From seven-time All Ireland champion in harp and banjo as a kid, to working with some household names under the encouraging, watchful eye of a personal champion from The Police, Lisa Canny’s road to the musical big time is starting to look like it’s tilted downhill…
Growing up in rural County Mayo, Lisa Canny wasn’t from a particularly musical family, but she fell in love with music, fast.
Practising intensely on harp and banjo as a child, she rose to the level of All Ireland Champion in both instruments, not once, or twice – but an incredible seven times.
Now, she’s looking to establish herself in a wholly different world.
“The All Irelands were very competitive – up to 50 people from each county, and you had to finish first or second in your county to make the All Ireland. I was very competitive,” Canny jokes. “It’s a huge deal to get out of your county.
“I remember the first time I won. Driving home, they had the banners out for miles driving up to the house, like a football final! I had a big homecoming. It kept me going through those years when being a redhead playing harp and banjo wasn’t so cool.”
Later, having decided she wanted to do a phd in music at UCC, Canny asked legendary music professor Mel Mercier (now at UL) to be her supervisor.
“He said he thought I should be on the stage,” she recalls. “He said he’d take me on ‘this day next year’, if I showed him for one year that I’d just done performance, because he thought that’s where I should be. I left with my tail between my legs, but thank God he did that. On the next tour, everything changed.”
Canny was touring with a band called Celtic Crossroads when she was approached by a man in the audience. “Forget this band,” he said, “You need to be a solo artist, baby.” That man was Miles Copeland, of Sting-fronted band, The Police. At the time, Canny had never written a song, and had focused heavily on Irish traditional ballads.
It’s taken several years to reach her current status, which has seen Canny work with the likes of The Kaiser Chiefs and Akon as a songwriter, but also to get herself in a place to release her own work.
Despite her success – her online following, for example, has gone up by 400% in the past year – the new single, Freedom, and forthcoming EP are Canny’s first formal releases.
“I was living two lives in Ireland,” she remembers. “I was doing the trad thing, but also trying to establish this original work. It was hard to manage both of them, so I decided to start being who I needed to be; to make it work in London. From the get go, I was the hip-hop harpist over there.”
Today, you’ll find Canny writing her own stuff, but also grabbing an online reputation in covering the likes of Metallica (her version of Nothing Else Happens alone has a million views online since January), Beyonce and Christy Moore.
She’s also releasing a song every week this year; a memorable blend of originals and covers. “It’s been a very purposeful plan to get a following up. I’ve been able to do two Irish tours now without releasing anything,” she tells us.
“It’s been incredible. I’m very excited to finally get something out there. It’s time. It’s become my life.”
Lisa Canny follows the release of debut single Freedom (left) with an Irish tour, including a show at the Chalk Venue in Swords of May 31.