Ann Margaret Hogan discusses new “Funeral Cargo” album

Photo by Gerry McNee

Initially known for her work with Marc Almond, Anni Hogan has been part of many other collaborations over the years. Her most recent solo album released as Anni Hogan, Lost in Blue, was produced by David Ball (Soft Cell) and featured appearances from such artists as Lydia Lunch, Wolfgang Flür (ex-Kraftwerk), Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes), Kid Congo Powers (Gun Club, Cramps, Bad Seeds) and Richard Strange (Doctors of Madness).

But with 2020’s Honeysuckle Burials, released under her full name – Ann Margaret Hogan, she presented more intimate and atmospheric solo compositions of piano and field recordings. Hogan continued along these lines with her newly released album, Funeral Cargo. This time around, she drew inspiration from her birthplace in Oxton, on The Wirral, where Vikings crossing the sea from Ireland settled around 902AD. It is where Hogan currently resides.

Could you discuss how you came to draw inspiration from Oxton / The Wirral for this album?

AMH: Spring 2020 brought full lockdown which forbade travel to all my favourite dog walking haunts in North Wales, only an hour away but with Covid was Moonbase Alpha. I live in Wallasey on the Wirral Peninsula and instead of feeling locked in, I looked close in, back to nature and to ancient local history for inspiration for a new album of piano and field recordings. Various parts of the Wirral have incredible Viking history including the village of Oxton where I am originally from. There are some visible ancient rock carvings on Bidston Hill, 100 acres of gorse-covered heath and woodlands just behind Oxton. A sun goddess and moon goddess dating to around 1000AD Norse-Irish origin and a near-life-sized horse carved into a sloping rock presumably also dating to the same time period. Bidston Hill has lots of hidden histories, Pagan rituals, tales of witchcraft, and devil worship, from traveling Mummers stretching out to Viking and Roman myths, legends, and historical artifacts laid buried in the undergrowth. A feast for my lockdown famine. I was inspired by Wirral’s unique Viking history, I delved deeper and reminded myself of its illustrious Norse connections. I visited everywhere again with my album’s focus as my eyes and ears, recording ambiances and birdsong on many of these adventures. I discovered there was a Norse parliament at Thingwall, 7 miles from Wallasey and that The Wirral is the only place in mainland Britain with documented evidence of Norwegian Viking settlers. Many places take their names from the original Viking names

Tranmere for example, near Oxton, was called ‘Trani Meir’ translated to Cranebirds Sandbank. Meols, walkable along the coast from me, previously- Meir Sandbank, a Viking seaport. Raby Mere where I used to drive the little motorboats as a kid was a boundary settlement. Thurstaston has the legend of Thor’s Stone, a large red sandstone rock. Storeton woods a short drive away holds a Viking event where a Viking encampment is recreated deep in the woods focusing on Norse Vikings who settled Wirral coming from Ireland around 902 AD, hence Norse-Irish. Bebington Irby Greasby Heswall Thornton Neston all from Norse names. There is a Viking cross at Bromborough and Stone fragments of a similar cross at Neston and a Hogback Stone rests at the West Kirby museum in the Viking Church of St Bridget’s.

Other forces presented for the new album, my local river Mersey and the Wallasey docks, Alfred Docks. With everything closed or limited in lockdown, the docks became a series of what felt like haunted pathways and passages where nature returned and rejuvenated, wildflowers, butterflies, cormorants all doing better without us. I walked all the way around the coast to Birkenhead Priory, 400 years old it is the oldest standing building in Merseyside and the Priory Monks were the first to ferry people across the river.

One pea-souper of a foggy night hearing foghorns I raced down and recorded the distant bells signaling, it was eerie and thrilling and inspired the title track “Funeral Cargo.” Birkenhead’s old sweeping Flaybrick cemetery was another favourite album calling and I used recordings from here to find “Forgotten Preludes.” I’ve spent hours making field recordings at the docks and the cemetery. I spent tons of time recording in my garden, birds always, but also all the sounds and passing words that rolled across the waves.

On the album, I don’t use much of the field recordings, but where they don’t feature on the record, they did in the writing and possessed the musical heart and mind despite any aural omissions.

When did you return to the area?

AMH: I found myself drawn back up North to the Wirral in the 90’s.

Did you have conceptual ideas as you began to compose each track? Or did they emerge as composed/improvised?

AMH: I always start recording by going through my rituals, lighting incense and chanting, ringing my various bells, Tibetan, Ships, school, all play their part, summoning the muses, nature and her protectors, ancient Pagan paradigms, bring it all on.

I open the doors to the garden or place headphones on and listen to a particular field recording or ambiance and just play around chords until something sparks or sometimes I just play in my own world of piano, no particular set of rules.

Most of the pieces on Funeral Cargo are either improvised whole or organized improvisations i.e. edited when needed. I would feel my way to something and if the planets lined up the spirits evoked the music. Full moons provided added inspiration and I played late into the night on each one in Spring, celebrating Beltane was a big one.

I’m lucky I have my Studio Blue in my house and the Kawai baby G is my main frame, so the lockdown did not impact in any conspicuous way except less people, which was actually brilliant as nature was more evident and I’m pretty reclusive so no change there.

The title track was composed as a direct result of the pea soup fog recordings.  I went into the studio on the full moon. I kept thinking about death, Covid deaths were dramatically rising, bodies floating in the river imaged in my head. Dark chord patterns emerged and I wrestled with them for over an hour, eventually, a blues conspiracy came out of me pretty much fully formed. Afterwards I felt strongly that Funeral Cargo implied other ideas about death around letting go of the past and leaving or burning it behind like the wrapped bodies on Viking boats. I developed that as a concept. Repeated dark chordal structures releasing all the frustrations, pain and nonsense that gathers in life and letting fly into the ether. “Returns” Part 1 and 2 were improvised around Nature returning as a result of less human activity. “Fragile Elements” was inspired particularly by the Norse-Irish rock carvings on Bidston Hill. “Impromptu” and “Mesto” came from contemplative meditative sets after long cemetery walks and Viking quests.

What was the timeframe of making the album? Was it impacted at all by Covid-19?

AMH: I started recording the album early Spring 2020 as Covid hit and subsequently locked. I was impacted by using my locality for inspiration and gathering local sounds as a direct result of lockdown.

Are you planning on doing any performances of this material (either online in the short-term or in front of audiences once things open up)?

AMH: I don’t have anything planned as such, but the label, Downwards, has mentioned London and New York for me to perform so we will see what happens. I’m not convinced about online gigs, maybe the platform will improve over time.

Like Honeysuckle Burials, this album has eight songs. Is that a coincidence, or do you feel this is the ideal length for a release like this?

AMH: It’s on purpose, I’m a big fan of the 8 track LP or 6 track special like Station to Station. CD’s made everyone including me put far too many tracks on a release, overwhelming rather than entertaining.

‘Wolfswaltzer’ differs in terms of subject matter as it’s a tribute to Wolfgang Flür, who you’ve collaborated with in the past. Could you discuss this track?

AMH: “Wolfswalzer” is a little classical styled piece, named Wolf Waltz although hardly a waltz, in jazz terms it is as it’s in ¾ time so that worked for me.

I wrote this track earlier than the others, after a visit to Leeds to see Wolfgang perform. We have been friends since 2007 when Wolfgang, Dave Ball and I were all booked to play an event at the Dublin Tivoli which is now sadly no more. I’ve released tracks with Wolfgang over the years since and we did a short DJ European tour together in 2008. I went to see him play in Leeds I was feeling so nostalgic, and I saw old friends from those crazy ‘80s days at Wolfgang’s show. I even stayed in a hotel over the road from where Amnesia used to be, where I first ever DJd and played Kraftwerk back in 1980. The morning after Wolfgang’s show my wife and I met up with him and his wife Zuhal and we all had breakfast together including coffee and cake. I felt inspired and recorded a new piano piece later that day literally as soon as I got home, “Wolfswalzer,” I call it a simple waltz celebrating friendship, coffee, food and music.

When I was sending through my pieces to Karl O’Connor at Downwards I included “Wolfswalzer” as it felt special and appropriate despite being written separate to the main body. He agreed and actually called it a mini-classic.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

AMH: Funeral Cargo was released on Downwards via Boomkat on 6th May and is limited edition clear vinyl and digitally on my bandcamp.

I am double 30 on June 9th, I’m allowed to say that as I’m a double Gemini : )  I have one of those special 6 track releases coming out on Downwards to celebrate my candle burning, or candles if cake is involved.

The tracks are mastered or remastered depending by Minimal Wave head honcho Veronica Vasicka who also mastered Funeral Cargo. She’s done a fantastic job on both. I love working with female sound engineers, women feel the frequencies stronger in my opinion (and it’s actually true too).

The 60th LP double 30th is called Without The Moon after the novel by my good friend and queen of noir author Cathi Unsworth.

I have written a track with Tom Cohen due out on Mute at some point and I am working with Regis on a couple of things.

Finally, before I finish I want to remember Anita Lane as she passed into the next life but a few days ago. I barely knew Anita, we spent a few truly magical weeks hanging out in ‘83 and occasionally bumped into each other at a studio or gig. I was enchanted by her ethereal beauty, mystery and intelligence.  I spent precious time with my friend and Kickabye collaborator Jessamy Calkin and Anita and Nick Cave in Brixton during Kickabye sessions.

Anita gifted me with the genius EP title Kickabye, she said my music was lullabies with kicks and bruises. I was lucky to be touched by her presence. Fly high Anita and rest in peace.

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