Show following her Dad's death, and why wasn't she recording as an artist herself? I was quite floored but rather excited, Hermione remembers. It just hadn't crossed my mind, but I saw it as a way of getting my brother Tim some work, and possibly a leg-up, a way for us to bond and to help him through the pain of Dad's passing as they were so incredibly close and he was so terribly young to lose such an influence and spirit. I had been asked by Universal to promote Dad's posthumous duets album. Little did I know that I would end up singing solo, with a band I had never met before when I didn't have a clue what to do with my feet or my hands or my nerves! Anyway... we get through these things and sometimes they lead to bigger and better things and that's what happened here. She has, she says with feeling, been flipping lucky.

So it is that Songs My Father Taught Me is a family affair in more ways than one. Tim produces, and live is her Musical Director - playing piano, guitar, and singing backing vocals (as well as duetting on a song he co-wrote with her, 'He Never Fades') and sister Amber (also Hermione's business partner) plays violin.

It hasn't always been easy, however. The first time I played live, Hermione says, I couldn't believe I was going to entertain an audience for pushing an hour and a half. What would I say? Could I make them laugh and and feel warm? Was I going to let the band down? Might I faint? Would the shakes stop? Most artists play tons of rubbish gigs before they hit a proper audience, but I had had a hit record and you just have to get out there! I drew on the fact that I had stood on stage next to a master since I was a teenager, maybe before... so if something hadn't rubbed off then I really shouldn't be up there. Once it was over I felt like I could fly and the next night I hit Dublin, which was one of the most special nights I have ever had.

Obviously working with a wide range of artists before becoming one herself - in her 'other life' Hermione managed not only her father, but an impressive roll-call of artists - has given her apprenticeship most 'new' singers can only dream of. She's also been lucky enough to play with singers as diverse as Willie Nelson (thankfully most of the audience knew who I was and/or loved Dad so I managed to blag my way through!!) and Leona Lewis (that's a different crowd. Little girls and their Mums. But by the end, when I sang Amazing Grace unaccompanied, they seemed to be with me - and that's a wonderful feeling.)

Songs My Father Taught Me belies its lengthy gestation with an affecting lightness of touch. It's a grown-up record that remembers occasionally the magic of being a child, and makes its way in the world with a simple sophistication. From the indefatigable melodic surge He Never Fades through choice covers (Neil Finn/Crowded House's ineffably romantic Fall At Your Feet; Iris DeMent's When Love Was Young; Aimee Mann's Wise Up - all very much the work of songwriters' songwriters) to the delicately wrenching swell of Christie Hennessy's Oh Jealous Heart, Hermione's own Hello Again and The Edge Of The Moon, to the devastatingly elegant duet with her father, on Soho Square (a Christie/Tim- father/son co-write) - Songs My Father Taught Me is deft, assured, always moving. Dad you feel sure, would be proud: not simply the culmination of two people's ambitions, Songs My Father Taught Me - excitingly - marks the birth of a bright new star.

Biography by David Pescheck



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Amber Ross at H&I Music | email

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