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Reviews / Inge’s work transports listeners to a place in time

Inge Thomson, back in Shetland visiting family this week, has released a CD version of her project 'Da Fishing Hands'. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell

‘DA FISHING HANDS’, a collection of songs and instrumental tunes by Inge Thomson in collaboration with the late Lise Sinclair, is an enrapturing body of work on the importance and influence of the sea through the generations in a small community.

The album is consistently moving and thoughtful, hitting home the realities of a once inescapable fishing culture, its deep decline, and the poignant after-effects of this way of life on the island’s marine environment.

As she explained ahead of playing a brilliantly received set of shows last May, accordionist and singer Thomson sought to make no particular political point, but to write about all the aspects of this once pivotal, now historic culture for people living in an undeniably spectacular place.

Opener Here We’ve Landed, with its foreboding accordion hum, instantly transports the listener to this place in time, maybe one hundred to two hundred years ago, and the comfort of seeing the land and light in the distance “to guide us home”.

It is impossible to listen to Da Fishing Hands without immediately conjuring up these kind of images, and it is how directly thought-provoking its stories, its laments, its unbiased reflections on something people’s lives once depended on that help make the music so impressive.

The five-piece band features, in addition to the accordionist Thomson, Steven Polwart on guitar, Graeme Smilie on bass, Fraser Fifield on saxophone and pipes and, from one of Scottish indie-folk’s finest Admiral Fallow, flautist and singer Sarah Hayes. Their collective talent is showcased in 10 carefully composed tracks, which also feature the strong influence of the dearly missed Lise Sinclair, who penned many of the lyrics.

The artwork for 'Da Fishing Hands'.

Melancholy instrumental tunes like Lise’s and Dark Stacks fit beautifully among those featuring the airy vocals of Thomson, at times harmonised to great effect. A mixture of ambient electronic sounds adds to the shivering atmosphere of the music.

A project a few years in the making, the original inspiration came from Fair Isle’s numerous fishing grounds or “hands” which were mapped around 15 years ago by Thomson’s sister-in-law Emma Perring with the aid of generations of Fair Isle fishermen, who compiled the aesthetically pleasing diagrams around 16 years ago.

The work was performed in Fair Isle, Hillswick Hall and Mareel in May last year before recording the album live in the latter venue. No upcoming live shows are in the pipeline – but we can hope these busy musicians will visit again soon.

Da Fishing Hands is a brilliant piece of work detailing and celebrating an integral part of island life.

  • ‘Da Fishing Hands’ by Inge Thomson is available on CD for £10.99 and you can buy it on her website.

Patrick Mainland