Hannah Peel loves the stars, synthesizers and Barnsley, although she’s slightly in denial about the latter. Mary Casio dreams of inter-stellar travel to Cassiopeia, the ‘W’-shaped constellation that is so prominent in the northern hemisphere’s night sky that you can even occasionally pick it out from my inner London back garden. Except Mary is a figment of Hannah’s fertile imagination and you can’t travel to Cassiopeia because constellations don’t exist, they’re just tricks of our Earthly perspective. But Hannah Peel did play trombone in a Yorkshire brass band, which is how she was able to convince members of the Grimethorpe Colliery Band to make a record with her, even if they weren’t that chatty in the studio. All this I learned during a beguiling interview with a sequin adorned Ms. Peel at Rough Trade East on Thursday night, a record store and live venue that is so conveniently close to my office that I have escaped to its musical embrace three times already this week.
Journey to Cassiopeia is, in part, the culmination of Hannah Peel’s previous musical project, dealing with her cherished grandmother’s descent into dementia. As the senility progressed, music was one of the few things that could draw her gran back. The songs that we love in our formative years are one of the last things our brain can hold on to in its dotage, apparently. Just as when we are newly born, beats and music are among the first things that our developing brains are able to perceive.
Peel herself was a lover of ‘space music’ in her teens and after learning from scientist, Carlo Rovelli, whose quote adorns the album’s stunningly beautiful silver inner-sleeve, that “We have a hundred billion neurons in our brains, as many as there are stars in the galaxy”, Hannah thought she’d better write an album that combined stars and the imagined last dreams of an old lady.
The result is a sublime instrumental album that perfectly blends brass (which I love) and synth (which I tend to avoid). Peel recorded it while watching the Apollo moon landings on repeat at a converted recording studio in the Barnsley Civic Centre. It’s just gorgeous and I can’t stop playing it.
Indeed, the last paragraph of this review, scrawled down on a little celestial note-pad I bought at the Greenwich Observatory, tapers off as I drifted into slumber on the sofa after returning from the gig. The last thing I remember is that the drums on ‘Archid Orange Dwarf’ sounded like a heart-beat..