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In 2018 Folk by the Oak Festival commissioned Spell Songs, a musical companion piece to The Lost Words by author Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris; a celebrated 'spell book' rich with poetic rhythms and imagined birdsong that naturally invited a musical response. Spell Songs gathered together eight remarkable musicians whose music engages deeply with landscape and nature, to respond to the creatures, art and language of The Lost Words. Spell Songs allowed these acclaimed and diverse musicians to weave together elements of British folk music, Senegalese folk traditions, and experimental and classical music to create an inspiring new body of work.
In February 2019 Spell Songs enjoyed standing ovations at sell-out performances at major venues around the including QEH at the Southbank Centre; shows in 2019 include Hay Festival, and a prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Here are 14 songs which capture the essence of The Lost Words. Spoken voice, whispers, accents, dialects, native languages, proverbs, sayings, birdsong, river chatter and insect hum all increase the intimacy of the musical world conjured by the songs.
Inspired by the words and art of the original book, each musician brings new imaginings, embellishments and diversions which are rooted in personal experience, a deep respect for the natural world, protest at the loss of nature and language or appreciation for wildness and beauty. Art inspired music and music inspired art. Jackie Morris immersed herself in the musical residency where she generously created new iconesque artwork of each musician and their instruments portrayed in an unexpected and enchanting way.
1 Creating Spell Songs 2 Introduction, Robert Macfarlane 3 Introduction, Jackie Morris 4 Introduction, Kerry Andrew 5 Introduction, Kris Drever 6 Introduction, Julie Fowlis 7 Introduction, Seckou Keita 8 Introduction, Jim Molyneux 9 Introduction, Rachel Newton 10 Introduction, Karine Polwart 11 Introduction, Beth Porter 12 Heartwood 13 Selkie-boy 14 Kingfisher 15 Heron 16 Little Astronaut 17 Acorn 18 Ghost Owl 19 The Snow Hare 20 Conker (Magic Casket) 21 Papa Keba 22 Charm on, Goldfinch 23 Willow 24 catterseed 25 he Lost Words Blessing 26 In Conversation Jackie Morris and David Weir 27 Barn Owl 28 Egret 29 Goldfinch 30 Peregrine 31 Snow Hare 32 Grey Seal 33 Karine Polwart essay, The Space Between Us
Robert Macfarlane Robert Macfarlane is the author of prize-winning and bestselling books about landscape, nature, people and place, including Mountains of the Mind: A History of a Fascination (2003), The Wild Places (2007), The Old Ways (2012), Holloway (2013, with Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards), Landmarks (2015), The Lost Words: A Spell Book (with the artist Jackie Morris, 2017) and Underland: A Deep Time Journey (2019). Jackie Morris Jackie Morris is a British writer and illustrator. She was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2016. Her illustration of The Lost Words was recognised by UK booksellers who voted it the most beautiful in 2016. She is a recipient of the Tir na n-Og Award. Her books include The Lost Words: Aspell Book (w. Robert Macfarlane, 2017), The White Fox (2016), The Seal Children (2016), The Snow Leopard (2017) ,Queen of the Sky (2015). Kerry Andrew An astonishingly perceptive musician, whose Wren Song composition inspired us to pursue the idea of a musical companion piece to The Lost Words. Her love of nature and folklore combined with her innate musicality are key reasons why we are delighted that she accepted our invitation to join Spell Songs. Kris Drever Kris Drever is one of Scotland's finest and most prolific songwriters. He is a fiercely talented guitarist; rated among folk's best, and a singer whose voice is rich with both clarity and resonance. A key collaborator within the multi-award winning trio Lau and a sought after solo artist, Kris' presence in Spell Songs is highly valued and gladly welcomed. Julie Fowlis Julie Fowlis often sings in Scottish Gaelic and is deeply influenced by her early upbringing in the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist. Her crystalline and intoxicating voice fills this project with genuine beauty and her Gaelic heritage brings another layer of language and experience into the Spell Songs ensemble. Seckou Keita Seckou's solo work reveals his exceptional skill on the kora and his collaborations leap over cultural barriers, discovering unforeseen affinities. He is counted among the most influential contemporary kora players. He himself is a source of great inspiration with generations of musical history informing his playing and we are overjoyed that he is a member of Spell Songs. Jim Molyneux It is not only Jim Molyneux's prodigious talent in so many instruments and his experience as a producer that made him so important for the Spell Songs collaboration; we were also impressed with his mastery of many musical genres from classical and folk to jazz and hip hop. It was fascinating to see how he drew upon all these talents and experiences to enrich the music of Spell Songs. Rachel Newton Rachel Newton was a member of one of our previous folk music collaborations - The Elizabethan Session, and we were thrilled when she accepted our invitation to join Spell Songs. An exceptional harpist, singer and composer, her generous creativity reverberates through her collaborations and her sensitivity to word and music shines through her solo work. Karine Polwart Robert Macfarlane picked out Karine's script for her award winning show Wind Resistance for The Guardian's BEST BOOKS of 2017. The appreciation of each other's work is mutual and, naturally, we were eager for her to be a part of Spell Songs and overjoyed when she accepted our invitation. Beth Porter To add depth and range to the ensemble we invited Beth Porter, a superb cellist and singer, to be a part of Spell Songs. We were drawn to her work on numerous collaborations from a variety of different musical genres as well as her involvement in The Bookshop Band where she expertly turns literature into song. A sensational cellist with a timeless voice.