Friday, 23 November 2012

The Magnetic North, Purcell Rooms. “Hunting for Remoteness”

Last night me and my mate John from work went to see the marvellous Magnetic North at the Purcell Rooms on the South Bank. It’s a project pulled together by Orcadian musician, Erland Cooper (of Erland and the Carnival), in collaboration with Hannah Peel (who released her own solo album and is part of John Foxx and the Maths) and Simon Tong (previously guitarist of the Verve/Gorillaz)

It would be a disservice to try to pigeon hole the album they’ve written (Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North) but twist my arm and I’ll suggest it has elements of folk, electronica with subtle pop sensibilities, it hints at sadness, loss, nostalgia. There are soaring uplifting waves which soak into you, evoking the spirit of the album, the wind swept barren beauty of the Orkney islands and young Betty Corrigall, the seventeen year old “Orcadian girl who in the 1770's killed herself having been cast out by her village after becoming pregnant by a visiting sailor.” – quote nabbed from the band’s facebook page.

The evening started with the debut of the film Hunting For Remoteness, which complements the album. Prior to the film being screened, I could sense a nervous shuffle in the seat next to me, John, the big Yorkshireman, let on that he would love to take his family on a holiday to Scotland, but something has always stopped him, a deep seated fear. His cultural references of remote communities in Scotland are based on only two sources; the films The Wicker Man (the original, not the dreadful remake with Nicholas Cage) and Lars Von Triers Breaking the Waves. Also, and he didn’t admit it, but I could tell, he subliminally feared Mel Gibson’s Braveheart character too, the frighteningly outrageous mullet, the blue face paint and the tightly defined calves, built from years of wearing high heels…

But I believe the beautiful film allayed these fears for him, no ritual sacrifices or having your head stoved in by a swinging oil rig boom which drives your loved one to speak with the voice of God and commit tragic acts of self neglect. (sorry, spoilers)

The film was beautiful, it reminded me a little of Sigur Ros’ film Heima, the way the music, the musicians, the land, folklore, history and the generosity of the local people were intertwined in the creation of the songs and music, directly when a local choir contributed to the album. The story of poor Betty is particularly sad, the band members making the pilgrimage across the heathland to find her remote gravestone, far apart from the community, the churchyard, the consecrated ground, away from her family even in death. Erland says Betty visited him in a dream, asked him to write an album about Orkney. Well I’m glad he took her advice! The film was gentle, occasionally funny, very moving, mixing locals’ commentary, soundbites from the band members, extracts of recording and performance, but also interlaced with the staggering beauty of the islands and that nature that inhabits them. I’m certainly sold on spending a holiday there (and I think John is too). The people, the landscapes, the history, it just sounds perfect for someone who wants to get away from it all, do some walking, exploring and resting (which is mine and D’s favourite sort of holiday).

The gig was fab, the core three members were joined by strings, brass and drums on stage and they gave us an engaging, friendly, enthusiastic and brilliant performance. On the walk to Blackfriars Station, it rained, but I didn’t care, the South Bank was dark and beautiful, twinkling with the pale glow of Christmas lights strung in the trees and I was warmed by the magic of the Orkney Isles. I hope Betty Corrigall is pleased with the musical results of her visitation!

All photos © Mel Melis