Hannah Peel: Meet the new F-List president

Earlier this month, award-winning artist, composer, and producer Hannah Peel was unveiled as the new president of The F-List For Music, an all-encompassing talent directory for women and non-binary musicians that has since snowballed into a vital resource and support network for the community. Peel sat down with Headliner for a chat about her new role and her illustrious career so far.

The F-List for Music was set up by long-time equality campaigner Vick Bain in the midst of the pandemic as a support network for women and non-binary musicians. Despite repeated research and statistics demonstrating such need, The F-List is the only nation-wide organisation supporting women and gender diverse musicians across all genres of music in the UK.

Succeeding classical composer Professor Shirley J Thompson, who was preceded by Brix Smith and Anoushka Shankar in the role, Peel is an acclaimed artist, composer, producer and radio presenter. Her solo record career includes the shortlisted 2021 Mercury Music Prize album Fir Wave; Awake But Always Dreaming; and the space-themed Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, scored for synthesisers and a 30 piece colliery brass band.

Following her Emmy-nominated score for Game Of Thrones: The Last Watch, her soundtrack for TV thriller, The Deceived won a 2022 Royal Television Society NI award and the Music Producer’s Guild’s best Original Score Recording of 2021. In 2023 she won the Best Television Soundtrack category at The Ivor Novello Awards for The Midwich Cuckoos. A regular collaborator with Paul Weller, she contributed arrangements to his no.1 albums On Sunset and Fat Pop and last year released The Unfolding with Paraorchestra, the world's only disabled and non-disabled integrated orchestra which went straight to No.1 in the UK Classical Charts.

“It’s such an honour to follow in the footsteps of such amazing people,” beams Peel, commenting on her appointment as president from her North Yorkshire studio. “I still feel a bit in shock. It’s an ingrained thing that I feel like the underdog, so to be asked to do something like this is amazing.

“I first became a part of The F-List and registered for it during the pandemic when it was set up. Then it was just a database for female musicians with a list of what your skills were in order to promote work. It was a directory, so it was great to go on there and see cellists, people playing the lute, and as a composer it’s a great source. Since then it’s become a support network that does events, and it offers a sense of community.”

She continues: “When I started out self-releasing records as I was unable to get on a label, I had a couple of friends who I started a business breakfast meeting with every two weeks. My brother, who is in the building industry, used to do this. Once a week they would meet up at 6.30 in the morning and everyone in that industry would scout their skills and people would share business. I thought, ‘we don’t have anything like that in the music industry’. And the one thing that struck us after a couple of months was that we were all self-releasing and we were all women. So when The F-List started I was really passionate about what they do because it was much bigger than our little coffee morning and it really connected people from across the UK, so to represent that wealth of talent is really amazing.”

Peel also paid tribute to the work Bain has done in not just launching but evolving The F-List at pace.

“We hadn’t worked together or crossed paths before but what she has set up with The F-List really is incredible,” she says. “She’s forming partnerships and creating opportunities, and that is what is driving the F-List.”

As a composer for film and TV but with a traditional pop background, Peel has been able to carve out a niche for herself as one of the industry’s most versatile talents. From childhood, she’s been possessed of a passion for telling stories through music, which continues to serve her well to this day.

If I’d had a resource like this, I would have felt more supported. Hannah Peel

“There are definitely pinpoint moments,” she recalls, describing how music first entered her life. “The first time I ever heard music that really had an effect on me was when I was about eight years old. My neighbour who was a massive vinyl enthusiast and knew my parents were getting me lessons with things, and he lent me a record and told me I had to listen to it and not break it. It was The Carpenters Greatest Hits and as soon as Karen Carpenter started [sings] why do birds… I got all the shivers down my spine and was instantly transported in this magical way.

“I moved to Barnsley from Ireland and my parents got me lots of Irish cultural sessions in Barnsley, and I was also part of the brass band community. There are those feelings of when you’re playing together and that physicality of everyone breathing together. What changed everything for me was realising I wanted to do music for film. I always had an interest in it as I loved visuals, but I went to see the first performance of the Cinematic Orchestra’s Man With A Movie Camera. It was a live performance to silent film and I had the same sense of all those tingles, and I knew then I wanted to be a film composer.”

According to Peel, there are various strands from her upbringing that may have intertwined to form the multi-faceted creative force she is today.

“There are so many paths as to how you get there,” she says of her career to date. “Maybe it’s the Irish side of me or growing up in Yorkshire, but there is this sense of narrative and story that has always been present in the music I’ve made and been involved with. I love researching and finding stories, and making and producing records has allowed me to discover what I can do technically, so that when it comes to doing scoring, I’m quick at gathering the skills you need or musicians that will be suitable for the project.

“There is a real demand at the moment in film and TV for things that sound different – they are getting a lot more artists to compose music instead of traditional film and TV composers. And film composers are now making more records to complement the work they do, so there is this development of sound that is really interesting and not just orchestral. I’d say that development of skills so that you are fast and quick and not relying on other people is essential.”

One of the biggest projects she has worked on yet is Game Of Thrones: The Last Watch which she created the Emmy-nominated score for. It represented a major milestone in her career, being the first full score she had ever created.

“The project felt like it came out of nowhere as I’d not done a full score before Game Of Thrones,” she says. “I’d done stuff with sync companies and done adverts where you get lots of feedback, and I think that puts some people off, as you write a piece of music and then maybe 10 people give you feedback and say, ‘that’s not working’. So you lose your ego over the music. If it’s not working you think, maybe I’ll keep that in the folder and come back to it at a later date. But when you are collaborating with so many people it’s essential to lose that protectiveness at times.

“Like everything, the way it came about has a million twists and turns. Between 2011 and 2016 was I was in a band called The Magnetic North and we would make records and we came across Jeanie Finlay’s work. She was the director of The Last Watch. She contacted me around 2018 and asked if I’d be up for scoring it. So I said yes!”

Having never previous composed a full score, how did Peel deal with the pressure of scoring a project connected to one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of the 21st century?

“It’s funny, because I think my brain has a way of switching thigs off,” she laughs. “Once I got over the excitement, and because the team was so small, it instantly made me feel very comfortable and not like I was part of some huge machine. Making the music became more about Jeanie’s world rather than Game of Thrones.

With many plans still in the pipeline for her role as president of The F-List in 2024, Peel considers how such a resource may have impacted her career development during her formative years.

“I’m pretty sure I would have made some better choices,” she says. “It’s been beneficial that I’ve had this career that has moved between curating, theatre, cinema and session work, and I can draw on them now. But I did feel really lost for a while. I was taking every opportunity that came my way because I was afraid of saying no. If I’d had a resource like this, I think I would have felt more supported and there are certain paths that I may have taken that were different. Had I been part of a support network like this I may have found my path a bit easier and started on it a bit earlier.”

You can listen to our interview with Peel here.