Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Laura Cannell

Laura Cannell | 29th December 2017

As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. From Laura Cannell:

I’ve got an A4 WHSmith silver diary that I started getting in about 1998 and have not been able to use a different one ever since. I hate being locked into routines, but that’s one of the constants of my life, there are some things which seem fixed and a large paper diary is one of them.

It’s hard to contain a year within it’s calendar walls, yet almost impossible to think past the 31st of December into a new year. Old Year’s night, (my dad said that’s what they used to celebrate in Norwich when he was little), New Year’s Eve is going to be my time to transition in a calm way into the next day, I have made this promise to myself.

Looking back over the last twelve months I have probably done more than I think, but here are a few selected highlights. Upon opening the diary I see that on 28th December 2016 my album was in Radio 3 Late Junction’s top twelve albums of the year, and weirdly on 28th December 2017 my music is being broadcast from a live recording on Late Junction. Immediately I am enjoying the cyclical nature of the year… maybe it will all be okay?

One of the first projects of the year was a commission and collaboration with Ex-Easter Island Head and members of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. This involved a few weekends in Salford at the BBC Philharmonic studio and Salford Cathedral. It was an immense pleasure to play in the space and with the assembled musicians. All from different backgrounds, all filling a mammoth cathedral with sound, both harmonic and dissonant. I loved writing for the orchestral players and getting them to improvise around selected parts of Ganassi’s Treatise for playing the Recorder from 1532, this made me extremely happy!

A really amazing friendship occurred through multiple emails and a week long tour and collaborations with the cellist Lori Goldston. She is so interesting, cool and inspiring, it’s hard to separate the musician from the person. We talked about so much, discovered so much. A lot of being a solo musician on tour is about spending intensive times with new people. I had a few moments where I thought it was quite strange and amazing that this was my work, my job, something I work hard for and something I get paid for. I get to meet wonderful people who have similar approaches to life and we are living thousands of miles apart. It makes everything seem possible.

I didn’t really let myself think about the effect Lori’s cello playing with Nirvana in the 1990’s has had on my life. We didn’t talk about it much, it was a long time ago and she has made a lot of music since then, but I remember watching MTV’s Nirvana Unplugged (I was still playing the cello then, I hadn’t discovered the fiddle), I remember getting the bus to school and talking about it and listening to Nirvana with friends who were into them, (mainly boys and only a couple of girls).

There have been very few women that I could count as powerful musical role models, especially instrumentalists. (Recorder player Michala Petri was an early inspiration). There are more now, but embedded in my brain was this musician who was playing non-classical music on the cello. Making music that I could relate to, I have always been into bass lines. The words often come last for me. Bass, harmony, shape, rhythm, colour, texture, timbre and then maybe the lyrics.

This memory was dormant until after the tour when I re-watched some videos. The emotions and intensity of this New York string player living in Seattle had somehow permeated the airwaves and possibilities of a 15 year old cellist in Norfolk. This was pre-internet publicity. How crazy that several years later we would be touring and talking at 100mph about music, life and the sacrilege of a New Yorker eating a piece of pizza with a knife and fork (I felt very English!)

I’m going to speed through some other events. I had an insane few days where I worked at a friends’ amazing bakery (because I thought it would make me feel more normal!) juxtaposed with having meetings at the Barbican for one of the Modern Ritual series dates (16th June 2018 at LSO St Luke’s). I don’t know why I did it… it was a wobbly patch, on the one hand musical success, on the other hand no beans in the bank. It didn’t last long.

Supersonic Festival was really hot and really good, and an amazing audience.

Long Player Day on summer solstice by the Thames with Charles Hayward was memorable and magical and unrehearsed and incredibly moving.

Mistley Towers is the place I meet up with the inspiring Jennifer Lucy Allan and we sit for hours telling each other about projects, plans and where she told me to put a tape out and I did what I was told. It was Hunter Huntress Hawker released in October 2017.

We moved house back to the proper countryside, not a fake town by the sea where no one lives.

I started the Modern Ritual series at Cafe Oto and it’s currently doing a spread out tour of the UK and performed at festivals in these places: Helsinki, Norway, France, Denmark, Holland, Poland, UK. I also made a one hour playlist for BBC Radio 6Music and was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s Exposure which airs on 28th December 2017.

I wrote a new 40 minute piece of music in six movements called Feathers Unfurled, commissioned by the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and finally… I was invited to take part in The Quietus Day of Radio – on a programme with Lush founder Mark Constantine and Naturalist Chris Packham where I placed some baroque recorder music from the Bird Fancyer’s Delight – A book of music to teach to caged birds from 1717. A very popular early form of iPod – people would sell birds having taught them new tunes.

There was other stuff too, but I don’t want to bore you, but I did start my new (attempting to be) monthly column for Caught by the River called Woodnotes.

Looking forward I plan to spend more time outside, more time writing, composing, recording and playing music. Less time travelling, less time worrying and more time having cups of tea with people.

Music I have seriously loved this year includes:

Ellen Arkbro’s – Music for Organ and Brass.
Colin Stetson’s – All this I do for Glory

Happy New Year, be nice to yourself and don’t forget to breathe.



Laura’s most recent album, Hunter Huntress Hawker, is out now, and available to listen to/buy here.

Laura Cannell on Caught by the River / on Twitter