Steafán Hanvey hails from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. His exposure to all things musical began in utero as he is the son of musicians. In the 1970s, his household was renowned for its traditional “sessions” – musical evenings where local musicians gathered to play and sing until the wee hours of the morning. Still in short trousers, Steafán was often called upon to regale the guests with a rendition of “Will You Go, Lassie, Go.”
Performance was also part of school-life, where his teachers would have him sing ballads of immigration, lost love, and blooming heather to his classmates. Throughout this time, his ears were also filled with the music of Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Makem & Clancy, Tommy Sands, Simon & Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan. Rock music filled his early teen years, and by 16, he felt ready to front his first band, 50/50 – a heavy rock outfit – where he was joined by his childhood friends, Kenny & Carl Papenfus (later of Relish fame).
After three years with the band, Steafán took time out to attend university. As an exchange-student, his third year brought him to Seattle where he studied sound-engineering, produced demos for local bands, and witnessed the birth of grunge. (Apparently, Cobain never returned his calls.)
In the summer of 1995, love and further studies brought him to Helsinki, Finland. Working with Janne Viksten, one of Finland’s most celebrated engineers, he recorded a mini-album, Sole, which dealt with falling in love, falling on your ass, and picking yourself back up … in order to fail better the next time. After intensive gigging around Finland, Steafán looked west again. He relocated to Dublin, and in 2004 played NYC and Montreal. The following year, he played at Boston’s NEMO music festival. Meanwhile, back in Europe, he was opening for acts such as The Hothouse Flowers and Relish.
In 2006, he released his debut album, Steafán Hanvey and The HoneyMoon Junkies. (This was mixed by Kieran Lynch who had worked on U2’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Elvis Costello’s When I Was Cruel. The album was then mastered in London by Jon Astley, who had worked with the likes of The Who, George Harrison, and Norah Jones.)
The release of The HoneyMoon Junkies led to national television and radio appearances. The singles “A Hundred Days of Snow” and “My Woman” received strong airplay in Ireland and Finland. HOTPRESS, Ireland’s leading music publication, called Steafán’s debut: “a rare delight”, and opined that it was of an “impressive quality” with “song-craft … shot through with a wide-eyed optimism”. “A Hundred Days of Snow” was “an uplifting swirl of dissonance and sunshine”. The Irish Times noted that “Steafán’s voice oozes warmth and a confessional charm”, while his album was “a lean, longing collection”. Daily Ireland called it “remarkable” and that “the beautiful clarity of his voice was bewitching”. Gerry Anderson of the BBC remarked that “Steafán has earned his place at the table.”
The critical acclaim for The Honeymoon Junkies encouraged Steafán to focus on audience-building in North America. Five tours saw him perform in the Rockwood Music Hall, Pete’s Candy Store, Arlene’s Grocery in NY, and also at the Lizard Lounge, Club Passim, and Showcase Live in MA. He also headlined at Chicago’s Uncommon Ground and Elbo Room.
In February 2013, Steafán released his sophomore album Nuclear Family (eOne) in the USA & Canada. It’s a collection of ten songs that reflects on the constructive and destructive forces inherent in most normal families. (Recorded in Paris, Helsinki, Dublin and mixed by Franz Ferdinand & The Cardigans producer, Tore Johansson, who has also worked with Martha Wainwright & New Order, the record was mastered in London by Mandy “The Exchange” Parnell (Feist/Nick Cave/Bonnie Prince Billy), and features guest appearances by Liam Ó Maonlaí (Hothouse Flowers), Bertrand Belin, Jukka Jylli, and the Papenfus brothers, Carl & Ken of Relish.)
In tandem with the release of Nuclear Family, Steafán launched Look Behind You! ™ – a multi-media project that details how a father and son have negotiated the personal and political landscapes of Northern Ireland. Melding image and voice, anecdote and memory, it showcases his father’s prize-winning photojournalism along with radio-edits of his interviews with some of Northern Ireland’s best-known figures. These are complemented and contextualised by Steafán’s songs and story-telling. To date, Look Behind You! ™ has been performed to critical-acclaim in over thirty academic institutions in the USA, Canada, and Europe. Steafán puts its success down to the fact that the audience is intrigued by how the project “conflates the public and the private, and dares to promote the maxim that the end of art is peace. Basically, although I have never written explicitly about Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland has written me. Funny that.”
The Irish Itinerary (EFACIS) has invited Steafán back to perform at its EU chapters in 2016.