'Land' - The Debut Album From Cellist Liz Hanks

There is so much below our feet that is yet to be discovered and understood. Every place has history in its soil.
Colin Petch
August 5, 2023

I first met Liz Hanks when I dropped in to the rehearsals for this year's Refugee Sessions at Howard Assembly Room back in June. Liz and her cello were part of a magnificent six-piece ensemble which also included Persian singer (and political refugee) Amir Behmanesh. This mesmerising group of musicians, led by composer and virtuoso Santour player Farshad Mohammadi premiered two sublime pieces based on the poetry of Khayyam, an 11th-century poet, philosopher, and astronomer. Weaving together traditional Persian melodies with contemporary interpretations, the music in the rehearsal that hot, June afternoon was transformative. The following evening - and with the very recent, horrendous sinking of a refugee ship with massive loss of life, off the Peloponnese - reinforcing just why we were all present, the concert itself was one of the most moving events I've ever been fortunate enough to attend.

I was along to the June rehearsal specifically to chat with the Iranian musicians, some of whom had endured dangerous and uncertain journeys to escape a regime that for decades, has instigated the persecution of dissident artists, academics and creatives, both in Iran and abroad. However, I also got a very welcome chance to say 'hello' to the cellist, who's mesmerising playing had so perfectly bound together Eastern and Western cultures on the Howard Assembly Room stage.

"Hi, I'm Liz. I'm from Sheffield." (Hopefully) knowing that at Mag North we're all about championing people, Ms Hanks rather quietly mentioned as an aside that she had: "just released some new music - and it would be good to have a chat about it."

Of course we must...but before I could say any more, this remarkable musician swung her cello onto her back - and was gone.

What Liz didn't explain that afternoon in Leeds, is that she is one of this country's foremost cellists - and the 'music' she referred to is 'Land' - her spellbinding debut album.

Album Cover Image: Simon Buckley www.notquitelight.com
Album Cover Image: Simon Buckley www.notquitelight.com

Liz moved to Sheffield in the 90s and quickly became an integral part of the buzzing music scene in South Yorkshire. She is the long-standing cellist with Richard Hawley & Thea Gilmore - and has been influenced and shaped by an incredibly varied career.

She has recorded and toured with artists including Liam Gallagher, Smokey Robinson, Self Esteem, Paul Heaton, and folk music's own Martin Simpson, Kate Rusby and Jon Boden. Liz is currently working on projects with sound artist, producer and beatboxer Jason Singh and touring with the sitarist Jasdeep Singh Degun. She is also an established member of the Frame Ensemble, a silent film improvisation group that performs throughout the UK.

Land explores just some of these influences; minimalism, folk, Indian classical music and improvisation whilst remaining heavily rooted in her local landscape. Based on the local and natural history of her area in Sheffield, the record explores both the loss of nature in the urban environment and forgotten natural worlds, whilst celebrating the green spaces that remain.

“As I began exploring ideas for this album, I was drawn to the sounds from my local area in Sheffield. Field recordings gathered from the woods and park made me wonder, what was this area like before the housing and roads were built? I discovered that before the area of Meersbrook was built there was a beautiful valley called ‘Rush Dale’. Inspired by reading written accounts of this lost valley and looking at old photos and paintings I set out writing music to recreate these lost times and places. My hope is that these pieces let you imagine stepping back in time, either in Meersbrook, if you have the chance to visit here, or on the land where you live. Every place has history in its soil.”

Liz Hanks (Image: Paul Gallagher)
Liz Hanks (Image: Paul Gallagher)

Recorded in Meersbrook by Liz during the pandemic, when worlds became all the more influenced by our locality, ‘Land’ can now be experienced in a fully immersive accompanying app which maps out a guided walk of the areas which inspired and feature on the album, the GPS tracker blends the tracks as you walk and you’ll hear specially recorded commentary written by Sheffield writer Sally Goldsmith.

For me personally, Land - which I have listened to many many times since discovering the work and also because of how I first met the masterful musician behind the album - remains intrinsically linked with the people and the places, the journeys and the dangers that Opera North's Refugee Sessions set out to shine light on. The album is a 39 minute meditation that beautifully and expertly encourages the listener to be lost - and found - in a soundscape of birdsong, boundaries, beauty and borders.

'Land' by Liz Hanks is an essential work. Please listen.

Later in 2023 an EP of remixes of Land from Jason Singh, Haiku Salut, Leafcutter John and Richard Norris will be released on Hudson Records.

Land is released by Hudson Records on CD, Black LP and limited edition Green LP and is also available to listen to on all streaming platforms now.