A NEW project fusing together the collective musical talents of Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles takes to the stage in each of the three island groups this week.
Between Islands has brought together three outstanding songwriters – Orcadian Kris Drever, Shetlander Arthur Nicholson and Willie Campbell from Lewis – to produce a collection of new songs for the current generation.
The project was devised by Alex Macdonald on behalf of the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway to highlight the shared cultural connections, including their Viking heritage and a tradition of expressing their distinctive lifestyles through music.
Tonight the trio will perform at the opening concert for the HebCeltic Festival in Stornoway, before taking to the air to play in Stromness on Friday and then finish up with a show at Mareel on Saturday night.
MacDonald says she hopes the project will continue in the coming years. “Between Islands is about a collective celebration of island talent, an exploration of our ties rather than our differences.
“It seems to me that we could make something very special happen by working together, and this first outing is a positive indicator of what could be achieved across all arts disciplines in the future.”
Nicholson, who won a coveted Danny Kyle award at Celtic Connections in 2014, said the bulk of the show would be songs the three came up with together in two separate writing sessions in Shetland and Lewis.
“There’ll be a short amount of solo songs to give the audience an idea of the three different sounds of individual members – three of us with guitars, maybe a couple of more instruments in Mareel.
“We’re quite lucky in that the three voices seem to blend pretty well together, which is not something you can really plan, it’s just fortunate that it’s worked.
“It was initially about writing songs and performing them. We’re quite pleased with the songs, so then it naturally goes onto the subject of recording them. We’ll just have to see what happens – it’s not something we’ve really discussed at length.
“We’re lucky that we all get on well and we’re all pleased with how it’s gone.”
Nicholson said the three had the shared experience of growing up in an outer Scottish island, before spending years away in the central belt and then returning (or in Drever’s case moving to Shetland) to the islands later.
He said it was a privilege to be involved in the project: “I’m the least experienced of the three and it’s been great getting to write with Kris and Willie. I’ve never put myself on the spot like that before, and I’ve come out of myself a bit.”
It is also hoped the Between Islands project will initiate a collaboration involving the three island groups’ fiddle players. Bryan Peterson of Shetland Arts described it as “an exciting new project” aimed at uniting the islands through “creative collaborations with some of the finest artists from each area”.
Drever, acclaimed solo artist and part of folk superstars Lau, said he was delighted to be heading back to Orkney for a home gig.
“I’m really looking forward to airing the new songs that we’ve written,” he said. “Working with Willie and Arthur has been a total delight. It’s very seldom that I get a chance to harmonise and create with such excellent musicians and also such creative composers.”
Lewis-born Campbell, formerly of guitar pop outfit Astrid and Glasgow group The Reindeer Section, echoed those sentiments – saying he had “enjoyed every minute of the writing process”.
“The three of us have our own distinct ways of approaching songwriting, but without a doubt the environment you live in comes through so there’s definitely a strong presence of the islands in the songs and themes that are familiar to all three of us.
“Also, voices don’t always blend and complement each other the way ours seem to.”
- ‘Between Islands’, featuring Kris Drever, Arthur Nicholson and Willie Campbell, is live at Mareel on Saturday 18 July. Tickets, priced £12, are available from Shetland Box Office.