RORY MATHESON & GRAHAM RORIE – We Have Won The Land (own label RUMSO3CD)

We Have Won The LandI doubt the English language has any writing that better describes listening to wordless music than that in EM Forster’s fifth chapter of Howard’s End.

How interesting that row of people was! What diverse influences had gone to the making! Here Beethoven, after humming and hawing with great sweetness, said “Heigho,” and the Andante came to an end. Applause, and a round of “wunderschoning” and pracht volleying from the German contingent. Margaret started talking to her new young man; Helen said to her aunt: “Now comes the wonderful movement: first of all the goblins, and then a trio of elephants dancing”… look out for the part where you think you have done with the goblins and they come back,” breathed Helen, as the music started with a goblin walking quietly over the universe, from end to end. Others followed him. They were not aggressive creatures; it was that that made them so terrible to Helen. They merely observed in passing that there was no such thing as splendour or heroism in the world. After the interlude of elephants dancing, they returned and made the observation for the second time.”

It captures the creativity of the composer, the reaction of an audience, the emotion of the piece in images which, ten years before Eliot invented the phrase, create objectives correlative (the terrible goblins, for example) for the impact of music on our souls.

Why do I mention this?

Rory Matheson and Graham Rorie have recently released We Have Won the Land, a predominantly tune-filled album (there are only a couple of tracks with vocal) inspired by Matheson’s local area of Assynt in the north-west Scottish Highlands where, in 1993, the crofters bought back some 21,000 acres of land from a Swedish land speculator – and thereby inspired other communities similarly to try to own the land they work and live on.

Matheson and Rorie are both former finalists in the BBC Radio Scotland Young Musician of the Year, but this is their first collaborative release; it’s a gem of a collaboration between two fine creative musicians.

Rory Matheson plays piano and keyboards and, even though only a recent graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has already toured widely across Europe, the USA and Australia. He was born and brought up in the Assynt area.

Graham Rorie is an Orcadian fiddle and mandolin player – another alumnus of the Conservatoire, founding member of Gnoss, and a nominee for Alba’s award for Scottish traditional music.

As for the music, the track titles tell the story: ‘Stating Intentions’, ‘The First Bid’, ‘The Second Bid’, ‘The Winning Bid’, ‘We Have Won The Land’ being the most obvious markers of the paths taken by the Crofters’ Trust.  ‘Who Possesses This Land’ is slow mournful fiddle to reflect the declining of a second bid to buy the land. ‘The Winning Bid’ bounces with sheer joy – you can picture the villagers in a dance of delight at their success.

The tunes continue and echo the villagers’ challenges and eventual victory. ‘This Is Ours’, the penultimate track, smiles calmly for the first couple of minutes and then opens into a fuller sound, before returning to the original cheery gentleness: the calm delight of well-earned success, the joy of celebration and finally the steady knowledge that this won’t be changed and should be enjoyed for years to come.

We Have Won the Land (the album) is simultaneously a tale of the Crofters’ journey from initial idea through to a triumphant ending (details are in the sleeve notes) and a musical journey through a range of emotions till the album ends with the uplifting finale of ‘We Have Won the Land’ (the track). There are no goblins here and this is a glorious album, human endeavour and community set to the passions of music. Whatever the remaining months of 2022 bring, I suspect this is likely to stay among my top albums of the year.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘The First Bid’:

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