Weird sparkly noises, electronic bleeps, the sound of golf balls rolling around the inside of a piano and banging metal teapots full of water perhaps don’t add up to the most traditional of templates for what is ostensibly a mere folk music CD.
But that’s a flavour of what talented Fair Isle-bred musician Inge Thomson has come up with on her debut solo album Shipwrecks & Static. The 12-track, 46-minute LP sees her taking centre stage after years of playing, among other things, accordion and providing backing vocals for the likes of Karine Polwart, the recently disbanded Broken Family Band, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Harem Scarem and Drop the Box.
The unconventional elements mentioned above should not dissuade you from checking this gentle and intriguing record out, though. There remains a distinctively Scottish folk sound to the album, which sees Inge singing and playing buttons, piano, organ, mandolin, flute, whistle, percussion and “other pings, tings, glitches and nonsense”.
There is also definitely a strong Scandinavian tint thrown into the mix. Her love of tunes from that part of the world, along with her flair for the accordion, was inherited from her father. Inge comes from a truly musical family by any standards – so much so, in fact, that no less than four of her grandparents’ nine grandchildren have professional careers related to music, including her fiddle-fashioning brother Ewen and guitar-making cousin Inness.
There are guest turns on Shipwrecks & Static from folk singer Heidi Talbot, Brighton-based multi-instrumentalist Tom Cook and Inge’s other half Martin Green, of LAU fame. Particularly striking among the dozen tracks is 150-second opener John, a quirky little jaunt, while the pretty, laid-back instrumental Tin Man also catches the ear.
So why the decision to step out on her own after all these years? It had always been a desire, she says, but something which she had simply not got around to doing because of a hectic schedule playing live with other artists and as a session musician.
“I suppose I’d never got it together because I was always working with other folk,” she says. “I happened to be touring quite heavily with Karine and Steven [Polwart], just playing bits and bobs – you find that block of time between the sound check and the gig.
“I had a lot of material that I’d written for various bands that had just never got used. I thought at the time that I would get an album together of that material. But when I started demoing everything a lot of them were not quite the right vibe, they were written for different bands and different instrumentation, so I wrote most of it as I recorded it.”
The album, she says, is heavily influenced by glitch-pop electronica and leftfield artists like Norwegian singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg and Danish experimental pop group Efterklang. Inge’s sweetly whispered, wispy vocals, embellished in places by Talbot’s backing, leave Shipwrecks & Static sounding almost like an altogether more palatable Scottish folk incarnation of Bjork.
“It was always going to happen that I made an album that sounded a bit weird and slightly electronic. The melodies were pretty folk-y or Americana-sounding, but with sparkly noises and other things I found appealing thrown in. I did a lot of banging metal teapots full of water, rolled a golf ball around a Bösendorfer, which was an awful lot of fun, making funny noises. While it sounds electronic, a lot were actually organic instruments.”
She is currently looking to promote the album by playing some summer festivals with two as-yet unnamed musicians and hopes to be able to perform the material in Shetland at some point. In the meantime, other commitments keep her as busy as ever – Inge, now 35, is touring with Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Annlaug Borsheim, who visited these parts in 2005, next spring.
Before that, she is taking part in Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook concert at Celtic Connections on 16th January where a diverse range of favourites and lesser-known gems from the past 100 years will be given a contemporary treatment by, among others, Lorraine McIntosh and Ricky Ross from Deacon Blue, Emma Pollock, Kris Drever, King Creosote, Andy M Stewart and Phil Cunningham.
● Copies of Shipwrecks & Static are available from Clive’s Record Shop or High Level Music, and you can find out more about Inge and her music on her website at www.ingethomson.com. For a fuller version of this article see the January edition of Shetland Life magazine, out early next month.