Roo & Neil
We are delighted to present our debut album, HOMELANDS, recorded at The Old Schoolhouse in Port Appin in October 2021. This album presents the culmination of over 5 years of improvisation and composition, in six works for accordion and violin.
See below for more information about the compositions and the stories and people behind them.
Stevie Cossar : Engineering, Mixing and Mastering
Karen Gordon : Photography
Axel Borel : Album Design
In the beginning..
Although the music in this album was written mostly from 2018-2021, its roots stretch further back into some of our very first musical creations together. Ever since we met and began playing together, we have been composing, improvising, and challenging each others musical ideas. This developed over our time at the Juniors Department at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and continued into our undergraduate degrees in classical music. However, both being busy with other projects and our studies, we often felt that our music together was squeezed into small pockets of time and concentration. So in 2019 we committed to really developing our writing together, and it only took 4 years to get to the finished album!
A lot of this time was spent developing a working practice around the way we collaborated and wrote together. Most of our ideas are worked out through improvisation. We will find a musical idea - a fragment of melody, or an interesting texture - and explore it together, sometimes recording to listen back later. The composition process from there is a combination of transcription of improvised material, refinement and elaboration on that material (and a lot on to-ing-and-fro-ing sending scores back and forth to each other).
In the beginning, we didn't approach this music with a particular common theme in mind, but it soon became clear that narrative was very important to us. We wanted to tell a story with our instruments. And the stories that we were drawn to were the people and places that had inspired and nourished us in our lives and music so far.
So this album, HOMELANDS, is a reflection of our musical, social and cultural roots - wide and varied as they may be. But on a more personal level, it is a tribute to those roots, the family, friends and sense of place that have grounded us and supported us in our music up until now. We hope that you, the listeners, will find something in this music that makes you smile, or frown, or laugh, or cry. You can hear a bit more about the individual tracks below:
2. Metro Madness
3. Tyro Bay
Bhon talamh bhog aig Loch a’ Bhealaich,
Dh’èirich thu dhan adhar.
Sgiathan maoth is dathach
A’ gearradh tron ghaoith.
Thairis air cnap is dail,
Thairis air Bàrr Mòr,
Eadar daraich is raineach,
A’ lorg, a’ lorg a chinn-ghuirm,
‘S tu a tha brèagha
‘S tu a tha crìon
le Neil Sutcliffe
1. Taynish (Dealan-Dé)
During the Covid-19 lockdown, Fèis Rois and NatureScot jointly ran a competition to create new musical works inspired by 10 of Scotland's National Nature Reserves. The competition was open to musicians from all disciplines and backgrounds, and the winning artists commissioned to work with videographer Graeme Roger to create a short film accompanying their piece. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2Hq2E2A2n0)
We immediately felt a strong attraction to the Taynish NNR in Knapdale, a stunning strip of land jutting out into Loch Sween in Argyllshire. The reserve contains a variety of habitats, from its saltmarsh to its shoreland, to its anicent oak woodland. In researching the ecosystems and importance of this land, we came across the Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, an threatened species in the UK and across much of Europe. Taynish is one of the few places in Scotland where you might catch a glimpse of this beautiful butterfly.
With the butterfly as our main character, we began to construct a story that followed this delicate little creature through the various landscapes of the reserve. From the marshland, rising up into the air, fluttering through the oak and ferns of the forest, over the highest point of the reserve, Bàrr Mòr. Then the wind changes, the sky darkens and our butterfly is swept out to the loch, battling over the waves pushing in from the sea. But, in the end, all is well, and as the sun breaks through the clouds up we soar high into the sky, gazing over the beautiful land below.
2. Metro Madness
Many of the landscapes that have inspired the music on this album are natural, that is to say they have existed in some shape or form long before the evolution of humans on our planet. We both feel drawn to these places - in our modern society we are increasingly drifting away from our connections with the natural world, the animals, plants and geology of the earth. And yet both of us live in the heart of Scotland's largest city; Roo has lived in Glasgow all his life, and Neil has been in the city since 2017. Our relationship with this busy metropolis is complex. For Roo it is his home- the people, the streets, the smells and sounds he grew up around; for Neil it is a second home- a thriving community of artists and friends which both stimulate and exhaust.
As we explored the places where we had a sense of home, we knew that we would have to write about Glasgow. Our shared experience of the city was of hours locked in practice rooms at the RCS as traffic whined outside; of late nights at gigs in concert halls, bars, and churches; of frantic and furious rushing from event to event. Despite this, there are also moments of calm and reflection - in an instant the noise can die down, and you can find yourself in a park, under a streetlamp, or gazing up at the moon, before the city sucks you back in. The constant stimulation of the city, the ceaseless noise and movement, and the brief punctuated moments of peace: these all inspired this composition - Metro Madness.
3. Tyro Bay
ty·ro | \ ˈtī-(ˌ)rō
a beginner, novice in learning
Tyro Bay is a place outside of time. You will find yourself there, at some point in your life. You wake up one morning to a soft grey light, your ear resting on a light, shifting shingle. The gentle whisper of the waves, as they break over the shore, washes over you. As it falls back into the ocean, each wave draws a little of your thoughts with it, shifting with the pebbles. A wooden rowing boat aches in the water.
The birds greet the morning one by one. A single note breaks the air, a question, carefully placed. No reply. The note sounds again, bolder now, more awake. And is answered. The birds throw their voices to one another across the breeze, until one single line soars above the rest, and twists and turns over the ocean.
The sail is raised, the wind rises, and we are off!
Much of this album was conceived through improvising, composing and recording at The Old Schoolhouse in Port Appin. Our dear friends the Reids, who own the house, have very kindly hosted us there several times, and it has been a pleasure to make music there. The house faces out onto the shore, looking over a couple of skerries onto Loch Linnhe. Sitting in the kitchen, looking out over the sea-loch, your eyes are drawn up from the water to to towering mountains rising above Glensada and Kilmalieu. These hills are ever-present whenever you are in this part of the world - wherever you go, whatever you are doing, they look down on us like vast prehistoric beings.
Though they look still and static, these huge hills are moving, flowing as rivers of rock. These mountains across Loch Linnhe follow the line of the Great Glen Fault which continues in Newfoundland in Canada, separating millions of years ago. This deep geological time gives a perspective to our own fleeting lives. To the mountains, the whole of human history is a blink in their existence. They have been on their own journey since long before we evolved, and will go on moving long after we are gone. This sense of time is what inspired the very beginning of this piece.
There is another side to the work. Both of us are keen hillwalkers, and we wanted to write a piece about the experience of walking in the hills. Awakening in the morning, bleary-eyed and stiff, and stepping out for that first breath of fresh air. And the long, slow trudge up the steep slopes, false summits raising hopes, until finally you emerge onto the top of a hill. On a clear day, the sky and the world open up above you. You can see for miles, and look down upon the spines of the mountains around you. It is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence, of escape from the business of everyday life. The "metro madness", the hustle and bustle of cities, or simply everyday worries and fears. It all evaporates into the blue skies, or (on some days) is swallowed by the mist. This is our ode to the hills.
Meandering past old mills and bridges, the river kelvin patiently watches Glasgow grow old and new. In the 1st movement, droplets of rain fall on the Campsie Fells and the river starts to emerge with each gradual confluence. The 2nd movement flows through Dunbartonshire’s bonnie pastures on a frosty winter’s morning. The river is awash with the sounds of life and continues to build momentum until we arrive at the scene of the 3rd movement. Here, we witness an ominous meeting: ‘The Council of Cormorants’. Huddled, cloaked and hooded, the convocation appears to be hatching some kind of evil plan for the world – who knows what they’re plotting…
The 4th movement carries us to Glasgow via the magical Dawsholm Park. The banks are strewn with mysterious artifacts and tell stories of forgotten histories. In particular, one rusted iron gate stands facing the water, as if a portal to another dimension - we never dared enter it for fear of where we might end up!
Before starting to write ‘Kelvin’, we cycled the length of the river to gather stories and take inspiration from its many beautiful scenes. Most of the course of the river boasted natural beauty and wildlife, although we were disturbed by the end of the journey; as it comes to meet the Clyde, it becomes obscured by dense urbanisation. It slows to a halt and the waters thicken to a dark, murky oil. The fifth and final movement tells the story of this decay and points to its parable with mankind’s current impact on so much of the natural world. All the previous themes from through the piece drift through the movement as the waters stagnate, like distant memories carried by the stream.
“After a long journey, you take off your coat and shoes and take a seat in the kitchen. A cup of tea finds its way to your hands, as warm as the laughter that welcomes you. Stories are shared, ideas ignited, and a smile spreads from your face to your heart – you’ve arrived at the Hartys.”
Tucked away at the foot of the Lancashire Moors, their hand-built home is bursting with music and art. They are seldom without stowaways, who always leave rejuvenated, with their hearts and minds filled to the brim. When trying to capture this essence in music, we were overwhelmed with ideas and possibilities and so limited our focus to certain special memories from our time with them.
The opening hears us welcomed by a bright young melody, excited for what’s to come. We share memories and ideas in quick succession as we settle in. In time, the games begin and we dance through scenes of magic and adventure (and even the odd pirate!). We eventually come to rest in a dream-like state with thoughts gradually immerging and dissipating. We’re gently guided toward a growing feeling of clarity until we reach a deep-rooted experience identity and presence. This scintillation, usually reserved for the vulnerability of the early hours, is a precious element of our relationship with the Hartys.
We awake from our imaginations with the first melody bouncing back into focus. This time, it leads us to the final theme, which happens to be the first section of the music we composed. This tune expresses our love for this beautiful family, an appreciation for all the memories we share, and a warm anticipation for our next adventures together.
Notes from a recording engineer
(and his dug...) by Stevie Cossar
There's a fair few constants for me in my slowly and ever-changing appreciation of existence. To list a few off the top of my head;
- Being in a new place and experiencing anything for the very first time.
- Feeling vulnerable, and yet, feeding from the adrenaline of that vulnerability.
- Sharing and assimilating your own and others' experiences, essentially sending out a unique pattern of blips from your consciousness to reach, merge with and help shape the collective background noise of the planet we inhabit.
- Laughter, wit and the ability to not be tethered by the futility of mortality, but to rejoice in the magical, odds-defying probability of even being born into this world at all.
Yeah, yeah... you get it. Life can be wonderful when we allow ourselves to be consumed by appreciation of these elements and countless others. These are a few of my constants. When I meet people working in music and the greater creative community, the chances of their appreciation of these same fascinations is increased greatly. It makes sense to the point of being taken for granted, and rightly so.
I remember meeting Roo for the first time. It had been a looooong day, possibly 4 long days into a tracking session in a north kelvinside flat. Exhaustion and ear fatigue had set in before he arrived. My self-propulsion fuel at the time was sugar. Evil, evil sugar.
Roo turned up looking like a smiley peace camp drifter/troubadour, giving off strong vibes of manic intelligence and a weird perfectionism for something which I've only occasionally grasped. It became apparent that he was, in my view, something of a musical thrillseeker but I hadn't put my finger on what that was either. With time, I got to work with him on a few projects and developed a funny, rewarding and always interesting engagement with him.
I kept hearing about this guy Neil, who seemed to be a proper modern bard. A storyteller with ridiculous musical chops. I hadn't spent any real time in his company but I had a few messages with him and it was clear he knew what he was all about and had a wicked sense of humour, to boot. My head was blown off its hinges when I discovered that Neil was Owen (crpntr)'s brother but it made perfect sense once I sat down and started work on this collection of tunes.
Russell, my rescue greyhound (he's an angel) and I arrived in port appin and I was able to sit in the kitchen with a panoramic view of the very mountains of 'Mountains' fame. This was a unique and extraordinary experience for me. To sit in front of the view that inspired a piece of music, whilst listening to the piece being played by its composers in the very spot that it was composed?... Forget about it. Unreal goosebumps.
Each time they rolled out another piece for me to hear I was crushed. I try to emotionally detach from the music I help others document, in order to best present THEIR music and not some weird hybrid of what I think their music should be. It doesn't always happen as simply as that. I can still feel that melancholy and excitement and pure love and anxiety etc etc every time I go back to listen to the songs.
The session was simple and live, with omni room mics placed on the floor on their sides making them hemispherical. Half of the recordings were done with the pair of them in the same room and on the other half they were comically separated by a glass door, which they adapted to far better than any of us originally assumed.
There's a fair few constants for me in life. Things that I can point to that make me convinced that life is worth living. They were all evident, shared by both performers and myself, and all were absolutely integral to every minute of this session.
At a time when technology and rampant capitalism are forcing people to retreat into a hermit state, it's good to know that there are people a generation behind me who are actively choosing to engage by giving their story of what being alive in their part of the world feels like.
Power to you both. Love, Stevie x