Na Trads

Songs of Separation had a cracking time at The Scottish Trad Awards (Na Trads).
Ok, so we didn’t win ‘Best Album’ (which we were nominated for), but we did have a great band Christmas party! Everyone had a nice time and one person fell over.

For me, it was the culmination of a lot of work, and a chance to reflect on some of my personal highlights. These included running a workshop for the community on the Isle of Eigg, having a chat with Mark Radcliffe, having Julie Fowlis join us as a guest singer and doing a gig in Cardiff with an expanded team of guests from Wales, Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.

We were made welcome by brilliant venues and warm audiences, we got to play two of the UK’s best festivals Celtic Connections and Cambridge folk festival, and we had a wonderful peer review from Maddy Prior:

“Created in three days and recorded in three days? F**king hell, you’re all too clever by half”

But, if I had to choose one, this would be my favourite Songs of Separation moment of all time…

It’s a wrap!

The Songs of Separation project is almost at its end. We have just one gig remaining – a wee two song slot at the Scottish Trad Awards on 5th December 2016.

I commissioned our film maker, Ben Cormack, to make a final film for us to share with our audiences. We did filming, and I talked too much as usual, and he made it make sense! The film including footage from our gig with a young people’s chorus at the Queens Hall… moving stuff!

A busy time of it…

It’s been a busy year, with the production, booking and tour management for Songs of Separation!

We’ve gigged in Edinburgh, London, Dumfries, Cambridge, Cardiff, Bury, Woodchester, Dundee, Didcot and Glasgow, but not in that order. That would be a terrible tour schedule!

To be honest, I didn’t ever envisage myself running a ten piece ensemble, comprising some of England and Scotland’s most treasured musicians! My organisational skills have been well and truly put to the test, but so far everyone has had a bed on tour, transport, per diems and a respectable pay packet for playing! It sounds basic doesn’t it… but it’s not always the case in our industry! Most importantly, things have been decided in consultation with all group members – an ethos that aims to respect musicians’ views, even if it does mean an awful lot of emails!

Image by one of the young singers who joined us on stage at The Queens Hall, Edinburgh

It’s been an immense experience, but a year of 5am admin starts does take it’s toll. I’m looking forward to some time to play and sleep in the not-too-distant future!

Songs of Separation

This is what I’ve been up to! Here’s the story…

Find out more about Songs of Separation here

Check out videos and singles here

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Well, it’s been a bit busy here for a few months now. I’m up to my ears in all things ‘Songs of Separation’. SoS is a project I’ve been working on since 2013, involving ten fantastic female folkies. With Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, Kate Young, Mary Macmaster, Hannah Read, Hannah James, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans, Jenn Butterworth and myself gathered together on the Isle of Eigg, we made an album exploring the musical traditions of the UK, with songs which prompt reflection on the many types of separation we experience as we go through life. It is a project with strong political drivers, many songs are ‘calls to arms’ or action.

It’s been my ‘big project’, from concept to production, and now (unexpectedly) we are taking it out on the road! The album launches on 29th January, with a tour.

Find out more about Songs of Separation and its aims, both musical and wider, here.

One of the spin offs of the SoS project has been this article, in the highly respected Songlines magazine. It’s quite unusual for bass players to get any kind of feature, I’m not used to it, so it feels quite weird. I enjoyed the process of working out what my favourite albums are, which musicians inspire me and what I’d have rather been if I wasn’t a musician! Still feels weird though…

Danny Thompson Project – double double bass and a studio

Danny Thompson and Jen Hill

A quick update, because I really ought to be playing the bass (rather than messing about online). TOMORROW I hit the studio with Danny Thompson, the most incredible bass player, mentor and friend. This is a dream come true, and I keep thinking I might wake up at any moment!

I’ve been supported by Creative Scotland to undertake an ‘Advanced Mentoring’ project, working with Danny to pursue a real interest of mine: the role of the double bass in Scottish traditional music. Danny and I have spent 18 months meeting up, sharing music electronically, and I have been composing, arranging and singing daft bass lines down the phone at him. My playing has been affected massively, I feel more confident, more genuine in my choices, more able to ‘throw out the rule book’ and much much more creative as an individual.

The work grew from my collaboration with Damian Helliwell’s Metta (tunes below), wherein I was using the bass in a variety of ways, moving away from the heavy ‘ceilidh style’ of playing (strong 1+3 beats, to help the dancers), and towards a more contrapuntal approach, where the bass part works in tandem with the melody line, creating a second tier of melody, if you like. At the same time, in other tunes, I’d ‘groove’ rather than play a countermelody… it all depends on what serves the tune. Some people love this approach, and others (more dyed in the wool) are a bit challenged by it… so having Danny on board made everything seem possible, and enabled me to develop my style with confidence and joy.

In the next few days, I’ll be recording two airs, arranged for two basses. We’ll be joined by Angus Lyon on keys and possibly box (depending on what we decide and what he’s up for!), and I can’t wait to share the results. These tracks will be used on a future album, focused around Scottish trad, which will (I hope) make you dance your socks off.

I’d like to thank individuals at Creative Scotland, in particular Brian, David and Emma.

Here’s a wee vid for your enjoyment

Creative Scotland logo