Winners of 2014's BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Duo, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, have come a long way on their journey.
In 2009, Phillip, one of the UK's finest slide guitarists and harmonica players, moved into a tent in south Devon. He had just returned from studying Indian classical guitar in Calcutta with world expert Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. He had his tent, his car, and a five year plan to earn a living through his music. Playing in alt-folk outfit The Roots Union, he met Devonian fiddle-singer Hannah Martin, and the pair instantly recognised a very powerful musical connection. When the band ended, they continued as a duo, playing all over the country, from Glastonbury festival to busking sessions on the seafront at Sidmouth Folk Week.
It was during one of these busking stints that they were spotted in an encounter with Steve Knightley (Show Of Hands) that now goes down in folk legend. Recognising the potential of Henry and Martin's partnership, Knightley invited them to accompany Show Of Hands on a nationwide tour, culminating with a show at the Royal Albert Hall at Easter 2012.
The pair's first album, Singing The Bones, was released in 2011 to warm praise, "I was completely knocked out by this duo...just a terrific album...absolutely great, wonderful" (BBC Radio Two). Constant touring followed, including an Arts Council funded tour of south west arts centres in autumn 2012. The duo went on to win "Best Folk Act" at the 2012 South West Music Awards, and began 2013 by being voted "Best Duo" by the public at the Spiral Awards. Their second studio album, Mynd, was released to great acclaim in September 2013, appearing in end of year best-ofs for The Guardian, The Telegraph, fRoots Critics Poll, Mark Radcliffe's Radio Two Top Ten, and Songlines. They were voted Best Duo at the Radio Two Folk Awards almost exactly five years since Phillip sat in his tent and made his five year plan!
The last 18 months have been their busiest to date. They recorded a concert, Live In Calstock, to make a record of their sound during these initial years; the resulting album once again went down a storm with the critics, "utterly inspired and magnificent" (Spiral Earth). They toured with folk legend Seth Lakeman. They attended Folk Alliance in Kansas City, and bookings for Canada and Australia in 2016 swiftly followed. As well as around 130 UK dates, they have also played in South Africa, France, Norway, Japan, The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium during this period.
Watershed, Henry and Martin's keenly anticipated third studio album, is their most emotionally charged, personal and pertinent work to date. A collection of 12 inspired original songs and tunes, recorded live with The Watershed Band in Devon's Blackdown Hills, it centres around the idea of turning points. Moving away from the historical figures and events that peopled their highly acclaimed previous album Mynd they explore the idea of a modern folk tale - drawing on personal experience to create edgier, grittier material whilst retaining an 'everyman' empathy.
Kith and kin inspire many of the tracks, from foundlings to mill workers, all bonded by a theme of split second decisions and forked paths that shape sliding door destinies.
The alchemy of Martin's ever evocative songwriting, fiddle and banjo playing and the much extolled skills of Henry on dobro, harmonica and lap steel fuse into a wholly distinctive world sound - songs of lament, tunes of hope, and totally unpredictable twist and turn music, burgeoning with deft double bass from Matt Downer (Jamie Smith's Mabon) and the textured percussion of James Taylor.
A mesmerising release to further endorse the reputation of a duo who have deservedly gained a rapid and sure foothold in the higher echelons of the roots genre.
"Subtle, atmospheric... Bravely original"
"Keen, curious and concerned intellects are at work here. Hannah Martin
"Rich and complex - there is something of June Tabor about Hannah's vocal performance - a voice that is strong and flexible and which, coupled with Phillip's instrumental virtuosity, suggests we're hearing stars of the future"
"This duo has a combination of virtuosity, intensity and charisma
"An imaginative and innovative album - songs that linger in the memory
Photo 4: Tina Shirt
Copyright © Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin 2015