PIERS LEWIN & JOHN PATRICK ELLIOTT – Lost Songs Of Scilly (Carbon Moon Records)

Lost Songs Of ScillyLost Songs Of Scilly is something of a misnomer because all the music here is newly minted. The reason is that, uniquely in the British Isles, Scilly has no indigenous musical tradition or, at least, not one that has survived. Of course, there may be the equivalent of the Dead Sea scrolls hidden somewhere but it’s unlikely. So Piers Lewin & John Patrick Elliott have delved into the islands’ history, geography and contemporary life to put together this record. Except for Alison D’Souza’s viola and the voice of Mary Lowth, Piers and John are responsible for everything you hear. Actually, ‘Scillonia’ is a poem by Simon Armitage and there is the traditional ‘Spanish Ladies’, one of the few folk songs to actually mention Scilly although Kipling did so rather later.

This album is not a collection of songs in the traditional sense; better to think of it as a suite of words and music which flow into each other. The arrangements are often orchestral in scale and while that makes for excellent listening I found that sometimes I engage with the music more than the words. There are several tracks which stand out from the crowd, though. ‘Slippen’ is a flute-led instrumental but even this eventually becomes submerged and the same occurs with ‘Small Boats’. ‘Scillonia’, being a spoken word piece is very different and by its very familiarity, ‘Spanish Ladies’ also grabs the attention.

There are times when a gazetteer is required to get your bearings. ‘Land’s End’ is obvious as is ‘Lyonesse’, the mythical land that linked Cornwall to Scilly but the opening track, ‘Hagenes’ is more difficult. It’s the old Norse name for one of the islands later corrupted to St. Agnes while ‘Douro’ is a region of Portugal but I can imagine trade between Scilly and the Iberian peninsula.

If I have sounded over-critical, I should say that there are some lovely songs here. ‘There’s A Tide’ springs to mind, but there is often too much going on. Lost Songs Of Scilly is an album which will reward repeated listening but may not be easy to get into.

Dai Jeffries

Project website: www.lostsongsofscilly.com

‘Lyonesse’ – official video:

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