Ainsley Hamill's new album shows that Govan is Not Just Ship Land

For her debut solo album, Ainsley Hamill has mined the rich history of Govan for inspiration, writes Jim Gilchrist

Ainsley Hamill
Ainsley Hamill

Govan may be part of Glasgow but it maintains a distinct sense of itself, not just for long-gone glory days when Clydebuilt vessels plied the world’s oceans and shipyard cranes bristled from the riverbank, but as a community whose history arguably predates that of Glasgow itself, as testified by the ancient Govan Stones harboured by its parish church.

Now some of Govan’s inspiring figures of the 19th and 20th centuries are being eloquently celebrated by the debut solo album from Ainsley Hamill, Not Just Ship Land. Hitherto known as a Gaelic singer with groups such as Barluath and Fourth Moon, here Hamill has created her own songs, inspired by Govan’s social history and arranged by Malcolm Lindsay with the Czech Studio Orchestra. She highlights such relatively unsung local characters as Mary Barbour, leader of the 1915 Rent Strike, swimmer Belle Moore, youngest British woman to win Olympic gold, and “Daffodil King” Peter Barr, who created 361 daffodil varieties.

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It’s not the first such project to emerge from Govan: December saw Norrie MacIver, singer with the band Skipinnish, release an engrossing album, Songs of Govan Old, with the local Glasgow Barons orchestra.

Like MacIver, Hamill drew on the invaluable resources of the Govan Reminiscence Group. Having grown up on the other side of the Firth of Clyde, in Cardross, she confesses to having been “a bit panicked at first because my knowledge of Govan at that point was quite slim. Then I sat down with the reminiscence group, who gave me so much information about these incredible people, often from humble backgrounds, who achieved magnificent things. As time went on I started to feel a real connection with the characters.”

This is community history recounted with passion, Hamill delivering it in velvety and pliantly soulful tones right from the title song with its scene-setting opening line – “Salt water and city fill my head” – over a sea of strings.

She developed the project with Glasgow-based Malcolm Lindsay, a prolific composer of film and TV scores. “We developed a real rapport.” Lindsay also contributed some atmospheric instrumental strands to the album, such as the haunting slide guitar in Respect Your Elder, and the aptly cinematic guitar and sweeping strings of The Lyceum.

An alumnus of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Hamill is currently London-based. “The expectation is probably to go back home after a time in London, but it’s made me venture out and take on my solo career,” she says.

With her business partner, Anna MacDonald, she co-founded the Association for Exiled Scots, which aims to provide “authentic Scottish cultural entertainment” for corporate clients as well as for Scottish Government and Trade Missions.

Hamill’s rich vocals on the album have seen some enthusiastic reviewers suggest she may be poised for “crossover” success. Stylistically she may seem far removed from her Gaelic singing and step-dancing, but she is dismissive of such speculation: “I think people feel more comfortable when they can pigeonhole you. When I sit down to create something, I don’t necessarily think, ‘Oh, I want to be more folky or I want to be jazzier or whatever.”

In fact, she continues to perform with the Glasgow-based Fourth Moon, other collaborations including one with Skipinnish pianist Alistair Iain Paterson. “So I have a lot of projects ongoing – and variety is the spice of life, isn’t it?”

Back in Edinburgh, the city’s International Harp Festival, one of the first events, a year past, to transfer online in the shadow of covid, returns, again online, from 9-12 April, marking its 40th anniversary, as well as the 90th of its parent body, the Clarsach Society. As ever, the event ranges across styles, periods and cultures, with guests including American jazz harpist Park Stickney, Paraguay’s Hermanos Corbalán, as well as leading Scottish exponents such as Aillie Robertson, Ingrid Henderson, Sileas, Esther Swift, harp-piano duo Corrina Hewat and Dave Milligan, Maeve Gilchrist and many others.

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