Hannah Layton Turner of Hannah’s Yard: A Q&A

The musical collective known as Hannah’s Yard is releasing its debut album, Beginnings, on Friday, May 12th. They’ve released a handful of singles over the past year and a half, with each of the songs conjuring their influences while moving beyond them. Norah Jones and Melody Gardot are evident, as are traces of Fairground Attraction. Jazz, pop, country, folk and R&B mix effortlessly into a delicious sonic stew that’s spiced by singer Hannah Layton Turner’s soulful vocals; it’s the kind of music one will play, to borrow a lyric from Denny Laine, “again and again and again.”

I featured “Close Enough” in a Top 5 last weekend (and again, down below). Here are two more of their singles, “Why Would I Know?” and “I Want You.” (All are also on Beginnings.)

And here’s their stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace,” which was born in their picturesque hometown of Olney, Buckinghamshire.

I asked Hannah if she’d answer a few questions via email and, to my delight, she said yes. In addition to filling me in on her background and influences, she introduced me to a new act that I’ll feature in coming weeks – the British country-pop duo Ward Thomas. (I’ve ever-so-slightly edited her replies, removing some…but not all…ellipses.)

Why the name Hannah’s Yard?

The name comes from where our studio is – it’s in a little place called “The Yard”…and my name is Hannah! Hannah’s Yard is a musical collective consisting of myself (vocals), Barnaby Pinny and James Reader (songwriter/producers), and a great collection of UK-based renowned musicians. Everyone brings their expertise!

Who are your influences?

Ever since I was a little girl, I would listen to Eva Cassidy. My Mum had her beautiful album Songbird playing on repeat in her car; before long I knew all the words! I still love her style of singing, the music she sung and the emotion she was able to deliver through her voice. Norah Jones is another artist who I enjoy listening to (in fact, we’re often referred to as “Norah Jones Meets Fairground Attraction”) due to her effortless vocals and soft, smooth voice.

What was the first album (CD, vinyl, download) you bought?

Don’t take this the wrong way, but Now 48 (2001) was the first album I owned (I was only 5!). Whilst my mini-friends were singing along to Steps and S Club 7, I had found a lonely track by Eva Cassidy and would play it on repeat – her amazing version of “Over the Rainbow.”

What was the last album you bought?

I usually just download single songs (sorry!), but the last whole album I downloaded was Ward Thomas’ new release Cartwheels; I’ve really enjoyed it and “Material.” is my favourite track! I like how their music is more on the pop side of country. It’s something we try and do with Hannah’s Yard songs – remain on the “poppier” side of any musical style we work with. I am so happy to see them successful…a Number One album and another tour coming up – I hope Hannah’s Yard follow in their footsteps one day!

Are you into vinyl? Prefer downloads?

I see that vinyl albums are on the rise – and I love the idea of them. A few of my friends have (new!) record players and buy recently-released albums on vinyl – they do sound great…more “open” with more “life” in the recordings! I’m definitely more of a download person, though; I like being able to instantly download a song as soon as I’ve heard it on the radio or TV; I guess I’m a bit impulsive like that. And, of course, that’s why we’ve got our debut album available for pre-order on iTunes now!

How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a singer?

I have always loved singing and being a singer was a massive dream of mine ever since I was small. I went through schooling believing that I’d have to do “something different” as becoming a singer was really tough. Whilst studying for my A Levels in Sixth Form, I applied to read English Language at University; I applied as I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do as a career and had no other options! Luckily, I’d met fellow-Yardies Barnaby Pinny and James Reader when I was 14 and had sung for them on and off since then. They gave me the opportunity to record a debut album instead of going to Uni; it wasn’t a tough decision for me to make! I was finally able to follow my childhood dream – and so far, so good. We’ve got a debut album being released and a small UK tour with BBC Radio Two favourite Gordon Haskell underway. I’d never have thought it possible!

Do you play any instruments?

I have Grade One in piano…not that I can remember much of that now! I taught myself to play acoustic guitar when I was 12 and still like to play music at home whilst singing along. In Hannah’s Yard I’m very lucky to get to sing with a band of amazing musicians who’re used to playing for Lionel Richie, Annie Lennox and Kylie amongst others! It’s amazing to be supported by them and it allows me to enjoy (and concentrate on!) my vocals.

Are your parents supportive of you pursuing a music career? (Does music run in the family?)

I’m very lucky as my parents are extremely supportive of me, coming to gigs and encouraging me along this weird (yet wonderful) musical path. My whole family is very musical – my Mum loves to sing, my Auntie is a piano teacher, five other family members play the guitar and my Grandparents have been in multiple choirs. Family get-togethers are rarely quiet occasions! I used to sing in my local church choir when I was young and take part in school talent shows (that I was lucky enough to win a few times). I do think that music runs in my blood!

Which is your favourite of the new songs?

Our upcoming album Beginnings is close to its release date (Friday 12th May). I can’t wait for it to finally be available for everyone to hear. I can honestly say that I love every track as they’re all slightly different in style/emotion, but I really like the late-night vibe of “Close Enough” and thoroughly enjoyed filming the music video for it…you can check that out on our Youtube channel HannahsYardHQ!

Do you get a chance to go to concerts? What are a few of the more memorable ones you’ve been to?

A few years back I went to Bestival in the Isle of Wight and saw Chic and Nile Rogers headlining on the Sunday night. It was an amazing show – as a stage performance and, of course, the songs! More recently I’ve seen the Shires and really enjoyed their blend of vocals. I do try and go to as many live concerts as possible; The Stables Theatre at Wavendon is local to me and hosts lots of great music. I’ve recently seen a real mix of artists there: Jo Harman, Gilmore Roberts and Stacey Kent. Hannah’s Yard performed to a sold-out crowd in their Stage 2 space last year…a brilliant night!

How involved are you in the writing and producing process? I see, in the credits, that you co-wrote one song. Do you give suggestions/feedback?

We’re lucky to have our own recording studio, so I was present for a great deal of the recording/mixing process. I really enjoyed seeing a song go through the journey from “bare bones” to fully-produced track…and how that process can (and did!) become a labour-of-love for all involved. Songs from our album Beginnings were mastered in New York by Ryan Smith, who has worked on albums from James Taylor to Adele. There really is a reason that we’re so pleased with our debut album – whilst it’s lovely to receive such kind comments about my vocals, there’s two guys (Barnaby Pinny and James Reader) hidden behind the scenes who are great songwriters and producers and, in addition to that, we’ve a group of amazing musicians who record/perform with us. Everyone brings their expertise to the Hannah’s Yard creative process and I hope it shows. “You Worked It Out” is Track 9 from Beginnings. I co-wrote it and really enjoyed the experience; I’d never written a proper song before. We took a personal story of mine and made it into a stripped-down acoustic song that I absolutely love! Norah Jones and Katie Melua didn’t set-out as singer-songwriters, either…their hit debut albums focused on their vocals/performance. I’m doing the same and look forward to exploring songwriting more in the future.

For more on Hannah’s Yard, visit their site. The Janey Loves website also has a nice article that details their background.

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