Last August Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach set sail on the tall ship Wylde Swan to visit five uninhabited islands off the west coast of Scotland: the Shiant Isles, North Rona, the Flannan Isles, Sula Sgeir and St Kilda. The journey was filmed by Hamish Macleod, the result to be premiered in Glasgow on August 21st, but before then we have Air Iomall, the music inspired by the journey and a reliable atlas and history of western Scotland will be of assistance or, failing that, Wikipedia.
The opening track, ‘The Big Islands’, is a setting-out tune, starting slowly but picking up speed as the ship catches the wind. Big is a relative term but I think it refers to Harris and Lewis, passed as Wylde Swan heads north. Charlie’s fiddle melody supported by Joseph’s piano before he takes over on accordion. Their first destination is depicted in ‘Donald MacLeod, King Of North Rona’. Donald, the last resident of the island left for Lewis in 1844 and the island remains uninhabited although sheep are still run there.
‘Ducat, Marshall, And The Occasional’ is a lament for the disappearance of three keepers from the Flannan Isles lighthouse in 1900. No trace was ever found of the two permanent crew; James Ducat and Thomas Marshall nor of Donald McArthur (the Occasional or rotating crewman) although an investigation revealed some strange entries in the log. ‘Sula Sgeir’ might translate as Suleskerry but this is an up-tempo fiddle set with no hint of selkies. ‘The Cliffs Of Conachair’ finds the ship at St Kilda, uninhabited since 1930 and ‘The Wylde Swan’ is another jolly tune, presumably to celebrate their safe arrival.
I must say that I’ve enjoyed reading about the history of these tiny specks of land as I’ve listened to Air Iomall and I can tell that Charlie and Joseph were as much influenced by that history as by the landscapes. Finally we have the eighteen-minute ‘Live On St Kilda’, a concert set of the music performed, presumably, for the crew of the Wylde Swan and, no doubt, the seabirds for which the island is famous. Unique is an overused word but I think that in the case of this project, it is justified.
Artists’ website: www.cgjpmusic.com
The Air Iomall film is safely under wraps until its premiere but here’s some film of Charlie and Joseph on stage earlier last year: