I’ve edited this original post to reflect the fact that Williams Brothers have also decided to continue their relationship with Skye Records and the group Sketch and have agreed to sponsor the making of a new video for the band in Glasgow on the 17th June 2017. Below is the original article which describes a lovely compositional project I completed for Williams Brothers in 2015.
So another really interesting project I’ve been involved in recently is writing songs for beer … well about beer, at least!
Bruce Williams of the Williams Bros Brewery asked me to write some music for a series of wee films about their heather ale ‘Fraoch’. The brief was interesting: ethereal with a dash of Gaelic psalms and a Sketch take on it. So off I went to piece something together.
I already had a psalm in mind. When I put together Sketch’s first album ‘Shed Life’, I used a recording from the School of Scottish Studies featuring Hamish Henderson talking about the state of Gaelic at that time (1957). As part of the interview they had also recorded a wonderful rendition of an old Gaelic psalm sung by husband and wife Donald and Mina Macleod. I used this as the inspiration for the melody.
For the lyrics, I turned to an old friend and fellow collaborator, George Gunn. We had previously worked together on my ‘A Northerly Land’ CD so I thought this would be a great opportunity to work together again. George wrote two poems to choose from:
In the firth the sky dances
then there is fog
the headland pours the North upon itself
then the heather drinks
The hills are purple heather bound
from Argyll to the Dee
this is the land of my hearts desire
it is more than all of me.
I sent them both to Sketch’s singer Darren Maclean to translate into Gaelic and help fit to the melody. Darren made a hybrid of them to fit with the melody which ended up as:
Tha na cnocan làn an fhianach,
Bho Earra Ghàidheal gu Dun Dè,
Tir mo chridh’
doirtidh an rubh’ tron an sgleò
Is òlaidh am fraoch fhein.
(The hills are full of purple moor grass,
from Argyll to Dundee,
the land of my heart.
The headland pours through the mist
and the heather drinks.)
I had the idea of having the choir doing a chant in the middle of the piece.
Tir mo, tir mo chridh’
Dùthaich, dùthaich an fhraoch
(The land of, the land of my heart
The land of, the land of the heather)
Now to find a choir to sing it. As I was in Glasgow working on the The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Kidnapped for The Royal Conservatoire, Darren suggested that I contact Kenny Thompson of the Glasgow Gaelic Choir to see if they would be willing. I went up to St John’s Renfield Church in Kelvindale where they were busy rehearsing for their appearance at the MOD in Oban. After a quick rehearsal of the piece we managed to record the choral stuff you hear on the track. It was good fun conducting the choir and they did a great job especially considering they weren’t able to sing along to the track itself as we didn’t have enough headphones to go round!
The pipe tune is ‘Little Cascade’ by G S Maclennan, one of his most famous and suitably epic for the vibe of the piece. I already had a fantastic recording of this played by Angus Binnie (pipes) and Neil Ewart, (fiddle). As I was in Glasgow I recorded guitarist Luc McNally, which added some great chordal movement to the piece.
A very interesting and rewarding project and I look forward to seeing the completed film about one of the success stories of the craft beer industry.
As the film hasn’t been completed in entirety yet, Williams Bros have released a version that includes other tracks from the Sketch repertoire, check it out here:-