I just love how things come about sometimes. My friend and fellow artist in residence, George Gunn, from Caithness in the north east of Scotland, asked me if I had any music he could use for a poetry ‘gig’ he had in Edinburgh on the 30th November 2012 (St Andrews Night). It was to be part of a performance called Neu! Reekie!. Anyway, I basically wrote a whole new piece of music for it! Luckily I had recorded George reciting the poem at his house in September 2012. This allowed me to check the words and music together whilst composing.
Another question George fired at me was ‘do you have any video I could maybe project whilst I’m reading the poem’, the short answer was No, however I was so pleased with the result of the amalgamation of the words and the music I took on the challenge of finding suitable video for the projection. In fact I was so pleased with the results I included this piece on the CD.
I was also involved in a residency to produce video for the Mackay Country project ‘Moving Times and Telling Tales’ which tied together interviews with people who were involved in the hostel system in Scotland and the various elements created by the documenters and the artists in residence. Not a small undertaking I can assure you! The video residency was in collaboration with video artist Gavin Lockhart from Skerray on the North Coast of Scotland. An artist who has an enviable reputation for quirky and thoughtful work. Gavin has his own website here:- http://lamigo.co.uk
On discussing the various video approaches to this video you see here, Gavin and myself came to the conclusion that the ‘moving still pictures’ thing I had started shooting around the north coast was a pretty decent approach for George’s video. On 16th Nov, another friend of mine, Mary Hinsley, agreed to drive me the 100 or so miles from Stoer in Assynt to Skerray by way of the coastal route, taking in Durness, Tongue, Kinlochbervie and Loch Eriboll. On a beautiful day I managed to get quite a few snippets of video for the piece. Thanks also to Issie Macphail of ARC who has driven me around the area for a good couple of months now! Further trips to Sutherland in the winter allowed me to gather enough to complete the video. If you see any camera shake it is due to the gale force winds that I had to deal with when shooting the video, I did my best to edit it out but I can see some still there!
The video now includes the final released track ‘A Northerly Land’ from the cd released on 2 Dec of the same name.
Dr Issie Macphail wrote a nice piece about the album and the title track in her notes about the residency:-
‘Copeland has spent many weeks and months in and around Mackay Country in the course of his Residency. His unusual artistic insight has given us new observations on old archive recordings and new archive recordings of old places. One of the things he has done is to record in a whole lot of different outdoor nooks and crannies hence bringing us a very subtle set of soundscapes of beaches, passing places, roadsides and hillsides. These have become embedded into the CD tracks created from this Residency. The new tracks also include recordings done with musicians of international stature in the Trad and Jazz scenes. Nigel Hitchcock is one such. Since the 90’s Nigel has been in constant demand not only in the studios and as a jazz musician, but also touring extensively with artists like Tom Jones, Ray Charles, Wet,Wet,Wet and even Kylie Minogue. He has appeared on TV many times backing artists like James Brown, Robbie Williams and The Spice Girls. Copeland’s artistic relationship and friendship with Nigel blossomed when he lived in Skye and although Nigel is now back in London, that fruitful relationship looks set to continue for many years to come.
The audio-visual track ‘A Northerly Land’ brings all of these strands together. The poet George Gunn wrote the original poem ‘A Walk In Strathnaver: In Memoriam’ during a previous Residency a few years ago with Strathnaver Museum. Copeland’s work with George on this has served to develop and professionally produce that material. Every organisation which creates Artists’ Residencies hopes that there will be resonance between the histories, previous artistic practice and the current work. We can never however predict or prescript that. A Northerly Land delivers that. It speaks to themes of local and seasonal migrations woven into centuries of cultural change. It speaks of who we are and where we come from while also signposting where we are trying to go. The voices, in terms of instruments and spoken word, are immediate and international – but equally they are emphatically local and embedded in place and people. The poem is overtly ‘in memoriam’ of Rob Donn. In fact it speaks to the losses, fresh and ancient, with which each of us lives whilst walking onwards into the unknowable future. Mackay Country has lost many that are dear to us in the past few years, including vibrant young men like Marty Mackay and David Bowes. Out of respect for such losses, Copeland wrote this melody for Colin Mackenzie who died last year aged 45. Colin was a regular helper with Family MacBough at Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival. Copeland’s other recent work – Sketch’s CD ‘Shedlife’ – was dedicated to well known Family MacBough stalwart Gary Smith of Raffin, Assynt, who died in 2011. Sorely missed. As Copeland said recently of Nigel Hitchcock’s saxophone solo at the end of A Northerly Land, ‘Nigel cries out for us all – he touches that place in us that feels the loss’.