Tell us about your show and what audiences can expect?
The show will be a live performance of my piece Hert which came out as my debut solo album in January this year. I was inspired by a diverse set of poets and writers from my native Orkney. The piece is made up of six settings of poetry and three instrumentals and is written for an ensemble of nine. The piece explores the changing meaning of ‘home’ – delving into what my motherland of Orkney means to me now that I’m looking upon it with adult eyes. I wanted to find the contrasting perspectives that make up the rich tapestry of Orkney life, drawing light upon the non-stereotypical characters – those that may not immediately spring to mind when thinking of a small island community.
Can you talk about some of the creative team involved?
I have a wonderful group of musicians with me for this show – my Twelfth Day duo partner Esther Swift on harp and vocals, Sarah Hayes on vocals and flute, Andrew Robb on double bass, Owen Williams on drums, Tom Gibbs on keys, Alice Allen on cello, Sarah Leonard on viola, and Seonaid Aiken on violin and vocals. All of these guys are masters of their craft and also great friends of mine, so it’s always a big treat to bring this group together.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your work, both in terms of creation and performance?
I’m really interested in people and their stories, where they come from and how that has shaped their perspectives. A big thing that’s making me tick at the moment is the idea of building empathy and understanding between different communities by sharing musical and cultural traditions. I also take inspiration from the natural world and the beauty that surrounds us here in Scotland and beyond.
Looking at this production, how would you say it links to previous work personally and thematically?
The central theme of Hert is to hear varying perspectives on the idea of home. As I’ve developed as a music creator my work has always gravitated towards shining a light upon marginalised voices and issues that can be difficult to talk about. Seeing music’s power as a tool to address tricky subjects is a real motivation for me.
What would you like audiences to take away from seeing you/this production at EIF?
I would love it if people found something in this music that speaks to them. Perhaps a theme might chime with something in their lives, or the music will give them a chance for contemplation. There is a broad pallet of colours in the ensemble – we have a vocal trio, a string quartet and jazz trio, plus some doubling instruments within the texture, so hopefully there will be a sound for everyone.
Do you tend to take inspiration from events happening in the world around you in terms of your work? Do you think artists have a responsibility to respond to what's happening?
Yes! Making a piece of music about an issue that is current, that will hopefully resonate with people and help them to process something is a huge motivation for me in creating work. I strongly feel that it’s our responsibility as artists to draw attention to current issues in a way that gives people the opportunity to make sense of it in their own way. There is so much power in the abstract of art – there is space there for the mind to wander, for listeners to find their own way to a thought or conclusion.
How do you feel about the current arts landscape in your country and your part in it? Does it excite you and inspire you to keep pushing the boat out?
I love being part of the Scottish music community. We are very lucky to have a very active and musically diverse scene here. Because it is relatively small, musicians have more of an opportunity to mix across genres and this gives rise to many beautiful connections and collaborations. We have a very supportive and accessible public arts funding body here in Creative Scotland. I am also hugely passionate about stepping out of my geographical music community and building bridges across borders. One of the perks of the travels involved in our job means that our community is spread all over the world – sometimes you’ll find yourself in the middle of a field in a country you’ve never been in, catching up with friends from all over the world and we all feel part of the same community. That is so beautiful to me and makes me feel like I belong wherever the music is.
Why are arts festivals such as EIF so important for international exchange?
Festivals like EIF are the perfect example of what I describe above – they are not only an opportunity for Edinburgh audiences to experience a diverse set of art all in one place, but an opportunity for artists from all over the world to meet, and make and strengthen connections. Small conversations you might have with a fellow artists in the bar after a show might not seem like much at the time, but can often lead to more down the line. Festivals like EIF are the places where seeds of international exchanges are planted.
What can the wider arts community do to get more people involved in their specific disciplines?
This is the million dollar question at the moment isn’t it? With social media, and with streaming being the way the wider population now consumes music, I feel like society is at at a bit of a pivotal point. It’s difficult to give a specific answer to this question because with it still being relatively new in the world, I think social media and streaming are like hormonal teenagers right now – nobody really knows what they will do next. Engaging new people in the arts therefore just requires a lot of trial and error. But I certainly think that embracing these mediums and working with them is a must now. They are here to stay.
Have you got your eye on any other shows that are part of the EIF programme?
All of it! I’m so proud to be part of Nicola Benedetti’s first festival and think she’s knocked the line-up, the concept and the message of the festival out of the park. High on my list are Cécile McLorin Salvant, The Símon Bolívar Symphony Orchestra chamber concert at The Hub, and The Rite of Spring/Common Ground[s].
What’s next for you and how are you feeling about the future in general?
I’m currently working on next steps for my intercultural collaboration project Routes to Roots and have various plans taking shape in Mexico and Chile for this winter. A new collaborative solo release will hopefully come from that in 2024. We’re also currently working on a new Twelfth Day record, have just debuted Thirteen North – the new string ensemble I’ve founded with violinist Emily Davis, and next year will be the 10th anniversary of my folk band Fara. So the future looks busy and exciting!
How can Edinburgh audiences keep up with you beyond the festival?