Frey is the debut solo album from Tamsin Elliott, a Bristol-based folk musician, composer and film-maker, and co-leader of fusion project Solana.
Recorded by Alex Garden (The Drystones) at Dylan Fowler’s Stiwdio Felin Fach, the album comprises compositions for accordion, harp, whistle and voice in a mesmerising conjunction of sonic textures. Frey inhabits a sound world true to her English folk roots, with modal and rhythmic echoes of time spent in Egypt, and moments of ambient experimentalism using effects, drones and field recordings. During a period of rest and uncertainty, she began to create music and sounds that reflected her need for sanctuary and provided an outlet to process grief. Throughout the album’s fourteen tracks, Tamsin explores themes of limbo, pain, healing and acceptance, reflecting on the microcosm of her personal experience of severe illness alongside wider themes of societal disconnection and environmental destruction.
The opening air ‘Uma’s Song’ introduces Tamsin on accordion, Sid Goldsmith (Jimmy Aldridge & Sid Goldsmith, Awake Arise) on cittern and Rowan Rheingans (The Rheingans Sisters, Lady Maisery, Songs of Separation) on violin, and sets up a pensive mood which segues seamlessly into a pair of lively, incisive jigs ‘Old Wax Jacket/A Coat of Sawdust’. Deeply immersed in the English trad scene since childhood, original tunes such as these find Tamsin rightfully placed among the contemporary cohort of home-grown folk composers such as Kathryn Tickell and Andy Cutting.
Double A-side ‘Lullaby’/’I Dreamed I Was An Eagle’ (released May 23rd) shifts to an altogether more solemn mood. Both written for harp, ‘Lullaby’ is hypnotic in its wordless simplicity. Tamsin’s brother Rowan Elliott underscores the track with several intersecting viola lines, creating a cinematic sense of movement around the harp’s elegant staccato. These are the first of several minimalist harp pieces on the album, offering a balm to the listener – and to Tamsin herself, who composed them as a sonic blanket for difficult days.
Within Tamsin’s artistic distillation of her private pain, there is also space in the music for the listener to hear their own stories of sorrow and serenity. Lament – an accordion piece which fans may recognise from her lockdown documentary [From The Coop] – communicates an outpouring of cathartic heaviness beyond time or topic.
Though it clearly comes from a personal sense of loss, Tamsin is also responding to the macro reality of other griefs, especially climate grief. She’s conflicted by the idea of personal futility, expressing that “illness and fatigue limit my ability to engage with the resistance to ecological breakdown. Producing an artistic response feels at once very important and entirely not enough, so in order to detangle my thoughts, I go to the allotment and look after my vegetables.”
Between such expressions of raw and enduring sadness, there is yet a sense of hope lingering in the shadows. Representing the album’s dichotomy of inner and outer experience, Light as Bone opens with an air on Low D whistle, embodying a strong sense of yearning loneliness as it unfolds, before its sudden transformation into a jig with a persuasive, pulsing rhythm. Tamsin shares that the improvised soundscapes of ‘Vignettes I & II’ are “ambient worlds to escape into. In the studio, we set a timer and just played – a beautiful part of the process.” The first contains shimmering layers of immersive drone, while the second sounds like a pointillist painting, slowly swelling to broader strokes of colour, and both feature extracts of field recordings captured during hospital visits.
The influence of Tamsin’s ongoing relationship with Arabic music is audible on Cold Moon as she finds expansive beauty and form within the limits of her Celtic lever harp, elevated by a transportive solo from guest oud player Soufian Saihi and accompanied by percussion player Ricardo de Noronha. Occupying a similar modal space, ‘The Loss Endured I & II’ incorporate a gathering sense of pace, and the restoration of vitality is still more evident on the playful waltzes ‘Emerging’/”Full Squirrel’, with their unbounded invitation to dance. The final track ‘Cygnus’ brings a graceful sense of closure, as languid Impressionist harp chords leave the listener in a contemplative mood.
Each of these compositional strands contributes to a subtle, cyclical story: from memories of energetic folk sessions, through the melancholic introversion of illness and the Covid-19 pandemic, and into her ongoing process of acceptance. With its magnetic sense of tension and release, the collection creates a much-needed spaciousness for both Tamsin and her audience, and ultimately communicates a strong message of hope and healing through art and connection.
Tamsin is grateful for the support of Sound and Music’s ‘New Voices’ artist development programme, and PRS Foundation’s ‘Women Make Music’ funding in creating this work.
Artist’s website: www.tamsinelliott.co.uk
‘Lullaby/I Dreamed I Was An Eagle’ – official video: