The Making of Hearth
This is my most personal creative project to date and I’m really proud of it! I applied to Creative Scotland open project fund, and thanks to this support, I have been able to write and record the music for a limited edition run of five, 12” singles and also paint the cover designs for each one.
“The five singles represent the five townships of Coigach, where I grew up, a hidden gem on the North Coast 500 that literally translates as ‘five fields’ in Gaelic.”
Research and composition
My theme has been the women and landscapes of Coigach and particularly the women from my own family. The initial stages of research involved visiting the Coigach Heritage Group where I was able to gather stories, and photograph some of their archives, such as the school roll from Altandhu. (My Granny, Margaret Dolly Mackenzie had attended there until the age of 14, where she met my Grandfather, Alexander Macleod). I wrote the tune ‘Maggie West’s Waltz’ for her around 20 years ago now!
The most inspiring discoveries for this project came from speaking informally to folk and badgering my mum to get the old photos out, which then prompted more stories. Not all made it into the music but what an amazing insight into my family history that I will treasure forever.
Below is a brief description for each single;
1.Hearth – Carry Me There
ACarry Me There (4:31)
AAClachan (3:43) (Includes x2 old Gaelic songs, Clachan Mo Ghaoil by Donald Ross and Bruthaichean Ghlinn Braoin, The Braes of Glenbroom with lyrics from Jan Kilpatrick, from her poem The Land Owns Me)
The painting for this was done at Badentarbet on a very wild February afternoon. Much like the painting, the songs are very textural and ethereal and I enjoyed the challenge to merge the two traditional songs with my new sound.
2.Hearth – The Kelp Makers
AThe Kelp Makers (5:43)
AACoigach Lass (2:54)
Two pipe tracks! I was keen to represent the pipes in a way I’d never done before, taking sound inspiration from the likes of musician and producer, Jon Hopkins.
I interviewed Cathy Dagg for the project and she told me about the historic uses of Kelp in the area and what a tough job it was for women – it had to have a tune!
Photo by Somhairle MacDonald
3.Hearth – It Takes Me
AIt Takes Me (4:47)
AAJessie & Alice (2:53)
I was really interested in the stories about both my mum’s Granny’s, Jessie and Alice. Jessie came from the Black Isle, met my mum’s grandfather while he was droving sheep there. She came to live in Achnahaird and wasn’t initially made to feel welcome by the locals as she didn’t speak Gaelic and she wore skirts above her ankles! She went back to the Black Isle for a year and returned speaking perfect Gaelic – apparently a very clever lady.
Alice’s mum ran away from Jura at the age of 16 to be with her husband Murdo Macleod from Polbain (her parents arrived on horse and cart a few times to take her home and they finally let her stay by the 3rdtime – true love!) Her two brothers were known as the Polbain fiddlers and their uncle was the Polbain Bard, Neil Macleod. (Grace Darling from my Summer Isles album is based on one of his poems about the beautiful girl he fell in love with and sadly didn’t ever tell her.)
Many women in those days left school at 14 yrs old to go to work and my mum and her sister Jessie (my cousin, harpist and singer Rachel Newton’s mum!) were the first generation of women in our family to go to University. Throughout the research, I became very aware of how different my life has been to those women before me – I have had so many more opportunities AND I can wear skirts above my ankles quite freely! I really want this music to say thank you to all the women before who paved the way for me to be able to do what I’m doing today – thank you!
4. Hearth – Bobby Fraser Darling
ABobby Fraser Darling (3:14)
AAPegging Out (3:46)
Bobby Fraser Darling was the wife of the well- known ecologist, ornithologist, farmer, conservationist and author, Frank Fraser Darling. She was apparently very hardy and always smiling! Jan Kilpatrick and I collaborated on the lyrics for the A side and Pegging Out was a poem Jan had written on Tanera.
The painting for this was also done at Badentarbet looking out to Tanera. I have been so pleased with the vibrant colours achieved from painting outside in the elements. It was quite wild this February!
5.Hearth – Walk On Girl
AWalk On Girl (2:47)
AATime Before Roads (3:22)
Jan Kilpatrick is a talented textile artist and lyricist and she also happens to be a family friend! She wrote the poem ‘Walk On Girl’ after my mum had told her about how her job was always to take the cows in at night. I wrote this song very instinctively when I read the poem that Jan sent. The painting was done at Loch Raa in Achnahaird, looking back to the hill where mum would have walked the cows.
Having collaborated with lyricist, Jan Kilpatrick for my Summer Isles album released in 2016, I was keen to work alongside Jan again for this project. In December’19, we spent a cold morning just below Stac Pollaidh and co-wrote Bobby Fraser Darling and Jan also wrote the words for Clachan and It Takes Me. Time Before Roads was written after a writing and painting session up Cul Mor. (I am a huge advocate for getting out into the land to truly experience it – it really does open your mind to greater possibilities.) Inspired by having played the pipes a lot on many of King Creosote’s songs, I was keen to use the pipes as much as possible on these recordings and I’m really pleased with how the border pipes have worked in this track.
After the music was written, the next stage was to record it all. Myself and Mike Vass set up the studio in my living room in Ullapool in early January and we recorded most of the tracks then. A pivotal moment was discovering how well the mechanics of the accordion were working as rhythm tracks. This formed quite an integral sound for most of the tracks and I look forward to trying to re-create them live! We had a few extra days in Glasgow to finish things and used the live room at Gloworm recording for the bagpipes and studio 2 for the vocals. John Mulhearn very kindly came along, leant me his small pipes and helped with pipe tuning. Check out John’s music here! Iain Hutchison did the stem mixes for us and Peter Beckham expertly mastered all 10 tracks.
It took me a long time to get into the rhythm of things for painting the cover designs. I tried lots of different approaches and eventually settled on working ‘en plein air’ to scale on 12” squared paper. I really felt that this best captured the emotional connection between the generations of women that have all trampled the same soil. Most of the work was done in February 2020 when it was horrendous weather! This meant I had to work very quickly and the response was very intuitive and lively. There is much more freedom in these paintings to some of my previous work and the intensity of the colours were definitely better achieved from working outside. I have to say, huge appreciation for heated shoe in soles!
I was also pleased to use many of the photos that my mum had found for the vinyl label designs. They are very unique to our family and I’m delighted that these faces can live on with my music and art. Here is one of my favourites of my Aunty Jessie (Rachel Newton’s mum)
I didn’t come up with a title until much later on in the project. Myself and Jan had lots of coffee and cake one morning and brainstormed ideas. ‘Hearth’ instantly felt right for this project. ‘Hearth and Home’ – the women and landscapes of my home, Coigach. Traditionally the hearth was an integral part of any home, its central and most important feature. It is where the family gathered, where the meals were made, (most likely by the women!) and they really were the heart of the home. It symbolises the warmth, light and nourishment of the art and music combined andreflects the resilient, hardy, and spirited generations of women in the area.
Within that one word there are other significant words such as ‘Heart’, ‘Earth’. ‘Hear’ and ‘Art’ – all relevant and unique to this project.
How to buy, “Hearth”.
Music streaming gives us music at the click of a finger these days, but I wanted to give the listener something more personal with bespoke artwork for each of the five singles. There will only be a limited edition run of 250 of each single and the only way to hear or see the artwork is to buy directly from me!
Each 12” single is individually numbered, includes a complimentary lyric book and costs £20 (plus p+P) or you can buy all five at a discounted price of £85. Please see my website shop here for details.
My most personal creative journey to date, traveling through time and celebrating the women and landscapes of where I’m from. I am very grateful to have these strong roots that will continue to inspire my work for years to come I’m sure.
A huge thank you to all the people that helped make this project possible;
Jan Kilpatrick, Mike Vass, John Mulhearn, Sot Otter, Hector McInnes, Iain Hutchison, Peter Beckham, Birnam CD, Kenny Anderson, Cathy Dagg, Anne Campbell, Will Maclean, Marian Leven, Fin Moore, Rachel Newton, Deirdre Graham, Paul Hamilton, Eilean Green, my mum and dad and all my friends and family.
This project has been made possible with funding from Creative Scotland.