Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interview: Glen Hannah

During this year's Tamworth Country Music Festival I saw Glen Hannah play one night with Felicity Urquhart (to whom he is married) and then just over twelve hours later he was playing a completely different set with Harmony James. Harmony's support act, Lachlan Bryan, mentioned that Glen had played on his own album, which had just been released. I've seen Glen's name on lots of CDs and seen him play at lots of gigs, and it suddenly struck me that he's an unsung legend of Australian country music - he's involved with so many different artists and provides such a high calibre of musical support (and often artistic, as he designs CD covers and takes photographs, amongst other things), but a lot of people may not know who he is. And they should!

Glen kindly agreed to answer some questions that I sent to him via email, and his answers are below. I'm not quite sure how he found the time, but I am thankful that he did!

How did you come to play all these different roles within the country music industry - playing on recordings, playing on gigs, producing, quite often doing CD art?
How I ended up in the country scene happened purely by chance. I grew up learning to play Slim Dusty songs at guitar lessons in Collinsville, QLD and my only three cassettes at that point were Kenny Rogers, Slim Dusty and Charley Pride - however, by the time I was about 24 I was working in the cover band scene in Sydney and country gigs were something I had no experience in at that time. Purely by chance, I happened to score a gig with Melinda Schneider in a really strange theatre-restaurant out at Penrith. We ended up sharing a house together with her then partner, Graham Thompson, and an old penpal of hers showed up one day to visit, his name was Adam Bruno (or, as we all know him now, Adam Brand). I was about to head over to the US and Canada for some touring but he heard me playing some country guitar in the house and asked if I would play for him when I returned. I said yes, not knowing if it would really happen, or who this guy was, but eventually I ended up in his band and he then took out 3 Golden Guitars after his first album release, and so we got the opportunity to start touring and things just picked up from there, eventually leading to many years of touring with different acts, including Kasey Chambers.

The design side of things started when I was working part-time for a music publisher in the CBD of Sydney putting together sheet music and catalogues for the company, when I started dabbling in the design part of the process. Over the years I taught myself as I went along and it turned into a serious part of my business, and I even took about 4 years off from music to concentrate on a series of coffee-table books I was commissioned to design and edit, working with people like Ron Barassi, Leigh Matthews, Jimmy Barnes and Peter Brock's family.

Do they all seem part of the whole, so to speak, or do they require quite different parts of your brain/skill sets?
The different jobs I work at are most definitely very similar in how they work - there are many musicians who are also graphic designers/video producers etc. It seems to involve similar thought processes and the great thing about mixing all those different roles up is it keeps you on your toes, you're always learning and that is what keeps it all fresh and interesting.

Do you have a favourite role out of all of those?
Playing guitar with other musicians is still my favourite job.

Have you kept track of how many albums you've worked on?
I actually have no idea, but it would be in the hundreds, combining all those different roles.

You've done quite a bit of songwriting - is it something you have much time for any more, with everything else you're doing?
I don't really do much songwriting, especially these days.

What's a typical Tamworth like for you - how many gigs, how much rushing around ...?
Tamworth has changed a lot for me over the years. Early on, I used to see how much work I could fit in that main week and I even managed to clock up 32 separate performances one year. I left Tamworth a wreck and with bleeding fingers (literally) so haven't tried that since. These days it's almost as intense, but with far fewer gigs - I'm working more on quality rather than quantity. I am the Musical Director for the Telstra Road To Discovery and that involves weeks of lead-up work before the festival and quite a bit of work at the festival. The last few years I've been part of the backing band at the Golden Guitar awards as well and that involves a fair bit of preparation as well as the 2 full days rehearsing and then the show. Other than that, I always play guitar for my wife, Felicity, at her show(s) and a handful of other fun gigs.

You seem to play with a few different people at each festival - is there a lot of rehearsal ahead of that? And how do you keep track of all those different songs?
The most efficient way to keep track of all those songs is to use charts, and I always try to do good versions so that at any point in the future when playing those songs again I can just pull out those charts and be ready to play with almost no preparation. However, in most situations you are learning new songs and if you want to do it properly, yes there is a lot of preparation and practice involved. When you see a musician at a show and think to yourself, "... Boy, these guys have got it made, just show up and play music and get paid to have fun ..." what is often forgotten is that there is probably a full day's work put in to get that bunch of songs ready for a professional performance (not to mention the decades of practice etc. to get you there in the first place).

What's ahead for you in 2012?
This year is going to involve a lot more gigs as I want to get back into that side of things a little more. I've been focusing on the design the last few years. There are some great gigs coming up, including some shows with Don Walker, The Flood, Jedd Hughes, Sherrie Austin and, of course, the better half.

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