It strikes me that quite a few composers working in the broader field of folk music are now writing what might best be described as soundtracks for films or TV programmes as yet unmade. Perhaps the “purest” of these is The Orcadians Of Hudson Bay by Orkney fiddler Graham Rorie, now finding fame with Gnoss. I call it pure because there is no narration or songs to move the story along: just read the notes, listen to the music and imagine the pictures.
Graham begins with two tunes telling the story of the John Rae. Like so many Orcadians Rae joined the Hudson Bay Company, in fact at one time almost 80% of the company’s employees were from Orkney, and Rae is the most famous Orcadian you’ve never heard of. Not only did he find the final link in the northwest passage but also learned from the local Inuit people something of the fate of the Franklin expedition. ‘Fort Hope’ is the name of the stone house he built on Repulse Bay as winter quarters and ‘Aglooka’ is an Inuit word they used to describe him.
I’m not an expert but the music is based on the Orkney tradition given a modern feel. Kristan Harvey plays second fiddle with Padruig Morrison on accordion and Rory Matheson providing dramatic piano. James Lindsay plays double bass and Signy Jakobsdottir is on drums and percussion. Most of the compositions are upbeat and robust as befits descriptions of life in such inhospitable surroundings. The notable exception is ‘Isobel’, a much gentler piece telling the story of Isobel Gunn a real life “female cabin boy” or, in this case, a female fur trapper. Her story ends as you might expect when she gave birth to a son and was repatriated to Orkney where she lived until her death at the age of 81.
Another significant track is ‘Erebus & Terror’ which brings us back to the story of John Rae. Having discovered the probable fate of the Franklin expedition he made the mistake of telling the unpalatable truth and was pretty much ostracized. Franklin was posthumously knighted and Rae was buried on Orkney.
I realise that I have written more about the stories than the music here. The stories are fascinating and the music is glorious – listen to the final ‘Giving Back’ and tell me it doesn’t lift your spirits – but now I’m waiting for the movie.
Artist’s website: https://www.grahamrorie.com/
‘Babiche’ – official video: