Originally a schools-based music education project by the University of the Highlands and Islands in collaboration with Soundstorm Music Education Agency exploring the similarities and differences, past and present, between the cultural and physical landscapes of South West England and the Scottish Outer Hebrides, this evolved into Far Flung Corners, a fully-fledged artistic collaboration between the musicians involved. Uist-based Anna-Wendy Stevenson and Simon Bradley on fiddle and viola, respectively, were joined by music students Mabel Duncan, Tom Campbell, Jordan Neil and Joseph Peach from Lews Castle College and, from Dorset, singer-songwriter Alex Roberts and pianist Dan Somogyi, the ensemble launching the collaboration with a performance at this year’s Celtic Connections.
Now comes the album, a collection of songs, tunes and spoken word, seven of which form ‘Suite Uist’, a homage to the islands to celebrate 15 years of music education at Lews Castle College, inspired by traditional Gaelic music and song and composed by Stevenson, the University’s Programme Leader.
Interspersed throughout the album, the first part comes with ‘Caismeachd Bho Bhlàr Chàirinis’, a fiddle and flute led melancholic slow march named for the a clans battle in North Uist, the last to be fought with bows and arrows on British soil. Again built around fiddle and a trilling flute ‘Baleshare Rowing Song’ is a relatively jaunty tune recalling what was once the main means of transport between the islands. This is followed by ‘Se Saoghal Beag A Th’Ann (It’s A Small Word)’, Somogyi’s minimal piano accompanying Stevenson spoken poetic portrait of the people and places of Uist, its mention of birdlife leading on to ‘Ruidhle Do Steàrnan Beag,’ a gradually gathering reel in celebration of the Little Tern, one of the many species that nest on Uist during the breeding season.
A second slow march comes with ‘A’ Fàgail Na Dachaigh (Leaving Home)’, a tune in memory of the many Uist residents how were forced to leave the island during the Highland clearances, many relocating to Canada, the USA and Australia, the melody both melancholic and hopeful. Featuring Stevenson’s percussive scat vocal, fiddle, accordion and Campbell’s flute, picking up the tempo as it goes, ‘Udal Waulking Song’ captures the process of shrinking tweed cloth at Udal in North Uist. The final track from the Suite is ‘Failte’, a rousing fiddle, flute and guitar driven number that, translating as Welcome, celebrates Hebridean hospitality.
Save for the closing piano and viola instrumental, Somogyi and Bradley’s ‘Road To Eriskay’ and, with Roberts harmonizing and accompanied by guitar, flute, fiddle and accordion, Stevenson’s lovely reading of Matt McGinn’s lilting ‘The Rolling Hills O’The Borders’, the other numbers are penned and sung by Roberts. Backdropped by sparse piano and fiddle, he opens the album with another small world poem, the spoken ‘I’ll Carry Your Song In My Heart’ and follows with his dreamily nostalgic rippling guitar setting of ‘Linden Lea’, William Barnes’s poem about his Dorset childhood.
The vocals gathering power midway, ‘The Jolly Boat’ is a lazing single fingerpicked guitar and fiddle ballad that captures the warmth of the fire and whisky that fuelled its writing on his first visit to Uist. A more robust piece, his final contribution is ‘Hacking Back To The Wild’, an urgent bluesy folk number that, featuring flute and bouzouki, draws on the relationship between man and the peregrine falcon in a call for the preservation and protection of nature.
Projects such as this can sometimes have a rather niche audience, but this, as the name suggests, deserves to be heard and celebrated far and wide.
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Artists’ website: www.facebook.com/pg/farflungcollective
The Far Flung Collective and Fuaran at Celtic Connections: