Despite The Wind And Rain is the debut album, as a duo, for musician Aaron Jones and the Gaelic singer Rachel Walker. The album has ten tracks, each celebrating under-recognised women in Scottish history. Rachel also worked with poet, Marcas Mac an Tuairneir to write the Gaelic songs on the album.
Walker gives an overview of the creative thinking behind the album, “We have both worked in the traditional music scene for many years, and in that time we’ve become aware of the lack of songs that celebrate Scottish women for their success or achievements. There are plenty of tracks out there which will detail a woman’s beauty, or her broken heart, but few which acknowledge her intelligence, sense of adventure or courage. We sought to rectify that with this album.”
The ten songs, then, tell us of: a warrior queen; an artist, photographer, writer, educator, feminist, cultural historian and curator of Ghanaian heritage; a botanist traveller and explorer of the Arctic; a writer and a mountain walker; the first two women to be elected as honorary members of the Royal Astronomical society; the womanly gifts (their words) of perception, intuition, common sense and the power of women working together; women involved in the movement to end slavery; an entrepreneur who monetised the superstition of local fishermen; the writer of the book ‘Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist’; the women’s suffrage movement, in particular two individuals who dedicated their lives to improving access to healthcare for women, children, the war wounded and the poor; the first Police Commissioner for women in the Metropolitan Police, who championed the cause of abused women in the early 20th century.
You get a sense of how broad and powerful this album is. If I add that the songs themselves are musically just beautiful in a way that only Gaelic music, with its recognisably own intonation and signature, can be, then you’ll already be thinking this is one hell of an album.
I’ll add more though. On three tracks, Walker and Jones are joined by Duncan Lyall (Moog or double bass), on the remaining tracks there is also a string quartet. The arrangements are delicate and the playing sensitive.
However, Despite The Wind And Rain is a yet grander piece of art, in its widest sense. You can see from the photo of the CD cover above that there is equally delicate artwork associated with the album. Again I’ll quote the duo on their involvement with the artist Ali Berardelli, “As we researched the women we featured on the album it became clear, given the huge range of the subjects historically, that there wouldn’t be images of all of the women. We thought it would be great to commission a piece of art to represent each of the women featured and, because we were already a fan of her work, commissioned Ali to create ten special images representing the women in our songs.” The ten images are included in the CD booklet. Rather wonderful they are too.
I’m left with a couple of final thoughts. I’ve used double the usual count of words to review an album – and yet still feel it’s not enough. In days gone by – when I were a lad – there was a delight in buying a 12-inch album and, on the way home, sitting in the pub with a pie and pint reading the sleeve notes/insert.
Pete Hamill’s sleeve notes for Blood On The Tracks while sitting in The Friendship on a midday break from working on the market is a vivid memory. Why mention this? Because record companies have moved to CD and downloads and don’t value the notes and lyrics as much as they should. In addition to a well-presented CD booklet, Walker and Jones’ website is a lesson in how this can be done well – there’s a section for each song detailing both inspiration and lyric (and an English version for the Gaelic songs). I’ve spent a delightful hour or more just mulling these through in the way I used to do. It also means those of you reading this can easily go and find the names of the women these songs are written about and look them up in further detail on the web/your local library.
Despite The Wind And Rain, then, is a splendid album – but more than that a tremendous historical and artistic document. Go to the website, read more about it, get the music – and if you’re anywhere near Glasgow on 1st February 2023, the album will be played live, with band, in the Macintosh Church as part of Celtic Connections.
Artists’ website: https://www.rachelwalkerandaaronjones.com
‘Crescents And Stars’ – official video: