King Hannah are a four piece band featuring, on vocals and rhythm guitar, Hannah Merrick; and on lead guitar and occasional vocals, Guy Whittle. They are Liverpool-based, though Hannah is from Wales. Theirs is not the typical Liverpool indie sound though – all those jangling guitars and Beatles-inspired melodies. This is music from the dark heart of America, meshing with Hannah’s droll reflections on daily life.
I first came across the band last year at Green Man. They were second on, on the Sunday in the Far Out tent. Always a rather soporific time at the festivals, as people recharge their batteries after the excesses of Saturday night. The programme notes for the band referred to America’s big open spaces, to Mazzy Star and Lana del Rey. And it said that they had just released a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s State Trooper – a song from his album Nebraska, the bleak but brilliant acoustic album that came out in 1982, after The River and before Born in the USA. It sounded like a good prospect.
And it was. I loved the performance. The songs were mostly quite long, starting dreamily, with that Mazzy Star sound very much in evidence, especially through Hannah’s singing. A touch of Velvet Underground too, in their slower moments. And then Guy’s guitar would be unleashed, and we were into Neil Young/Adam Granduciel territory, with the distortion pedal in full effect. Think Cortez the Killer or Cowgirl in the Sand, or War on Drugs’ Thinking of a Place. This was absolutely my thing! And they played State Trooper – at a slightly higher tempo than Bruce, with the bonus of a rasping solo at the end. My top discovery at Green Man in 2021.
Of course when I got home I checked out the back catalogue. Just a couple of singles and a six track EP called Tell Me Your Mind and I’ll Tell You Mine, as well as State Trooper. The EP included the first two singles, Crème Brûlée and Meal Deal. Both terrific songs, with the deadpan vocals and soaring guitars. Crème Brûlée rapidly became my favourite. It’s a song about yearning, and doesn’t mention the fabled French dessert at any point!
The band played the Lexington on Pentonville Road in the autumn, but I couldn’t make that; so I was pleased to see that they had a tour to promote their first album, I’m Not Sorry, I Was Just Being Me, this spring. I wasn’t able to persuade any of my friends of the band’s merits, so made my way up to Hackney on the Overground last Wednesday to see them myself. I like Oslo: there’s an excellent bar/restaurant on the ground floor and the music room upstairs is a nice size. I’d say you could get 300 plus in there. Just right for a band on its way up. I got there in time to see the support act, Hussy, named after the singer (real name Sophie Nicole Ellison). She played guitar and was accompanied by another guitarist with an impressive mullet! I wasn’t familiar with their music, but enjoyed it – some of the guitar work took them into similar territory to the main act.
Which brings us onto King Hannah. The set was based around the new album, of course, but the sound was familiar from Green Man, though more powerful and direct in the smaller venue. Hannah for a while adopted the insouciant/nervous pose, with no introductions: but she succumbed after a few songs, to express her gratitude and amazement at the number of people there. They are quite a humble band – their Instagram account suggests that they are genuinely taken aback by the numbers of people coming to see them. And it’s well deserved: the show was excellent, with some astonishing guitar from Guy adorning every song. Visually the two of them are chalk and cheese: Hannah elegant and seemingly aloof, New York indie style; Guy, in his plaid shirt and beanie, straight out of some mid-west Americana band. But they complement each other perfectly, just as the brooding melodies blend so well with the searing riffs and solos.
After opening with A Well-Made Woman, one of singles from the album, it was straight into State Trooper. What a great version it is – I wonder if Bruce has heard it? I’m sure he would approve. The Sea has Stretchmarks from the early EP followed, before a deep dive into the new album. Highlights? Every solo! Credit, too, to the drummer and bassist who laid down a very solid – and subtle – beat that allowed the songs to build so effectively to that point where Guy let rip, with Hannah’s rhythms embellishing the wall of sound. We liked that one, she smiled after one particularly raucous wig out – it might have been Big Big Baby. To cap it all, the main set finished with the masterpiece: Crème Brûlée. Magnificent.
I would have gone home happy at that point, but we were treated to a generous encore of Meal Deal – which counts as an old favourite – and It’s You and Me, Kid, on which Guy shares the vocal duties. A fitting end, as they really do work so well together.
So, if you haven’t heard King Hannah give them a try. And try to catch them live, where the power and majesty of their songs is fully realised.