The Scotsman Sessions #45: Erland Cooper

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, London-based Orcadian composer Erland Cooper performs Sillocks, from his 2019 album Sule Skerry.

In the old normal, London-based Orcadian composer Erland Cooper would have been on the island of Sule Skerry just now with his friend, the writer Amy Liptrot, who chronicled her return to Orkney so vividly in her memoir, The Outrun. But for now, he has to travel virtually, capturing his childhood home with this exquisite Scotsman Sessions performance, which is beautifully embellished by impressionistic footage of Orkney, filmed by regular Cooper collaborator Alex Kozobolis.

“This short film reminds me of how I write music,” says Cooper. “As I patiently fish for notes on the piano, I think of a moment or a feeling and try to transport myself to that place and back again. Growing up in Stromness, my five siblings and I would often dangle off the pier in our front garden, fishing then catching with nets little caithes or sillocks. That is the title of this piece of music; it's just a rumination on childhood memory.”

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Sillocks originally appeared on his 2019 album Sule Skerry, the second of a trilogy of tranquil Orkney-inspired suites, sandwiched by Solan Goose and the newly released Hether Blether, which blend found sounds and field recordings with Cooper’s delicate piano and string compositions. Each album is inspired by a different aspect of the environment – respectively, birds, sea and land – and all have been influenced by the work of Orcadian filmmaker Margaret Tait and poet George Mackay Brown, whose photograph sternly presides over Cooper’s soothing performance.

“As children we used to play 'chap door run’ on him, where you knock on someone's door then run off and hide, hoping never to get caught,” says Cooper. “I had the chance to learn from a living legend, yet my brothers and I must have tormented him. But as our footsteps and laughs echoed around those cobbled sheets, I can’t help but think he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.”

Hether Blether, is out now on Phases. A Nightingale Sings Outside Our Window, a specially commissioned piece created using over 300 lockdown field recordings sent in by BBC6 Music listeners, can be heard here:

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