Alex MacDonald, Head of Performing Arts and Cultural Projects at An Lanntair gives us an insight into creating and developing on of An Lanntair’s most successful collaboration projects ‘Between Islands’
In 2014 Creative Scotland had the faith to seed fund a suggested collaboration between some of the Western and Northern Islands best contemporary song writers. The idea was to bring together the selected artists – Willie Campbell from Lewis, Kris Drever from Orkney and Arthur Nicolson from Shetland – in the creation of some new co-written material. The theme was simply Islands and Island life, and although this collaboration sounded straight forward on paper, there were some important considerations.
Firstly, they were artists broadly known for different styles of music, although none of them can be pigeonholed. Willie was best known as a member of indie band Astrid, Arthur had just won a Danny Kyle award at Celtic Connections as an emerging artist, and Kris was much in demand in the world of folk and roots. In addition, and although I knew them all, they hadn’t worked together before. Nor, I remembered as our plane landed in Sumburgh, had Willie even met either of the people he was just about to work with. It was an unknown kind of equation, which made it just a bit of a challenge.
However, what was to become the pioneer “Between Islands” project has gone on to be the driver for much more than I could have imagined at that time. It’s also a measure of what one small grant can go on to create, but by the end of that first week there were already eight songs in the bag. Another five followed when Kris and Arthur travelled to Lewis to work with Willie again that winter, and by the summer they had been showcased in concerts on all three islands – with the help of sponsorship from Loganair.
The reaction to the work that had been produced was really encouraging. Stornoway, as part of Heb Celt – many thanks to them too – sold out, and in Stromness the audience simply asked the boys to begin the whole set again at the end of the night. Comments made to me included that collectively they “sounded every bit as good as Crosby, Stills and Nash”, and everyone wanted to know when the CD was coming out. At first elated, I then felt a bit dismayed when I realised that I had picked some of the busiest artists on the Islands to undertake this project. Finding time to record these songs, fund it, and search their schedules for collective dates when they could reunite would not be easy.
So their appearance at Heb Celt this summer is a special one, not least as they form part of the extended programme of events which Leader has supported under the Between Islands banner. This larger scale project is going to include inter island exhibitions, workshops, lectures, films and much more over the next year, but it all started with me locking away three musicians in a room in Lerwick, albeit with their full consent.
I would also say that although Crosby Stills and Nash had their special harmonies, Campbell, Drever and Nicolson give them a run for their money. It’s certainly the must see of this years festival, and, incidentally, they have also found time to record five of these new songs for CD release.
Watch this space.
To book your tickets to Between Islands at Heb Celt 2019 visit – https://www.hebceltfest.com/booking/