Music

Trad/Roots: Karen Matheson maximises lockdown's Still Time

While the world paused, birdsong soared and banana-bread baked, Karen Matheson enlisted some brilliant musicians to craft Still Time...

Robert McMillen

Karen Matheson's latest album Still Time captures an artist exploring her identity and rich cultural history

CAMERAS on mobile phones are great for rekindling memories of concerts you just about managed to sneakily snap while the ushers weren't watching.

The latest one which popped up on my computer downloads was one I curiously called Fish and Matheson. "Eh?" I asked myself.

Of course when I opened it up, memories sprang forth of a BBC St Patrick's Day concert in the Ulster Hall which featured the Ulster Orchestra backing both Jerry Fish (of Mudbug Club fame) and Karen Matheson, the wonderful Scottish singer of songs both in English and Gàidhlig.

I had always been a huge fan of both. In the case of Jerry Fish (aka Gerard Whelan, lead singer with the band An Emotional Fish), his two albums, Be Yourself and The Beautiful Untrue, were played non-stop for months on end on my CD player and iPod in the time before streaming while I fully agreed with Sean Connery who said that Karen Matheson had "a throat surely touched by the hand of God".

I've seen her perform in Belfast as part of Queen's Festival, in Glasgow during Celtic Connections and on the Isle of Skye at the wonderful Hebridean Celtic Festival in Stornoway.

Karen has produced four solo albums but is possibly better known as lead singer of the band, Capercaillie.

Intriguingly, she was also a member of Dan ar Braz's group L'heritage des Celtes and it is probably a little known fact that Karen and Welsh singer Elaine Morgan sang together on the Breton language song Diwanit Bugale, the French entry in the Eurovision Song Contest of 1996, as part of L'heritage des Celtes.

(In answer to your unasked question, Ireland has had only one Irish-language entry in the Eurovision, Ceol an Ghrá by Sandie Jones back in 1972).

In February this year, Compass Records released Karen Matheson's Still Time, an album of new music, featuring a stunning video for the album's lead-off track, Cassiopeia Coming Through.

Described as "a collection of contemporary and traditional sounding songs featuring an intoxicating palette of sonic textures wrapped around Matheson's distinctive voice", Still Time came about during a period of creative discovery from this summer's unexpected lockdown.

I fully agreed with Sean Connery who said that Karen Matheson had 'a throat surely touched by the hand of God' 

From the opening acoustic cinematic sway of Cassiopeia Coming Through - one of four songs written by Glaswegian James Grant - to the title track, written 20 years ago by Donald Shaw, Still Time captures an artist exploring her identity and rich cultural history.

Two songs by Robert Burns, Lassie with the Lint White Locks and, a favourite of mine, Ae Fond Kiss, are joined by an anti-war song by musician and political activist Si Kahn entitled The Aragon Mill.

"Ten years ago, I was working on a bunch of different tracks, unsure of what direction to go in when I found myself facing a number of personal challenges including the loss of both my parents," Matheson explains.

"It felt right to concentrate on the Gaelic songs of my childhood, in tribute to what had given true shape to my life, resulting in the purely Gaelic release of Urram in 2015.

"We were then left with a body of work, waiting in the wings to be resurrected at a later date with my sore heart eased and my faith in humanity restored.

"Fast-forward a decade and while the world paused, birdsong soared and banana-bread baked, Still Time was reborn with the help of some familiar, brilliant musicians who could accommodate the home-recording situation we worked with through lockdown.

"The album was penned by my producer and partner Donald 20 years ago and reflects on the passing of time and life's choices.

"The words 'still time' resonated with me while collating the tracks for this album in lockdown, firstly on an obvious level of time 'standing still,' but also on another level in that there was 'still time' to finally finish this project.

"Somehow having time to reflect and consider music in a different way helped me finally finish the record and I am super proud of it."

As a solo performer, Matheson has been involved in various projects worldwide including the award- winning BBC series Transatlantic Sessions, where over the last decade she has filmed tracks with artists like James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, The McGarrigle Sisters, Nanci Griffith, and a host of respected Scottish musicians.

 

Dungannon musician Bernadette Morris launches her new single If They Build Their Wall next month

FOLLOWING the success of her widely acclaimed debut album, All The Ways You Wander, and subsequent release Where the Heart Is, Dungannon-born singer and musician, Bernadette Morris is set to launch her brand new single If They Build their Wall next month.

Co-written with Eleanor McEvoy and produced by Declan Sinnott, this song has a strong message with an uplifting and memorable tune and was inspired by the negative and destructive narrative against refugees and asylum seekers.

When McEvoy and Morris sat down to write the song, the media headlines were filled with images of people fleeing for their lives in search of safety and renewed hope.

The realities of these journeys meant that many people were being lost - showing just how desperate they were to escape their situation that they would risk their very lives, and that of their children, to get away.

"We wanted to write a song that reflected our belief that anyone fleeing for their lives should be welcomed and embraced for the sheer courage, joy and everything that they bring with them to our communities," Bernadette explains.

"It was such a positive experience writing with Eleanor, as I have been a long-time fan of her work."

It was McEvoy's suggestion that Declan Sinnott produce the track - something which unsurprisingly delighted the Tyrone singer.

"I'm really happy with what we have created together and I think that the messages will resonate with people out there - especially those from Irish backgrounds who have known their own suffering and traumas," she says.

Declan Sinnott is well-known and highly respected, having produced albums for the likes of Christy Moore, Mary Black and Sinéad Lohan. As well as producing the track, Declan also performs on it.

"Bernadette and I managed to work together by moving out of our comfort zones into a place that turned out to be, well, quite comfortable," he says.

"A lovely song from a lovely singer, it was a real pleasure."

More on Bernadette Morris at bernadettemorris.com

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