Nick Hennessey - Singer, songwriter, storyteller and self-taught harpist,
- Credit: Archant
Bowland Bridge resident has taken an unusual route to stage success
A PhD in cultural geography isn’t the obvious route to the stage of the Albert Hall but it worked for Nick Hennessey. Although he didn’t finish the course, it mapped out a very different future for Nick, who is now 46 and lives in Bowland Bridge.
Nick has produced three solo albums, has toured and performed all over the world and has worked with internationally famous names such as Maddy Prior.
‘I came to singing through folk ballads and the stories passed down through generations because they’re important,’ he says. ‘I wanted to sing stories and when I’m on stage I move between song and spoken word.
‘I grew up in Alderley Edge in Cheshire, a place awash with legends, and that’s been the touchstone that inspired me to start. The place and the story are so connected and as a child I would run around between the trees and in the landscape.
‘I am interested to find out what are the stories that matter to us now. I am continually trying to uncover stories.’
His own story is one of a comfortable upbringing in leafy Cheshire, the son of a research doctor father and a mother who worked as a management trainer. He finished his schooling at a boarding school in Bristol and stayed on in the city, working at theatres there, before moving back to the North West and a job at the Grand in Blackpool.
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He also worked in local radio but always had an interest in the outdoors and the next chapter of his life saw him complete a rural studies degree. ‘I am very interested in the culture of landscape and how we relate to it,’ he says.
‘I started a Phd on cultural geography but never finished it and during that process I came across storytellers and I thought they were a lot more interesting then the Phd.’
On holiday in Scotland in 1996 he heard a harp and was so entranced by the sound he bought himself one and despite not being able to read music, he taught himself to play. ‘I never anticipated being able to play it properly, I make it up as I go along,’ he laughs.
Around that time he bought a British Rail canteen vehicle which had been converted and had a kitchen, a bedroom and a shower. He would live and travel in the seven and a half ton vehicle and would try to collect stories as he went.
‘I met a group of Scottish travellers who opened up their stock of stories to me. In the 80s the Company of Story Tellers pioneered the revival of story telling in performance and started to take it to schools and village halls and arts centres. I caught the end of that in the mid- to late-90s.’
Since then he and his harp have appeared across the globe at folk, storytelling, and literature events and won the world championship in epic singing, with a performance of the Finnish national epic the Kalevala. And he has continued to harvest stories. ‘I try to stay in touch with people and their lives,’ he adds. ‘There are stories everywhere, our lives are made up of stories. They are the currency by which we exist and our natural state is to share them.’
The happy ending for Nick was two-fold – not only did he find success as a singer, songwriter and storyteller, he found love. He met fellow storyteller Emily Parrish at a story festival and the couple married last month.