Ian Croft of Insight Article from R2
reviews A Celebration of Old England by Anna ShannonYorkshire-based singer-songwriter Anna Shannon is very prolific – her latest album, A Celebration Of Old England, is the tenth since her solo debut in 2006, and many years after her initial musical education. “My uncle was a music teacher in Scarborough” says Anna. “He taught me flute, then recorders and timpani, French horn, trumpet, cornet, oboe, all before I was eighteen. I came across folk music in my early twenties, really liked it and bought a guitar. I learned to play well known stuff, but wasn’t keen on books for learning new songs, so I started writing. This was back in the late 80’s.“
After that, Anna played with various bands – blues, jazz, skiffle, ethnic, Irish – and wrote a few songs and tunes, but she admits “I didn’t write a lot because I didn’t know what genre I was in. I was mainly a singer, particularly of rough Irish stuff. ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’ will always be my favourite song.” During this time, Anna was involved in a boating accident with the skiffle band on the River Shannon. She hasn’t been on the water since, and commemorated the event by adopting the name ‘Shannon’ after a divorce.
2006 was a turning point. “I’d written a few things and my partner, Roy, mentioned a competition [BBC Radio Yorkshire Songwriter Of The Year] and I won it. Before the competition, I was just mucking about really, but then I realised that I could write songs that other people might like.”
Early albums were homespun, often themed, and according to Anna, “definitely folk songs”. A recommendation from Tom and Barbara Brown put Anna on to Doug Bailey at WildGoose records. “I sent him blueprints of fourteen songs, which he liked and we spent five days down in Andover recording the CD. I wasn’t used to a producer being so tough on timing and pitching. The worst bit was that I’d left ‘Gaudete’ to last because it was my favourite, but my voice was tired and I couldn’t reach the top harmony, so we had to take it lower and do it all again. A couple of neat vodkas and we were away. I am really pleased with the album and Doug has done a cracking job.”
On the CD, Anna multi-tracks instruments rather than getting friends in. “I don’t know whether it’s being conceited, but the joy of playing instruments has always been there. I’m a bit of a jack of all trades.” Apart from ‘Gaudete’, the songs on the album are all self-composed, with a strong traditional flavour. Is this intentional? “I never force myself”, says Anna. “It just comes out like that, anytime of day or night.”
Highlighting a couple of tracks, Anna reflects on ‘Craftsmen Of Old England’. “Living where we do, we see a lot of traditional crafts. All have played a key role, and I put them together in the song.” ‘The Traveller’s Ways’ covers a favourite topic. “I like to stand up for Romanies – they have a really hard time. There were always songs saying, if you’re not good the gypsies will come and take you away, and I wanted to turn that story round. The traveller reclaims the baby that was his and it ends with a dramatic vision of the gypsy riding away with the baby under his arm.”
After a quiet 2014, Anna is looking for as many gigs as she can cram into this year. Away from the music, she has a Christmas business creating decorative holly, and she’s also been writing a book – a myth and magic story, The Calling of the Dolgecis – which she hopes will be published in 2015. That’s busy!