While she was born in Lancaster grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire, it is the Hebridean island of Rum that provides the inspiration for Iona Lane’s debut album. Rising 723 metres, Hallival, is one of the mountains on the picturesque Isle of Rum, the location of which is also the theme for the album’s opening track.
Iona Lane:“Spending my childhood in the Dales was wonderful but pretty much all our family holidays were north of the border so I’ve grown to love the Scottish as well as the English landscape.”
As well as highland landscapes, Lane’s songwriting tackles such themes as eighteenth-century scientific discovery, nineteenth-century palaeontology and ancient Celtic myth. In her finely crafted songs, Lane demonstrates a real gift for storytelling and introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, both real and imagined.
Lane’s delicate yet immensely expressive vocals accompanied by her own skillful guitar playing as well as a talented cast of supporting musicians (Mia Scott, Louis Bertoud, Jay Taylor, Sol Edwards, Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl) all serve to ensure that Hallival is a very fine debut folk album indeed.
A noteworthy figure on the Scottish music scene, Barry Reid has made his presence felt both through membership of bands like the Treacherous Orchestra and Croft No. Five, and also as a studio engineer and producer. Breathing Space, however, is Reid’s debut solo album.
Inspired by the rural landscapes of Ross-Shire and Inverness-Shire and recorded at his own Rose Croft Studio in the Highland village of Muir of Ord, Breathing Space fuses folk and electronica to create ten self-composed instrumental tracks.
Alongside Reid, the album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians in Lauren MacColl, Hamish Napier, Laura Wilkie, Innes Watson and Ali Hutton.
“For many years I’ve wanted to make an electronic based album of music that not only reflects myself as a musician but also the places I love to be in, where I find calm amongst all the chaos,” Reid writes in the album sleeve-notes.
He’s not the first to do this, of course. A number of musicians have been tempted to explore that intersect of folk and electronica and in recent years we’ve been seeing more albums treading this same path. However, both for the sheer wealth of instruments involved (which include acoustic guitar, synthesizers, harmonium, drums, samples, keyboards, percussion and vocal drone as well as fiddle, flute and whistles from the assorted guest musicians) and for the incorporation of mood-setting sounds from the natural landscape, Reid has come up with something that’s both evocative and highly inventive.
Witches have been in the news of late, with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a formal apology to those who were executed under Scotland’s sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft laws.
Sturgeon’s apology was in response to the ‘Witches of Scotland’ campaign which has sought to obtain an official pardon for those, mainly women, who were persecuted as witches. The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has pulled together a comprehensive database of known prosecutions taking place, between the first execution in 1479 and the final one in 1727, revealing that at least 2,500 people were killed.
It’s not only in the Scottish Parliament where the plight of those persecuted has resonated. Acclaimed Scottish traditional musicians and composers, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, have been equally moved by this dark period in Scotland’s history. Collaborating with author and academic, Mairi Kidd, Heal & Harrow is an album of original music, songs and readings drawn from Kidd’s specially-commissioned writing.
Kidd writes in the accompanying booklet: “Heal & Harrow is a dream project for a writer, but a challenging one, too. Choosing ten women from the thousands persecuted for witchcraft was a daunting task, never mind selecting also from the legion of sister who experienced less extreme versions of the same forces.”
The result is a haunting but compelling album that honours the memory of women who fell victim to that lethal combination of misogyny, superstition and paranoia which gave rise to the witch-hunts. Women like Lillias Addie, who is commemorated in the opening track. She was accused of witchcraft after being shopped by a neighbour but died before her trial. Escaping the horror of being burned to death she remains the only person in Scotland that was accused of witchcraft to have a known grave.
Newton’s harp, stark and slightly other-worldly, and MacColl’s fiddle, brooding and melancholy, are the dominant sounds on the album, providing a beautifully evocative backdrop for Newton’s pure yet fragile-sounding vocal or the duo’s soft, gentle spoken-word interludes.
Sorcery and witchcraft have been a recurring theme in folk for centuries but amidst the melodramatic, cartoon-like portrayals it’s sometimes easy to forget the horrendous human tragedies that resulted from society’s obsession. Heal & Harrow redresses that balance and gives a voice to those so accused. A stunning album.