There are ten musicians in the Songs of Separation gang, hailing from across Scotland and England. Some of you will know some of us… but in case there are a few of us you’ve not encountered before, here’s an introduction in the form of a short interview.
Today we feature Karine Polwart, one of Scotland’s most treasured voices. We’ll be posting an interview with each of the musicians in the coming weeks. Please keep in touch or join our newsletter if you’d like to find out more!
What made you want to start playing music?
I’ve loved to sing since ever I could talk, so that doesn’t seem like any kind of decision!
What made you choose your instrument?
As a wee girl, I wanted to play the flute and put my name down to study it at high school. But my application got lost somewhere and I ended up instead with a wee nylon string guitar, playing at home by default. It was no disaster in the end as it allowed me to sing along with all my favourite songs at the time (Suzanne Vega, Tracey Chapman, Paul Simon). That’s how I’ve learned anything about music, just by listening. I’m only just taking up piano lessons now.
Who would you say have been your influences (musical and otherwise)?
Stories, fairy tales and myths – Bobby Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” – the magic of George Mackay Brown – my primary school teacher Malcolm Cowie who gave me “Jolene” and “Space Oddity” to sing in our village band at a very young age – every song on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Dick Gaughan – Primo Levi – Philosophical Inquiry (which I studied to Masters level) i.e. ask more than you ever say & don’t take things for granted & trust others to think for themselves & don’t presume authority over anyone else – the communal, collaborative, egalitarian and social spirit of the Scottish folk music scene.
Tell us one unusual thing about you
Erm … dunno. What on earth is unusual these days, really? I was a maths and logic geek when I was younger (and one my minor degree subjects is Astronomy) … I hate cucumbers (but surely that’s not unusual?!) … I once won a Pointers Sisters red vinyl 12 inch for telling really dodgy jokes at a Radio Clyde Roadshow on Ayr Beach … erm … erm …
What do you want this project to achieve?
I have great respect for all of the other musicians on this project. It’s a mighty team of sparky people. I can’t see how some beautiful, thoughtful, provocative music won’t emerge from this process. But I think it’s also impossible with such a sensitive subject matter to enter into the spirit of collaboration without exposing ourselves to a degree of personal vulnerability. This is raw stuff. All of us will have experienced separation in one form or other. It will mean different things to each of us. But I think that experience is an invaluable resource. So I’m looking forward to building trust, talking honestly, walking, making a connection between our lives as women nowadays and the lives of our ancestors (and I do think the fact that we’re all women is potentially significant musically, emotionally, politically). Connection and continuity across time and space is one of the main reasons I love traditional song.
What matters to you about the project? Why do you want to be part of it?
The processes of separating and uniting are what make life, from subdivisions at the cellular level, falling in and out of love, bearing children and grieving the dead and the lost. Not to mention how they shape our economic and political worlds. I’ve changed my family circumstances profoundly in the past couple of years, which has brought separation to the core of my own personal life, alongside issues of independence, co-dependence and interdependence. For me, this process ran alongside the heady energy of the Scottish Independence referendum campaign, in which I was more heavily emotionally invested than perhaps I realised even as it all unfurled. The themes at the core of this project are where my life is at and where my songs are at. And I think it’ll be amazing to explore all this stuff on Eigg, which is a community that knows, now and historically, all about separation and exile, and the power of unifying and dividing forces.
Got any news?
I’m having a year of behind scenes projects and my lowest ever gig profile, by design. It feels great to be burrowing away at stuff, exploring and actively learning. I’m collaborating this year with my Greek Cypriot songwriter pal Alkinoos Ioannidis on a trans-national project combining traditional and original song in Greek, English and Scots. I’ll be writing for the marvellous Puppet State theatre company in Edinburgh for their next production of a Tolkien short story. That plus a gig very soon (June 17th) at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall with over 300 singers and some songwriting for Lau’s Martin Green for a new migration-inspired multi-media project “Flit”.
It’s not exactly traddy but there’s this wee bit of fun …