Andrew Eaton-Lewis tells the story behind our evening of ‘songs and stories to get you through the darkest hours’ on Friday 15 February.
‘On the evidence of the 15 acts showcased here, the rest of us may have seriously neglected the talent currently thriving north of the border. That, or maybe they’re making some of their best music while everyone else is asleep.’ BBC review of Whatever Gets You Through The Night, the album.
What do dark skies mean to you? It’s a question the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is very interested in exploring. From a scientific perspective, dark skies are an opportunity to study the universe. From an emotional perspective, the night-time can be a time of struggle or celebration, of excitement or fear, and of hope or despair. It is often a time of reflection.
That was the thinking behind the original Whatever Gets You Through The Night, an anthology of songs and stories all set between midnight and 4am, created by musicians, poets, playwrights, and novelists from across Scotland, including Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue, Emma Pollock, Eugene Kelly, Rachel Sermanni, David Greig, Annie Griffin, Alan Bissett, Kieran Hurley, and Stef Smith.
The original project took various forms – a live show, which had a sold out run at the Arches in Glasgow in June 2012 and was revived at the Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh in August 2013 as part of the annual Made in Scotland programme; a compilation album, which is still on sale; a limited edition book, and a series of short films by Daniel Warren. In all of the above, the same pieces of music and writing – around two dozen in all – came together to tell a story, but in each case the story was different.
The show at An Lanntair on Friday 16 February will be a new – and again quite different – addition to the Whatever Gets You Through The Night repertoire. We’re delighted that two of Scotland’s best singer-songwriters, Rachel Sermanni and Emma Pollock, who both contributed to the original project, will be performing night-time themed solo sets. Dark Skies, the song that Emma wrote for Whatever Gets You Through The Night, is already familiar to An Lanntair audiences thanks to its appearance in the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival trailer.
It felt important that any Hebridean version of Whatever Gets You Through The Night had a Gaelic element, and we’re thrilled that the brilliant Lewis singer Ceitlin L R Smith has agreed to select and perform a series of night-time Gaelic songs throughout the evening, drawing on her in-depth knowledge as a Gaelic graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, winner of the Traditional Gold Medal at the Royal National Mòd and a Danny Kyle award winner. Ceitlin has performed all over the world as an ambassador for Gaelic song and we can’t wait to hear what she comes up with.
Completing the line-up is Lewis band The Sea Atlas, whose beautiful, melancholy, reflective songs would have fitted very well on the original Whatever Gets You Through The Night album. They are a band that more people need to hear, and we’re really pleased that they’ve agreed to be a part of this show. Here’s one of our favourite Sea Atlas tracks:
In addition to the live acts, we’ll also be showing some of Daniel Warren’s short films throughout the evening, taking you on a night–time journey to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Orkney and Loch Lomond, in the company of Eugene Kelly, Withered Hand, Wounded Knee, Bigg Taj, and more.
The original project took a while to find its voice – at first the working title was We All Feel Better In The Dark, then it was simply 4am (this being, psychologically, the darkest hour for many people; too late to sleep, too early to rise – see Sarah Kane’s 4:48 Psychosis). Eventually it became Whatever Gets You Through The Night. It seemed like a good fit. A lot of the songs and stories our musicians and writers were sending us were about surviving the night as much as revelling in it. Ricky Ross’s The North Star was desperately sad. Rachel Sermanni’s Lonely Taxi, 2am was about stumbling home drunk, giddy but alone. The playwright Stef Smith wrote a story about an old man saying a final goodbye to his wife on the shore of Loch Lomond. All these characters were finding different ways to get through the night. Other contributions included a vivid, dense poem about insects; a short story about a flower seller in Aberdeen; a very dark mini-play about a man who pretends to be a werewolf; a funny song about chips and cheese; and a song about stars called Ultimate Heat Death of the Universe. The resulting live show – created by Olivier award-winning theatre director Cora Bissett, the project’s lead artist – was a bit like a cabaret, a bit like a party, a bit like a lullaby.
The plan is for the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival version to feel more like a ceilidh. Imagine that you’re at home somewhere on Lewis, and some of Scotland’s top musicians stop by to sing songs and tell stories in your living room. Together, we’ll all get through the night.
Andrew Eaton-Lewis is events and marketing co-ordinator for An Lanntair. He is also a musician and one of the core creative team behind the original Whatever Gets You Through The Night.