I got to this gig almost inadvertently when it was mentioned at the excellent event Songs of Separation last Thursday as part of Celtic Connections. My ears pricked up when someone mentioned it had something to do with herbs used in highland traditional medicine and I wasn’t too sure what we were going to get, especially as the programme notes said, ‘This concert promises to be a little unconventional’.
Unconventional it certainly was – Kate said at one point , ‘that was the death metal one,’ and mentioned that she had scored one part as ‘utter chaos’, but in fact it was rich, complex, exciting, and as the Scotsman put it in their review, created
a wayward soundscape, whose eldritch tonalities, eerie harmonies and restive rhythmic layers skilfully skirted the familiar and orthodox.
Eldritch might be a bit harsh, but it was certainly a world away from the gentle melodious voices you can hear elsewhere on the folk scene. She had an all-star band too, including the fabulous Robert McFall, whose chamber orchestra plays some of the most eclectic and interesting mix of music I’ve come across in ages.
But the interesting thing to me was the use of traditional herbal knowledge in the songs, which dealt with nettle, marigold, elecampane and bitter gentian, among others. Kate Young cited Mary Beith’s Healing Threads, the Carmina Gadelica and the wonderful resource Tobar an Dualchais, from Edinburgh University’s School of Scottish Studies, and with some authority, as she has spent a lot of time researching and working at the Dilston Physic Garden. This project is as much about preserving the knowledge and the connection to the land as it is about creating new music. She incorporates remedies, beliefs and charms into the music, including some recordings from the archives of Tobar an Dulchais, and the sequences finishes with a long piece entitled Remember the Land (which she threatened to send to David Cameron as a protest against fracking).
The concert was filmed, but I have no information about when it might be screened, and there is no indication as yet whether the piece will be recorded. But if it is, do take any opportunity to hear it.