Gig review: Songs of Separation, Edinburgh

At the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
At the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
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If this is what being sequestered for a week on an Inner Hebridean island does, perhaps more artists should try it. The ten-woman band of singer-musicians from both sides of the Border spent a week on the Isle of Eigg, fashioning songs old and new relating to “separation” in all its forms, social, personal, historical and environmental.

Songs of Separation | Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh | Rating ****

The results are exuberant and at times moving. Karine Polwart’s singing of the traditional Echo Mocks the Corncrake, a creaking fiddle string mimicking the bird’s rasp, was given a powerful Gaelic refrain echoed in waulking songs led by harpist Mary Macmaster, while fiddler Hannah Read’s gentle rendition of the Jacobite exile song A’ for Oor Rightfu’ King reflected her status as an ex-pat Scot in America.

An enthusiastic children’s choir, enlisted to bolster a dramatic setting of The Poor Man’s Lamentation, led by Hannah James, was rendered virtually extraneous by the volume and drive of the women’s vocal and fiddle harmonies, project progenitor Jenny Hill’s double bass rumbling woodily below.

James also came out with an engaging accordion air, while Hazel Askew’s London Lights combined music-hall pathos with real issues of rejection and there was heartfelt environmental questioning in Rowan Rheingans’s Soil and Soul. Eliza Carthy’s opulently loopy Cleaning the Stones was (ostensibly) about goldfish, but a rivetting highlight was her duetting with Polwart in Scots and English versions of the lament Flowers of the Forest in the stirring Over the Border sequence.