Sheeran Perfection

Hanna with Sheeran, via Church of England Newspaper

No, Johnny Nash didn’t sing, “I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone.” Neither did Hot Chocolate sing, “I remove umbilicals” or the Police record a song about Sue Lawley.

Misheard lyrics can give us a quick laugh, but occasionally, they lead to something more creative – like a viral video that quickly reached some nine million viewers around Easter.

That happened to singer-songwriter Philippa Hanna, whose Christian version of Ed Sheeran’s Christmas number one “Perfect” was the pearl that grew from the grit of a misheard lyric.

She explained, “I came up with it in an airport on the way to Norway. We were singing Ed Sheeran’s song and my husband pointed out that it sounded like the line was ‘barefoot on the cross’ and not ‘barefoot on the grass’.

“That was it! It unravelled in minutes in my head and I was so moved by the sentiment that I thought I’d throw it into 365.”

365 is Hanna’s YouTube project, where she is posting one video for every day of the year.

“I’ve been using social media as an extra way of connecting with people for a couple of years,” she said. “I try to share something positive every day. Because I felt it was time to put more effort into YouTube, I decided to film my thoughts instead of just type them.

“It’s tiring but I love it. A lot of people need a friend and I’m really happy to be that friend – albeit a little distant.”

Parodies of Ed Sheeran songs – such as “Smell of Poo,” about a young mum’s daily routine, which I featured in my 2017 end-of-year music review – are not unusual, as the record-breaking star’s songs are common currency among daytime radio audiences.

But this is just one of the reasons for the song taking off, according to Hanna.

“It’s just a mixture of everything that has hit the mark with people. The familiarity of the already beautiful song magnifies the gospel-based lyrics. I think your brain does a double take, because you’re used to the original words. The surprise element makes it interesting and also the content is very vulnerable.”

Hanna has met Sheeran, whom she described as “totally down to Earth and relatable.” The two were backstage together after a Little Mix gig, where she was support and she “forgot I was talking to a superstar.”

She is making a habit of playing support to quality musicians. Leona Lewis is one, Lionel Richie is another.

Paying respect to her musician father, she called Richie an “awesome, incredible person and flawless performer; such a seasoned showman. He reminded me of my Dad in his polished stage craft and ease with people.”

Maybe it is her Dad’s traditional influence that has rubbed off on Hanna, as her last two albums have veered in different directions. “I’m a bit old school,” she confesses. “I like albums to sound like albums. So when I’m making a whole record I try to put songs together that sound like they belong together – hence the genre shifting!”

If Hanna’s last-but-one collection Speed of Light was dazzling for its pop sparkle, which some could put down to a good producer, the songs on that and recent release Come Back Fighting, with its occasional country tendencies, have been striking for their honed quality. A spell living in Nashville certainly paid dividends and she seems to have come-of-age as a professional song-writer and performer.

She puts this progress down to “the journey. Having great influences and people to collaborate with raises the bar – but so does rejection and heartbreak. There’s treasure in the trials that moves you up a gear… if you let it!”

That comment is a big clue. While the songcraft is impressive, its power comes from Hanna’s underlying ability to communicate via empathy, and she is a jewel in the Church for her talent at bridging the gap between the faith community and those outside.

On the Bruce Carroll-like song “Getting on with Life,” she strikes a seam of Country gold as she describes reacting to someone barging into her in the street and reveals the pre-occupations that they might be dealing with inside.

This ability to bear with people, rather than rushing to judge them, is an example of making connections with those who might otherwise struggle to comprehend the Christian message.

“I think it all comes from growing up outside of faith,” she explained. “I know what it’s like to sit in a bar or club and search for meaning, and I know what it’s like to sit in a pew and grasp for connection there too. People are people. And all people need love, empathy and connection; ultimately Jesus.

“I’m grateful for my journey,” she added, “but also grateful for my husband’s journey, who grew up in church and has never strayed. We need each other and our different experiences to make this whole thing work.”

Her journey is continuing in a more concrete form. After a few festival dates, including the North and South Big Church Day Out events, she is touring the Come Back Fighting album throughout June.

What is she most looking forward to? “Playing new songs!” she exclaims. “Having the band on the road means we can bring something fresh. Can’t wait.”

She may even bring this song and get the crowd joining in:

“When my life was still a mess, you saw something beautiful.
I don’t deserve it, but your grace is perfect tonight.”

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