Will ye go, lassie, go?
It began with a song. It’s an old song, a Scottish folk tune. I learnt it as a child in a choir, with thirty other girls who sang together with breaktaking collective intuition.
The song vanished from my psyche for a few years as teenage ambition and despair mutually took hold. It resurfaced again in — of all places — a London pub, one chaotic New Years’ Eve, in the hazy early hours. I was a student studying music, but struggling to find an honest creative connection to either voice or violin.
It sank again as I pushed deeper into academic research, rites of passage, relationships. I buried hopes of personal creativity and busied myself enabling other people’s music, working crazy hours in venues around Bristol and telling myself it was enough. But you can’t keep the lid on a good song, no matter how hard it might be pressed down. I had flickering moments of foresight that pressure was brewing behind a dam, holding back a reservoir in which I had barely dipped a toe, despite 23 years of music-education-immersion. Listening to that voice of foresight, I borrowed a mandolin on a whim from a friend, and tentatively tried to press its sturdy steel strings — to little audible result.
Then, some of the tightly wound threads pulling my life and mind together began to pinch and fray under the strain of keeping myself in one piece. I ran away to Devon, to the aptly named Hope Cove, taking the little-played and frankly baffling mandolin with me. As soon as I was alone, breathing in the ocean, I could see how much I had tied myself up in knots: psychologically, financially, physically, romantically — a myriad different sources of confusion and distress, but the unravelling relationship was the most immediately painful.
It helped to walk. One day, I walked a long, long track over the cliffs from Hope Cove to Soar Mill Cove. It was an exceptionally windy day, and as I walked I let my inner monologue billow and buffer with the salt air. Suddenly, I was hit by a poem — the first time that had ever happened to me — and I crouched down beneath a clump of heather to scribble it in my notebook. Pleased and surprised, I struggled my way through along the exposed path to the far cove where I sank onto the sand, grateful for a temporary reprieve from the bruising winds. But on the return journey, elevated by the air rushing around me and the blue-green-blue ahead, that same old Scottish folk song returned. With nobody around but a few perplexed sheep, I hurled it from the soles of my feet through dusty lungs into the wind and out over the sea. I sang it without thinking, but feeling every word and note shudder and dance through my wind-blown muscles. ‘And we’ll all go together to pull wild mountain thyme, all around the blooming heather, will ye go, lassie, go?’
I stomped back to the house, delighted with my inner discoveries and happy for the first time in a very long while. That evening, I spent a while chatting to Fleur, the teenage daughter of my kind friends. She was learning guitar, and advised me on building strength in my fingers (callouses!) to enable more successful mandolin attempts. I dreamt of playing that night, and saw my hands move into chord shapes that felt familiar. Back in Bristol, I sat on my front porch with mandolin in hand and worked out the chords to the folk song. It made sense. My hands knew where to go, and I sang and played it again and again. I found the poem I’d written on the cliff, crouching beneath the heather, and began to rearrange the three or four chords I’d just learnt into a pattern that suited my words. Sitting in my garden, I wrote the first song of my first album, conceived on a cliff but named for its birthplace and central metaphor — The Garden.
The songs that followed never diminished my sense of wonder at this astonishing new expressive portal, and as I documented the crises and hopes of the next months as they hit me, I inadvertently crafted a set of songs that remains an unending source of catharsis, self-knowledge and deep satisfaction. The message, I hope, is epitomised by those two songs I first encountered: The Garden, which expresses a recognition for the changing seasons and a hope for friendship, and that Scottish folk song, which calls us to take each moment available to gather, connect, appreciate the ground beneath and the sky above, hands to hold and solitude, blooming heather and wild mountain thyme.
Listen to the folk song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf20AlFxzjU
…And please pledge in our Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1340173547/help-bring-hands-of-the-herons-debut-album-to-life