The Scotsman Sessions #295: Amy Duncan

Welcome to the award-winning Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts sector still impacted by the pandemic, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Amy Duncan performs Treasure Hunt from her new album, Cocoon – “a song about lockdown walks and trying to find beauty and inspiration in a narrow world”

Amy Duncan’s recent single A Door Is Opening is about preparing to step out into the world. Although specifically inspired by emerging from lockdown, it could have been written to reflect her mindset pre-pandemic when she was planning to promote her 2020 album The Hidden World with some relatively rigorous touring.

“I was in a very strong, confident place,” says the Edinburgh-based singer/songwriter, “but then the lockdown happened. In some ways it was a really positive time – the simplicity of every day being similar and the sense of community pulling together.

“But if there is something difficult to handle going on in life, then my default thing is to write songs. I’m sure lots of other songwriters do the same – it is a brilliant way of making sense of things. So when the lockdown happened, I started to think of ideas for songs, turned my creative attention to that and a new album was born which has taken me in a new direction. Life is never straightforward!”

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    Amy Duncan

    Duncan is a classically trained double bassist, who went on to play with actress Cora Bissett in the alt.folk band Swelling Meg, before releasing a string of her own folk-influenced albums from the mid-2000s onwards. The new direction she teases involved pivoting from her usual acoustic set-up to embrace electric instruments – guitar, synthesizer, electric upright bass and, in particular, discovering the joys of electric piano.

    A planned songwriting residency at the Sage venue in Gateshead was reconfigured as an online workshop. Duncan dug out an unreleased song, Warrior, set its childhood recollections to a twinkling electronic soundtrack and the seeds of a new album, Cocoon, were sewn and grown in her loft home studio, with the self-sufficient Duncan playing most of the instruments herself.

    Her son Finn, now a student at her alma mater, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, contributed some acoustic guitar, Guy Nicolson supplied percussion and tablas and the recordings were mixed and mastered by Cameron Malcolm, son of Blue Nile producer Calum Malcolm (with whom she has also worked in the past).

    Cocoon features further songs inspired by her childhood in Glasgow, but other tracks are infused with her lockdown thoughts and experiences of containment and escape, such as her Scotsman Sessions selection Treasure Hunt.

    “It’s about lockdown walks and trying to find beauty and inspiration in a narrow world,” says Duncan. “Keeping a safe distance from everyone was a way to show that we were protecting each other, and in our minds were all of the people who lost their lives far too soon. This song is my attempt to pay homage to them.”

    Finally, only two years delayed, Duncan is ready to go live, with new electronic armoury to boot. “I think it will probably feel quite bizarre, terrifying and amazing to be on stage after nearly two years,” she says. “Something I won’t take for granted again!”

    Cocoon is out now on Filly Records, see https://amyduncan.co.uk/cocoon-album-launch/ Amy Duncan plays the Hug & Pint, Glasgow, on 10 April 2022

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