I'm delighted to announce that me and Anna are nominated for two awards at this years BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards! Alongside some incredible artists, we are nominated for this year's Horizon award and are also nominated for Best Original Track for 'Mackerel', which is a song that means a lot to me so I am particularly thrilled and humbled by this nomination. To celebrate, I decided to write this piece about the place and people that inspired 'Mackerel'. The song lyrics are at the bottom and you can listen to the whole song here.
I made the trip from my home in Sheffield to the remote island of Senja, in north west Norway, two summers ago. It was July and never got dark during the two weeks I spent at a tiny arts festival held in an old fishing house called Kråkeslottet, hoisted on wooden stilts above the Arctic sea. The midnight sun burned bright orange as it crept along the horizon just between the edges of sea and cloudless blue sky. It was difficult to sleep during those bright nights, so I spent a lot of time just looking at one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Majestic green and brown rocky cliffs rose out of the clear green-blue waters of the small bay and the sea was teaming with fish. I swam most days, jumping in from the platform just outside the house into the gaps between shoals of big, striped mackerel that darted about and danced just under the water. They were everywhere, I’d never seen a sea so full of life. Over the weeks I learnt (through many delicious dinners) that mackerel had been the main local food source for centuries, since not many vegetables grow well so far north, and were so abundant in the bay because of very localised, small-scale fishing.
Inside Kråkeslottet in July, there was a summer arts festival going on. Pictures were hung in old fisherman’s bedrooms and along the pier wall, sculptures stood on the rocks just outside the house, films were rolling in wooden huts and a small shadow theatre was performing in the centre of the house, using some of the ropes and pulleys left over from its fishing days. The cafe was full of families eating huge slices of homemade cake and the wide wooden kitchen table, where we all ate together each evening, was the bustling heart of it all.
But despite all the activity, there was a deep sadness in the air at Kråkeslottet. Just before I arrived, a Belgian musician booked to perform at the festival had died in a tragic accident after falling from one of the cliffs surrounding the bay. His name was Sam Coenegrachts. I sadly never got to meet him but learnt that he was a much loved and greatly respected guitarist, singer and composer. He was just 31 years old, a husband and a dad, with a great many friends. After a weeks pause to process the initial shock of Sam’s death, it was decided that the festival would become a tribute to him and his music. Hearing this, many more musicians from Belgium and elsewhere made the journey to Senja and we worked intensively over a few days to put together a series of tribute concerts at Kråkeslottet. I found myself the only folk musician amongst a bunch of incredible jazz singers and instrumentalists - it was challenging and a lot of fun to learn some of Sam’s music. Here is a video clip from the final concert, a great tune of his I learned called 'When They Play’.
Those weeks spent on Senja was a strong reminder for me of the instinct people have to pull together during hard and sad times and the healing power in doing so. The death of a travelling musician just a few years older than me was also a reminder of what I believe is important in life. When times are good and when times are terrible: make more music, make more friends and look after one another. One of my absolute musical heroes, Joe Scurfield, would have agreed with that, I’m sure. Since Joe’s death in 2005 in a similarly tragic accident, I have often thought of his unwavering energy and commitment to music and people and I can only aspire to live my own life in a similar way.
The day after our last concert for Sam, I went out in a little rowing boat with a trumpet player and fisherman called Sturla. I wanted to catch some mackerel as I’d been eating them almost every day during my stay, so it felt right and sort of respectful to understand the process. I had never fished before, so Sturla showed me how to uncoil the line. No sooner had it dropped down into the water, I felt the strong tug and wrestle of a fish. I was surprised at how strongly it fought and pulled, all muscle and determination not to leave the water. But being, this time, the bigger and stronger animal, I found myself pulling it out until it flopped into the tray between my feet and thrashed around, gulping in the air. It was one of the most beautiful creatures I’d ever seen, with such brightly coloured blue, green and black stripes. It was so fiercely determined to be alive that I felt an overwhelming urge to throw it back immediately - because I could and because I empathised with that desire to be alive. But, being a human being and able to talk myself out of my instincts, I told myself how I’d come to experience this, and it was after all the reality of being a pescetarian my whole life. So we caught twelve mackerel and, returning with just enough fish to feed us all that evening, I learnt how to wash and gut them back at the house.
During that fishing trip and since then, I have thought often of the boundless energy and sheer life that exists in each and every fish in the sea. It is the same energy, determination and, in some sad cases, sheer luck that all creatures, including us, sometimes need just to stay alive. We are are all part of the same world and ultimately nature is all powerful and will carry on, despite our human efforts to conquer or control it. Mountains will remain big and hard to climb, the sea will be unpredictable and full of a whole universe of its own battles between bigger fish and smaller fish, and the weather will eventually wear away our fishing houses, cafes and concert halls. But, while we are visiting this earth, the natural world also invites us to delve in, learn from it, look after it and care for each other. Life and death are essentially intertwined, and life resolutely and necessarily carries on, everywhere, even when it sometimes appears to stop.
The song lyrics that came out of all of this are below. I wrote it a few months after this trip, using an open tuning on the viola I like to use to play Norwegian fiddle tunes. In open tunings the instruments ring out in a completely different way and remind me of big wide landscapes. The beautiful higher fiddle part that Anna plays on the recording is also inspired by Scandinavian fiddling. I recorded the sea sounds that are at the end of the track at a little bay on the Llyn Peninsula, North Wales, where I swam a lot last summer, and where there are also sometimes shoals of mackerel. The short melody played and hummed in the end of the track is taken from one of the songs that was going around in my head after we had sung it together at Kråkeslottet. ‘Mackerel’ was one of the last songs we recorded for our album ‘Already Home’, which was expertly engineered by Dylan Fowler at Stiwdio Felin Fach.
In the morning, we went fishing
A little shadow without a sound,
Slicing the oceans underside,
Silver corkscrewing down
In the house by the sea there was singing,
Around the spitting of a pan,
Faces flicker in the light,
Of a salty midnight sun
In the evening you went walking,
A little shadow by the ocean wide,
Up to the mountain you followed your eyes,
And clutching, climbed towards the sky
In the house by the sea there’s silence,
There’s quiet where there once was sound,
We took the line and pulled together,
Cutting open time
By midnight, there was shouting,
And our voices echoed around,
Into the shadow where you were found,
Lying like a green leaf on a snowy ground
In the morning, we’ll go fishing,
And feel life tugging on the line,
Under a mountain so much bigger,
And an ocean all too wide,
And we’ll pull them up fighting and dancing,
And we’ll pull them up bright and wild,
Slicing the ocean’s underside,
With all of life in their eyes
Throwing a lucky one back in !
After an incredible week of gigs, finishing at a sold-out Celtic Connections show, the Songs of Separation album is released today and it's one of the most inspiring things I've ever been lucky enough to be part of. Working with these 9 amazing singers and musicians has been so inspiring for me and I believe the album we made is something special! Here's a little video of the making of Songs of Separation and the ideas behind the project:
You can order the album here: http://www.navigatorrecords.co.uk/2015/11/new-album-songs-of-separation/ and find out more about the project here: www.songsofseparation.co.uk
It's been a great summer of amazing music making and the makings specifically of three new albums that will be released over the next year. I'm very excited about them all - but first up is the new record I made in July with my sister Anna. It'll be The Rheingans Sisters' second studio album and we're very pleased with how it sounds and can't wait to take it on tour this November. The album is called 'Already Home' and I think it is a real 'record' (in the original meaning) of our seperate influences coming together for an intense week spent together in a beautiful studio in mid-Wales, playing old music, making new music up, experimenting with sounds and gathering together textures. Here's a little film to introduce the album and tour dates are on www.rheinganssisters.co.uk and my gig pages.
Onwards! R x
Rheingans Sisters 'Already Home' tour dates are here.
I'm delighted to announce that I've been invited to be part of 'Songs of Separation' - a unique collaboration of 10 of the best female folk musicians and singers from England and Scotland!
The project, funded by Creative Scotland, Enterprise Scotland and Arts Council England, will take place as a residency over a week in June 2015 on the Isle of Eigg, where we will make a record of new music on the multi-layed and full-of-possibilities theme of 'separation', made together during a week on the inspiring and magical island of Eigg!
Visit the projects website and read about the (amazing) other musicians involved here:
Brand new show 'Two Legged Animal' had its opening night earlier this month (4th Feb) to a sell out audience in Bristol. Produced by Ausform, the show is a fantastical and emotional journey comprising music, movement, physical theatre and ariel.
I was commissioned to compose the music back in 2014, and since then I have found working with ariel artist Ziggy Slingsby and the whole team, a brilliant and inspiring experience. I'm looking forward to taking 'Two Legged Animal' out on the road later this year - it's definitely different to anything else I've ever done.
Watch this space!
More info here: https://ausform.wordpress.com
My interview with Ausform about writing the music here: https://ausform.wordpress.com/2015/01/23/rowan-rheingans-on-two-legged-animal/
Over the next few months, I will be on the road with Lady Maisery all over the country. We'll be showcasing new songs from forthcoming album number three, which we are currenty writing. It's an exciting time for us, as it's been a while since we released our last album 'Mayday' so it's great to be creating new music together again. I'll also be on tour in late November as part of 'Nancy Kerr & Sweet Visitor Band', you can find details of those shows on my gig page or on www.nancykerr.co.uk.