Fair Isle artiste launches album inspired by George Mackay Brown

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Fair Isle singer, songwriter and poet Lise Sinclair has released a new album based on a book by George Mackay Brown and will be touring with her band next month.

The stories in Mackay Brown’s A Time to Keep are tales of life in all its small detail, set in the harsh and beautiful landscape of the Northern Isles. They are lit with the author’s precise, poetic touch and the characteristically understated northern voice. The characters inhabit an unwritten history between the Norse sagas and the 20th century, as if carefully gathered from time itself.

In A Time to Keep and other stories Lise has written a series of new songs that will bring the stories out of the book, connecting the past with the present and the Northern Isles with Iceland. Mackay Brown drew reference from these connections, linking the Scottish and Nordic cultures as they are still lived in these isles in his work.

Lise says the idea for the album presented itself to her, as she “began to hear these songs on first reading the book, as if they were already there, singing out of George’s clear, lyrical prose”.

The music has been written in collaboration with Icelandic musician and composer Ástvaldur Traustasson and recorded by a band of musicians from across the North Isles and Iceland, including Lise, Ástvaldur, Inge Thomson, Brian Cromarty, Ewen Thomson and poet and Icelandic translator Aalstein Asberg Sigursson.

The band gathered in Edinburgh in January to rehearse and record the songs and will be releasing the album and performing the songs at a special series of concerts set to take place in the Shetland, Edinburgh and Reyjavík next month, at the end of the Year of Scottish Islands Culture.

Shetland Arts literature development officer Donald Anderson said the music was a rich tapestry of sound: voices, piano, fiddle, guitars, accordion, mandolin, banjo and harmonium, blending a wealth of tradition with what’s new in Scottish music and Icelandic jazz into songs which were a journey from beginning to end, through time, under wide island skies.

He said: “We are really delighted to have worked with Lise in supporting this project which we feel will help promote the wealth of the culture and creativity to be found in the Northern Isles and in the people who have their roots here.

“We would also like to acknowledge the support from Scotland’s Islands, Creative Scotland, The Scottish Islands Writers Network, the Scottish Poetry Library, The Scottish Story Telling Centre, and Loganair without which this project would not have happened.”

The first performance is on Thursday 8th March in St Magnus Cathedral in Orkney, a place where Mackay Brown found inspiration, and where the fusion of Norse and Scottish voices resonates in the very stone. Other tour dates are: Friday 9th March – Fair Isle; Sunday 11th March – Lerwick Town Hall; Thursday 15th March – Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh; and Saturday 17th March – Reykjavík, Iceland.


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