Collaboration is the creative key.
Updated: Feb 3
Along with playing and performing, there are usually many elements to a musician’s work – teaching, composing, arranging, rehearsing, organising – but one of my favourite activities is recording. Over the last month I’ve spent quite a lot of time in a studio, working on a project that’s not only dear to my heart but is bringing immense enjoyment and creative satisfaction.
On trying to pin down exactly why I enjoy recording so much, I think it’s due to one very precious thing: collaboration. Working with others, who all bring their skills, talent, experience and creative ideas to the table, is a wonderfully enriching process. A bit like collectively piecing together a big jigsaw!
When a band goes into a studio to record an album, they might be doing well-rehearsed and oft-played songs or instrumental tunes, where all the players know their parts and can work efficiently to get the tracks down. It’s the bringing together of all the component parts you’ve previously worked on in fine detail - the melody, lyrics, rhythm, chord progressions, vocals, solos, riffs, arrangements, intros, outros etc – as well as perhaps adding new harmonies or improvisations that can emerge in the creative melting pot of the studio.
My recent venture is a little different, being a multi-artform project originated by local fine artist and author, Paul Taggart, and his partner Eileen Tunnell, whom I met when they did on-the-spot painting of musicians at our first Northern Roots Festival at Bogbain Farm. Thereafter they came to our Sunday afternoon folk sessions, from which their collection of superb music paintings developed.
Remaining dear friends, I was thrilled when they asked if I’d be interested in creating music for Book 2 of their Elphen Chronicles series. Paul’s story, Webstrand the Tooth Gatherer, has developed into a suite of Masterworks oil paintings, over 100 smaller vignettes, film, photography, design, crafts and music.
Having recently released a video book (Paul narrating the story to camera, with cutaways to the painting process, along with a musical soundscape), we are now doing an album. Developing that music into album-length tracks has involved composing new pieces and arrangements, bringing in additional musicians and instrumentation, and thinking it all through in a slightly different way, namely figuring out how it will all hang together as a cohesive body of work as opposed to simply soundscape to a narrative.
Kind of like doing that jigsaw but without the picture as a guide! But this is what I find so stimulating; the intensity of studio work and attempting to play accurately, bringing bits together, trying things out, experimenting and improvising. They don’t always work but sometimes you hit on a gem! With local musicians including Alasdair Taylor of Elephant Sessions, Gaelic singer and piper Calum Alex Macmillan, cellist Imke Henderson and saxophonist Bev Fraser, we’ve had not just exquisite playing but inspired improvisation too.
Working with Black Isle engineer and musician Steve Bull at Glachbeg Studio has been a complete joy. Steve’s skills, attention to detail and creativity have brought so much to the project, not to mention his easy-going, calm and good-natured temperament; ideal for what can be long days of very intensive, focussed work.
No folk artistes I know have ever had the indulgent luxury of spending a year in a studio to write and record an album, like some pop and rock stars of decades past (I think I’d get cabin fever!). These days of mainly independent self-releases, time is money, so invariably it’s important to work quickly as well as thoroughly.
To have been able to spend several weekends recording with some of the area’s top musicians under the studio guidance of Steve, for this enchanting Elphen Chronicles folk-lore-fantasy story, has felt like a real treat; immensely satisfying, musically fulfilling and a whole lot of fun. I’m reminded again of how fortunate we are to have such excellence in musicianship and local music facilities on our own Highland doorstep, and I look forward to updating you on the project in due course. But for now, I can’t wait to get back to work!
To see more of Paul Taggart’s Elphen Chronicles please visit www.elphen.com
(First published by Highland News & Media 17th May 2019)