IN a matter of weeks Sheffield singer songwriter Philippa Hanna has gone from performing in church halls and coffee shops to supporting superstar Lionel Richie on his UK arena tour.
The 28-year-old is currently midway through 11 dates on the American soul star’s itinerary which includes a home town gig in front of over 10,000 people at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday.
So what is the great man like up close and personal? “He’s such a gentleman - once, twice, three times a gentleman,” she says with the practised ease of someone who has obviously been asked the question a few times. “To me, one of the great things is he’s a parent. He met my mum and dad on the One Show and understood about seeing your daughter going out on the road.”
Philippa comes from a musical family. Her dad Pat McClusky is a club entertainer in Barnsley and is a great fan of Lionel Richie, once even recording a version of the former Commodore’s Three Times A Lady as a Valentine’s Day present for Hannah’s mum, Sandra.
She also has a half brother Stuart Zender who is bass player for Jamiroquai, “Watching Stuart do so well made me realise anything was possible.” Dad and mum Sandra will be seeing the tour for the first time in Sheffield on Saturday, along with sister Alex but other sibling Jackie will be missing out because she has a baby due.
Philippa moved from Barnsley to Sheffield in 2005 and joined a youth group at All Saints Church, Ecclesall, “I became involved with their mission work, that’s when I became passionate about music not only for the enjoyment but putting it to positive use. That’s how I ended up going to Haiti with the Compassion charity.
“At the same time I got involved with the local music scene singing and playing acoustic guitar and lots of churches started inviting me to play,” she explains. “Then in 2009 I was recording at the Steelworks studio in Sheffield and met Eliot Kennedy who said he liked my voice.
“We found we had similar tastes in music and backgrounds - both our dads were club singers - and we became friends. Last year I took part in the charity concert he organised at the Memorial Hall and among the people there was Nathan Hodgson who manages tours. He said did I fancy doing an arena tour because you could reach many more people with your music. I wasn’t sure but he said he would put my name forward for the Lionel Richie tour.
“He gave my details to Lionel’s people and they looked at me singing online and must have liked what they heard.”
She says she was concerned at first that fans of Lionel Richie’s brand of bluesy soul might not appreciate her quiet ballads on acoustic guitar. “Then I thought if they had confidence in me then I shouldn’t worry,” she continues.
“I decided to chose the songs that I thought would be popular with most people and hope for the best. It seems to have worked because I have had some great messages from people who have seen the tour and downloaded my song, I Am Amazing.”
Which she must believe is truer than ever now. “It’s not what it sounds like,” she laughs. “it’s actually about overcoming problems of self-esteem and realising you have the tools within yourself to deal with the issues in your life. For me it’s a mantra and standing in front of 25,000 people with just an acoustic guitar I did think that some people had thought I wasn’t good enough.”
The tour ends in December, so where then for Philippa? “We are trying to make the most of this opportunity and connect with as many people as possible at the venues,” she says. “I am touring next year and I will also be releasing a new album so it has been really good timing.”
The Lionel Richie tours is at the Motorpoint Arena Sheffield on saturday. Tickets are £40, £50 and £65 and subject to a booking fee.