Music inspired by uni archive captures the heart

Charlotte Murray. Picture: Contributed
Charlotte Murray. Picture: Contributed
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SONGS evoking street cries or protesting against proposed coastguard cuts, tunes inspired by Hallowe’en customs or photographs of Hebridean life... they all figure in new collaboration The Archive Project.

The Project is a newly released album which is the culmination of an imaginative collaboration between Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies Archives and the Edinburgh Youth Gaitherin.

In it, seven young traditional musicians trawled the archive’s vast repository of recorded song, music, interviews and photos, seeking inspiration for fresh creative music-making.

Funded by Creative Scotland, this is the second project hosted by the archives, now part of the university’s department of Celtic and Scottish studies, over the past few years. The first, Archive Trails, proved fruitful, prompting, among other things, contemporary troubadour Alasdair Roberts’s vivid collaboration with puppeteer Shane Connolly in the Galoshins mummers’ play.

The Archive Project participants were mentored by fiddler Mike Vass, with input from producer Matheu Watson and the department’s Mairi McFadyen. Listening to the newly released album, it’s clear that the junior musicians, the youngest of whom was just 15 when the project started, responded with imagination and feeling to the archive material.

The opening track, for instance, sees Kirsty Law singing her own song based on Edinburgh street cries recorded by Hamish Henderson in 1954, while in Oysters and Herring the long-vanished Forth oyster fisheries re-emerge in a rhythmic chant. Hallowe’en traditions evoke a haunting response from piano and clarsach, while the heartfelt poem of a North Uist bard in the trenches of the First World War takes on new life in a song setting by Robbie Greig.

For the youngest archive-raider, accordionist Pàdruig Morrison, these explorations had a special significance, as they turned up a field recording of his North Uist grandfather telling a folk tale, which duly finds its way on to the CD.

“It was really exciting, because we had no idea how they would respond to the archive material,” says project co-ordinator Charlotte Murray, who works with the Youth Gaitherin, which has been promoting and teaching traditional music among youngsters for the past 18 years. “It was really positive what they did come up with. They were all so different in their approaches.”

This ongoing programme of awareness-raising by the archives now moves on to a third project. Murray adds: “A lot of musicians go to the archives to expand their repertoire, but these projects are concerned with looking a little deeper and being a bit more imaginative about it.”

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