‘Rewilding, is an intriguingly varied and eloquent response to the natural magnificence of both Scotland’s Highlands and Islands, as well as his native Lake District.’
Jim Gilchrist, The Scotsman
Growing up near the Lake District, outdoor spaces have always been a big part of my life. Despite being one of the UK’s largest cities, Glasgow has incredible access to the mountainous areas of Scotland; an aspect that drew me to the place when I moved up in 2014. So when the world shut down, music stopped and travel was out of the question, the once vibrant city started to feel like a concrete prison. At first this had a huge impact on my motivation, I stopped practicing and had no drive to write, but as restrictions lifted I tentatively managed to escape the city and at the same time my psyche for music slowly returned. The music I wrote during this period of refinding wild spaces ended up becoming the basis for Rewilding. When approached to write this blog, I thought I’d share some of the stories behind the tunes.
One positive thing to come out of 2020 was discovering fell running through a friend. The feeling of flowing and moving fast in the mountains is infectious. What started as an overcast run up Ben Vorlich and Stuc A’Chroin with a pal last summer, turned into one of the most memorable that year! As we neared the first summit the fog started to clear and as we reached the top we emerged through the cloud layer. It was the second cloud inversion I’d seen (the first being only two days before, with a day’s climbing on the cobbler). Looking out over a sea of clouds with the mountain tops forming little islands is an other-worldly experience. It was at Christmas time, looking at the bleak prospect of another lockdown and thinking back to these experiences that I wrote Above the Clouds. It’s one of the shorter tracks on the EP but it marked an important change in direction for me. Having lived in Glasgow for 7 years now (where does the time go…) I’ve noticed myself being drawn more and more to the thriving trad scene. I originally moved to the city to study jazz, however after my dad gave me his old accordion, I started heading to sessions and soon after I was hooked. Rewilding is the first time I’ve recorded something in a trad setting; an exciting but equally daunting prospect.
Over the course of last year I started playing with a tenor guitar. My dad’s a luthier so I’d grown up messing around with various stringed instruments but never took the time to properly understand them. So when suddenly presented with a large amount of time, I tried to delve a bit deeper. Both of the reels forming the track Greenside (the name of the street I grew up on in Kendal) were written on a tenor, and in the back of my mind I had the idea to record them back home on one of my dad’s guitars. This link was important to me as a lot of my fondest memories are of times spent in the workshop making things with my dad. The other inspiration behind this track was the landscape surrounding Kendal itself. The house backs onto a local area called Scout Scar; only a short walk away it offers incredible views over the Lakeland fells, and at sunset the light on the tops is stunning. On a recent trip back home I tried to capture some of these themes with a video:
I really like to listen to flemish/breton music and both styles have had a big influence on my writing. Tempus Fugit by Duo Menguy – Le Pennec stands out in particular. I love the haunting repeated ostinato in the cittern. I tried to use this idea for my piece Watchers of the Waves, experimenting by layering together rhodes and delayed guitar to create an ostinato that became the basis for the tune. The track features the amazing Matt Carmichael on tenor sax. Matt is one of the most innately musical people I’ve ever met and all of the subtle fills and the solo he added totally made the track for me! This summer I was very lucky to hike the Skye Trail. Over the course of a week we took in incredible views of the Cuillin and impressive sea cliffs stretching north from Portree, finishing at the northern most point of the island, Rubha Hunish. Overlooking the seas north to Harris and Lewis is an old coastguard hut that’s been converted into a bothy. I thought the cyclic and brooding nature of the tune paired well with the idea of being isolated in the hut, looking out across the water. Here’s a short video I put together from the trip featuring the tune:
I wrote the interlude, ‘The Tractors of South Uist’ a couple of years ago when I cycled the Hebridean way. Sadly the weather wasn’t in our favour, but spending a week being battered by the elements as we made our journey north made us appreciate the moments of calm all the more. One thing that stood out to me in particular was the large number of abandoned tractors; once they had reached the end of their functional life, they had clearly been left in the middle of fields to be reclaimed by the landscape. To me this was a perfect portrayal of the harsh hebridean conditions. This mixed with the moments of intense beauty, such as watching incredible sun shafts dance across the Atlantic ocean from expansive white sand beaches, provided the inspiration for the piece. The tractors also featured again on that trip as, after buckling my front wheel follow a bad crash, a very kind man called Angus strapped my bike to his vintage plow and took it to the bunkhouse that we were staying at that night. The image of him arriving on his old open top tractor, wearing bright yellow overalls with the bike lashed on behind will stay with me for a long time!
Seal Song is a climbing area near Reiff (a small crofting village on the Ruhba Mòr peninsula). As restrictions eased last summer, I made the trip up north for a week climbing and camping with some friends. It was my first time travelling through Assynt and I was in awe of the landscape. I’d brought a flute with me and one evening I headed to a beach overlooking the impressive sandstone mountains of Torridon and wrote the jig that ended up becoming part of Seal Song. The trip was a highlight in what was a pretty strange year and the tune felt like a good end point for the record. I wanted to play around with layers and create an uplifting feel. I was very lucky to have spent lockdown with one of my best pals and flatmate, Josh Elcock, without whom I’d definitely have gone a bit insane. Josh is an incredible brass player and he tracked the trumpet and flugal horn parts that finish the piece. He also runs a great big band that I had the privilege to be involved with over the course of last year!
I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was involved in this project. I feel very privileged to be surrounded by so many amazing musicians and artists in Glasgow and being able to work with and feature some of them when making these tunes was a surreal experience. Gus Stirrat and Chris Waite did an incredible job with the mixing and mastering, not entirely sure how that made it sound the way it does given that it was mostly recorded in my flat; a little bit of wizardry is my guess! Lastly thanks to everyone that’s listened and shared the music so far, more tunes are already in the works.