Tunes for a Monday Morning
Monday, January 27, 2020
This morning I'd like to re-visit the Songs of Separation project: the brainchild of folk musician Jenny Hill, conceived in 2014 during the run-up to the referendum for Scottish independence. Hill's idea was to bring ten English and Scottish women folk musicians to a fairy-tale island off Scotland's west coast to create an album reflecting on "separation" in its many forms. In a week that is leading to Britian's departure from the EU, and the loss of my husband and daughter's precious rights as citizens of Europe, Hill's theme is sadly relevant once again.
"Celebrating the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage," she writes, "and set in the context of a post-referendum world, the work aims to evoke emotional responses and prompt new thinking about the issue of separation as it occurs in all our lives. The collected songs aim to get to the heart of what we feel when we are faced with a separation, both good and bad."
The musicians (along with Jen Hill) are: Hazel Askew, Jenn Butterworth, Eliza Carthy, Hannah James, Mary Macmaster, Karine Polwart, Hannah Read, Rowan Rheingans, and Kate Young. They spent an intensive week planning, rehearsing, and recording the album on Isle of Eigg in June 2015 -- including recordings made at the two sites central to the ‘Big Women of Eigg’ legend.
Above: A short video on the making of Songs of Separation, which includes fascinating discussion on the project's theme, on the creative process, and on the role of folk arts in society -- a perfect combination for Myth & Moor.
Below: An even shorter video from project's video diary, documenting a group sing, in Gaelic, with the Isle of Eigg community, along with a glimpse of that beautiful landscape. (You can view the other "Daily Reflection" videos on the project's YouTube channel.)
Next, four songs from the album itself, which I highly recommend.
Above: "Echo Mocks the Corncrake," featuring Karine Polwart. This traditional song, writes music critic Helen Gregory, "contains subtle political content and references to at least two forms of separation, even though it’s often thought of as a simple love song. The lyric tells of a young man whose partner leaves him for the bright lights of Ayr (located on 'the banks o’ Doune'), an act of separation which is one manifestation of the rural depopulation occurring as a result of the impact of the spread of industrialisation during the 18th and 19th centuries, further exacerbated in Scotland by the greed-fuelled brutality of the Highland Clearances. And the corncrake? The subject of the separation of humankind from the natural environment is key: habitat loss has meant that the numbers of this migratory bird have declined across the British Isles since the mid-19th century. Consequently, corncrakes are now restricted to Ireland and the northern and western islands of Scotland including, of course, the Isle of Eigg. So it’s fitting that 'Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ opens with a field recording of the bird’s distinctive krek krek call which sets the rhythm of the piece, picked up by percussive beats on a variety of instruments ahead of Karine’s vocals."
Below: "It was A' for our Rightfu' King," written by Robert Burns in the 18th century, arranged here by Hannah Read. "The song is inspired by the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745, lead by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (1720 - 1788)," explains Pauline MacKay. "The Jacobites sought to restore the deposed Stuart dynasty to the Scottish and English throne. The Jacobites were defeated at the battle of Culloden in 1746, forcing Bonnie Prince Charlie to flee to the highlands. He eventually reached Europe where he died in exile (in Rome). In this song a young woman laments the failure of the uprising and her Jacobite lover's absence from Scotland."
Below: "Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil (Sad Am I And In A Strange Place)," a waulking song about a woman and two daughters separated from their home. The song's arrangement is by Mary Macmaster.
Above: "Unst Boat Song," a gorgeous prayer for the safety for working at sea by those who have been left behind, recorded in Eigg’s Cathedral Cave. The lyrics are in Norn, an ancient language still heard, in fragments, on the island of Unst.