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Arts / Adam’s stylish debut album reflects on a decade well spent

Songwriter tells of ‘conscious effort to pull together Shetland and Barnsley’

Barnsley-born singer-songwriter Adam Guest is unveiling his debut album ‘Solitude & Grace’ this weekend.

LOCAL singer-songwriter Adam Guest marks the release of his debut full-length LP Solitude & Grace with a live launch event at Mareel this Sunday afternoon.

Adam has become a prominent figure on the isles’ music scene since first moving to Shetland to take up a journalism job back in 2013.

Equally adept performing his smartly reflective indie-folk songs solo or with the superlative five-piece band he has constructed over the years, the affable Barnsley-born bard – now a BBC Radio Shetland broadcaster – rightly enjoys a great deal of admiration and respect from local musicians and the wider community.

The feeling has been very much mutual from the word go: “The first weekend that I was here I went and met Lewie Peterson and Sheila Duncan and Freda Leask,” he recalls, “and I knew I was going to be okay.

“It’s just such a welcoming music scene, and I think what’s amazing is that, because everyone is so supportive, it opens up your mind to different types of music. I think undoubtedly that’s worked its way into this album.”

Solitude & Grace has been “ten years in the making”, as well as three years in the recording thanks to Covid-19 interruptions. It is also believed to be the first Shetland album to be pressed to vinyl this century following the format’s resurgence over the past 15 years.

This correspondent has been writing about music for nearly quarter of a century and this is most definitely the first occasion where I’ve been furnished with a hand-delivered, advance review copy on snazzy orange-coloured vinyl – complete with elegantly shot cover art by photographer Katia Harston.

It certainly enhances the process of getting to know a piece of music considerably – record company publicists, take note! – and offers a glimmer of what could be if we didn’t live in a world where Spotify is busy fleecing our creatives.

The album artwork.

The artwork, a shot of the Victorian Arcade in Barnsley, is one of a host of nods to Adam’s proud Yorkshire upbringing. A touchstone influence, meanwhile, is Sheffield songsmith and instrumental heavyweight Richard Hawley – a guiding hand apparent both in Adam’s writing and in some spectral electric guitar swells courtesy of Jonathon Bulter.

Shetland’s influence is most overtly present in the tasteful, expert fiddle playing of Kirsten Hendry, while these 11 songs variously take inspiration from characters in Adam’s hometown and the sense of place and community he has developed since relocating north.

You could pick out any number of highlights: from the breezily sure-footed opener Waiting on the Wind and the winding, lolloping rhythm of foot-tapper No Room For Pleasantries to the darker bluesy shades of Silver Darlings and the insistent earworm chorus of sprightly album closer Burning Snow.

The title track is inspired by Islandness, a piece of work by visual artist Vivian Ross-Smith in collaboration with Newfoundland artist Jane Walker, looking at similarities between island communities.

“It’s about what it is to live in an island, to live in Shetland, and it just felt like marking ten years of living here,” Adam says. “I think it’s a really conscious effort to pull together Shetland and Barnsley.

“I’ve taken a different view of Barnsley since moving away. I’m really proud of being from Barnsley, and it’s a big part of who I am.”

These unhurried, immaculately crafted songs are thoughtful without ever feeling overly maudlin. While several numbers have been staples of his live set for a few years, both the cadence and content have been shaped by some seismic events – more personal than global – since recording began in March 2020.

Solitude & Grace is dedicated to Adam’s late mother, with the simple but deeply touching inscription “This is for you mum x” very much of a piece with the understated elegance of his music and how he carries himself as a human being.

Within the last three years he has also married his partner Elaine, with whom he now has two children.

“A lot’s happened in the space of recording. My mum passed away and my daughter was born, and there’s a mention of both my little girl [Lullaby for May] and my mum. The songs have also taken on a different meaning for me personally.”

There is space too for Uncle Frank, a song dedicated to “my absolute hero”, his great uncle who recently passed away at 93 having made the long journey north to visit his grand-nephew some five times while in his late 80s and early 90s.

“I think it just felt right to put a song about him on the album, because he’s been a big influence on my life. He was really impressed that he got a biscuit when he jumped on a flight to Shetland!”

Clockwise from bottom left: Adam Guest, drummer Mark Smith, bassist David Sjoberg and fiddle player Kirsten Hendry. Also part of the band, but not pictured, is guitarist Jonathon Bulter.

Adam is understandably eager to lavish praise on his crack band of musicians. In addition to Jonathon and Kirsten, he is able to call upon the adroit rhythm section of David Sjoberg (bass) and Mark Smith (drums). The quintet enjoy a real harmonic cohesion and provide the subtle, sparing backdrop that these carefully honed songs deserve.

The album was recorded and mixed by Tim Matthew at Mareel, who credits the band with a “beautiful sense of pace and space”.

Adam says: “I think what’s really lovely about playing with this group of musicians is that I’ve been in no way prescriptive about how the songs should sound. I’ve come with initial ideas and they’ve taken on a different character.

“It’s definitely grown from just me and an acoustic guitar. That’s still at the heart of the songs, and storytelling and lyrics are still really important to me, but the Shetland influences are quite exciting. Kirsten is an amazing fiddle player and I think her playing is really prominent, and with David and Jonathon joining the band, there’s maybe some darker and more atmospheric tones.”

The track Not For You Not For Me has already enjoyed national radio play, and with some interest on the mainland Adam is looking into the possibility of arranging some gigs further afield in 2024.

  • Solitude & Grace is out now and you can buy vinyl and digital copies on Bandcamp. Adam Guest and his band will be launching the album with a free live performance in the Mareel café bar from 3pm on Sunday (17 December).


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