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Two's company in a fresh world of fusion fuelled by East and South West

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 05, 2012

Hannah Martin and Phillip Henry head out for a string of dates across the peninsula this autumn as part of a Routes South West touring mission

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The sweet strains rising from Phillip Henry's slide guitar conjure up visions of classical India, palaces and peacocks; then Hannah Martin's clear dulcet voice and delicate banjo strum kick in bringing folky English tones into play; before long Phil will throw in a blast of his trademark harmonica beatboxing, bringing the mix crashing into the 21st century.

Hannah's premier talent is as a gifted fiddler, while Phil also boasts a bluesy Americana-style voice. Inventive fusions of all these strands sum up the essence of this emerging Devon duo who dip into all manner of influences and ingenuities to create something that's really fresh and appealing.

The couple, who are partners both on and off stage, have been honing their craft on tour with the likes of Show of Hands, who invited them to be special guests at their Royal Albert Hall concert at Easter, as well as at an astonishing 33 festivals, near and far, over the summer.

Now the duo, who live in a converted barn in the middle of nowhere at Woodbury near Exeter, are just about to embark on a ten-date tour of key venues across five counties under the Routes South West banner, supported by Bristol Music Trust and Arts Council England.

Phil, 31, was raised in Lancashire and came down to Devon to study for a music degree at Exmouth. Hannah, 25, was born and raised in the seaside town of Brixham.

"I was lucky that my parents were into music and they had friends who were real folkies," she says. "I remember being nine or ten years old, having just started playing the violin, and they invited me to play along with them.

"That was the start, really. From then on I was into the grass roots scene, going to folk sessions and clubs and, of course, Sidmouth Folk Festival.

"I got a bit of stick from school friends about hanging out with old men in pubs," she laughs, adding that folk sessions have much in common with the more mainstream open mic nights she started attending when she was old enough to go into licensed establishments without her parents.

"I have always thought Maddy Prior and Eliza Carthy were amazing, and I also love the 1960s and 70s folk revival artists like Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez," adds Hannah. "But my aspiration as a fiddle player has always been to play like Phil Beer. It's wonderful that we have now been able to work with him and Show of Hands."

Hannah and Phil met through a mutual musician friend, Tobias Ben Jacob. Phil had been working with his old friend in a duo called The School of Trobar, but then he decided to travel to Calcutta to study with India's premier slide guitarist Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. In his absence Tobias started working with a local fiddle player he'd met – Hannah.

"When Phil came back and heard Ghost by the English Acoustic Collective and he realised how much he loved English music," she explains.

He became part of a new project with Hannah and Tobias called The Roots Union, complete with bass player and drummer; they spent three years on the road playing gigs and festivals, and gaining a loyal fanbase.

When the band ended in 2010, Phil and Hannah decided to continue their alliance.

They were spotted busking at Sidmouth by Steve Knightley, who immediately saw their potential.

"Show of Hands have been really fantastic to us. They have been really supportive and encouraging as well as giving us loads of advice," says Hannah, who says their aim is to keep making a living out of music.

They released their wistful debut album Singing the Bones last year and are currently recording its follow-up, in East Devon with producer Mark Tucker.

Due for release next spring, its focus is on music that is deeply rooted in the landscapes and history of England, particularly the Westcountry.

"All the songs are tied together by ideas of memory and how that relates to consciousness," she adds.

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