new emotional attachments: the magnetic north interview;
As I share in the misery of my fellow Springsteen fans on the Isle of Wight, whose cars are currently being towed out of the mud by four-wheel drive vehicles as they beginning to make their way home from the waterlogged festival, I realise that the gut instinct that has always kept me away from any festival that’s more than a two hour journey from my own bath and bed is more than just another neurosis: indeed, it is sensible. So when I turn my attention to a festival on another island – this one about as geographically distinct as you can get while still remaining part of the United Kingdom (other than, oh, the Falklands Funk Festival, which should totally be a thing) – it had also better be a heck of a lot more civilised.
It’s probably a bit late to arrange to make your way to the St Magnus Festival, Orkney’s annual celebration of the arts, but that doesn’t mean that one event in particular isn’t worthy of your attention. The Magnetic North – comprised of Stromness-born Erland Cooper with solo artist Hannah Peel and Simon Tong of the Verve and various Damon Albarn-backed projects – have recently produced an album inspired by the folklore of the islands, which Cooper claims was forced upon him in a dream by the ghost of Betty Corrigall. They will perform the album in Orkney’s St Magnus Cathedral to the accompaniment of a specially-made film installation by Scandinavian visual artist Peter Normann.
Hannah spoke to me ahead of the show.
Who is in the band, how did you get together?
Long term collaborators Erland Cooper and Simon Tong from the cult psych folk band Erland and the Carnival alongside the singer-songwriter and orchestral arranger, Hannah Peel.
The two acts were on tour together last year with Hannah supporting throughout UK and Europe and gradually as the tour developed the Carnival band ended up playing with Hannah on stage. In order to regain Erland’s frontman status and to stop a complete take-over, a new collaboration was needed quickly.
Three words to describe your sound…
Forgotten Hitchcock-esque folk score – sorry 4 words!
Home, and the legends of Orkney, are huge influences on this particular album. How important an influence have your roots been in the rest of your creative work?
Certainly the roots have always been there, as experiences and passions for wanting to create music and art come from those places, but they would never have been so apparent before.
It is very hard to write about a place so direct and intrinsic to where you grew up, so Erland had to distance himself and look objectively to his homeland and places of experience. Bringing Simon and myself on board helped find new emotional attachments and perspectives.
And what else influences you – musically and otherwise?
Lots of poetry and old art house films. Drama and tensions, beautiful imagery and stories. Anything with substance and meaning that looks at and questions the way we live and chose to lead our lives.
This was the first I had heard about the St Magnus Festival, which from my reading seems to have more of an emphasis on composition and craft than many other events put together under that tag. What does it mean to you to be asked to perform there?
It’s a great privilege. We are so lucky to be doing our own headline show in the Cathedral on 28th June with the Hoy Stromnbank Pub choir, the island choir that featured on the record. It’s going to be a very special show involving lots of local singers and musicians and also some specially-commissioned visuals created from archive and our own footage.
What releases/shows do you have planned at the moment?
The record was only just out in May, so we have a few festivals to fill up the summer. Along with another single release in the Autumn, we will be doing a headline tour throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK… bringing the choir from Orkney down to London!
And what are you listening to at the moment?
The soundtrack to Vertigo by Bernard Hermann, Scott Walker 3, The Velvet Underground and Nico
BUY: Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North at Amazon.co.uk
The Magnetic North play St Magnus Cathedral, Orkney on Thursday, 28th June. Tickets are available from the St Magnus International Festival website.
[PHOTO CREDIT: Emily Dennison]