I am really excited to tell you about a new piece of work – Songs of Separation – that will bring together ten of the UK’s celebrated female folk musicians, to rehearse, arrange and record an album of traditional songs which touch on this complex and fascinating theme. The project begins with a period of research and sharing of songs, culminating in a week of rehearsal and recording on the beautiful Isle of Eigg, in the north west of Scotland.
The idea came in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, when I could see a huge ‘separation’ between the people of Scotland and England being created by very different media messages that were being received through mainstream media sources. I was hearing hugely different interpretations from intelligent, socially-minded people on each side of the Scotland-England border, and I was astounded by the growing distance this seemed to create. It occurred to me that the tools used to separate people, through media and politics, included fear-mongering, mis-information and the encouragement of self-centered values.
At the same time, I was drawn to thinking about ‘separation’ in a wider context; personal, political, economic, gender related, opportunity related…and how these play out in people’s lives. Conversely, it occurred to me, not all separations are negative, but can instead represent emancipation; freedom from a situation that no longer serves.
I’d recently been working with Rowan Rheingans from Lady Maisery, a brilliant three piece from England, and had been overjoyed to hear what they had to say (or sing) about social separations on their album ‘Mayday’. I’d worked the previous year for Eliza Carthy, who has an incredible gift for exploring difficult themes through her songs (‘Breadcrumbs’ and ‘Tea at 5’ being just two examples). It suddenly reminded me that the folk music I had loved growing up told me something about the world, and prompted me to think about things more deeply. I wanted to do something musically to mark this important time, and I wanted to work with like-minded, thinking musicians, in order to do so.
Over a year later, we’re ‘good to go’, with a fantastic group of musicians whose music prompts deep reflection, who have something to say and who are, as they say, great craic!: Karine Polwart, Eliza Carthy, Mary MacMaster, Kate Young, Rowan Rheingans, Hazel Askew, Hannah James, Hannah Read, Jenn Butterworth and myself on bass. We’ve been fortune to gain funding from Creative Scotland and Enterprise Music Scotland, and are hoping for the final piece of the financial puzzle to be solved by Arts Council England. Fingers crossed!