Wintersong 2014 lineup to include RM Hubbert, Alasdair Roberts and Richard Youngs
Also set to play are Howie Reeve, Horse Loom, Plinth and Louis Abbott of Admiral Fallow
'Winter is my favourite season. It has such a desolate beauty to it,' says RM Hubbert, who'll be performing a specially composed set at Platform's Wintersong event. 'I’ve always been drawn to landscapes that have a sense of brutality to them. The Highlands of Scotland are a perfect example of this; places of outstanding beauty that would undoubtedly kill you if you were to be left unattended there for any amount of time. Add in the seeming absence of wildlife and foliage that winter brings and you get this quiet, empty & unforgiving beauty in the landscape. It’s awe inspiring.'
Hubbert is still working on his piece, but he expects it will be instrumental. 'I’ve been thinking a lot lately on the comparisons between those winter landscapes that I previously mentioned and the chronic depression that I have,' he explains. 'Both come in cycles. Both foster isolation. Both inevitably end with a hope for a better day to come.'
Joining Hubbert at the Easterhouse venue are visionary folk bard Alasdair Roberts, the mercurial Richard Youngs, pastoral synth-wizards Grumbling Fur, ludic bass maestro Howie Reeve, Northumbrian troubadour The Horse Loom, Sussex experimentalist Plinth and Louis Abbot of Admiral Fallow.
Alasdair Roberts does not subscribe to any particular faith or belief system, but he does feel he has 'some affinity with a spiritual impulse which is concerned with the veneration of the natural world and the spirits there indwelling.' As a result, observing the seasons and their characteristics has been important to him at certain times in his life, he says. 'Midwinter is important as the time when the holly (or cuileann), king of the waning year does battle with and is conquered by the oak (or dair), king of the waxing year.'
The influence of the seasons on his songwriting has diminished since leaving his rural childhood home, he adds. 'I’d say that my closeness to the seasons, and the subsequent impact of them upon my creative life, is definitely a lot weaker now, having lived in the city of Glasgow for some twenty years, than it was when I was a younger person. I grew up in a little village in the country in central Scotland, and nurtured a close relationship with the natural world.
'My favourite kinds of winter days back then were the crisp, clear ones with the low, brief sun sending shafts of praeternatural light to draw out the intense silver of birch tree trunk or the vivid scarlet of rowan berry. Walking then in the hills, in the forests and by the lochs – the chthonic places – it seemed to me that they teemed with the unseen spirits of tutelars; there was a deep sense of something numinous afoot. That kind of thing definitely influenced my earliest songwriting, as a rural teenager, more than it does now as a grown urban man.'
Roberts' winter based set, therefore, will be a bit of a trip down memory lane. 'I think I will sing one or maybe two songs which I wrote when I was about 17 or 18, songs written in and about winter, around about the time I first moved from the country to the city. I’ll also sing a traditional song set in winter; I won’t reveal its title but I will say that it’s number 175 in the Roud Folk Song Index. I’ll sing a cover version with the word ‘winter’ in the title. And I’ll sing a more recent song of mine, a song composed in December, which seems to place that month as a symbol of completion – a time when things are ending but are, of course, also beginning again.'
For Grumbling Fur's Alexander Tucker, 'winter means high electricity bills and cold feet', yet he finds it can be a spur to creativity. 'The early darkness often encourages one to nestle into a warm space and write some transportative music.' However, he doesn't think winter has a markedly different impact on his music making to any other season. 'All seasons should be treated equally, no discrimination please! We write all year round, the songs always depend on what's going on in our lives, joy, sadness, boredom follow us through each season. People often refer to my solo output as wintery, so maybe a little of this creeps into the Fur.'
Two of Richard Youngs's finest albums explicity reference seasons: the acapella Summer Wanderer and the echo-chamber reflections of Autumn Response. And now with a bespoke Wintersong set, he tackles the season of snow and fading light.
Youngs is unsure as to how he'll convey winter lyrically. 'I'm not a big fan of lyrics that are obviously about anything so I'm seeing this as bit of a challenge. The chances are it'll be pretty impressionistic. Winter starts when the clocks go back so maybe I'll have more of an idea then. Possibly I'm cutting it a bit fine here ... '
Evoking winter musically is similarly challenging, he says. 'Is it dramatic? Or unrelentingly bleak? Scotland can be both in winter. Either way it can be tough going. I used to have quite a romantic view of winter, now I just face facts and deal with it.'
I wonder if the title of Youngs' forthcoming album, Red Alphabet In The Snow, is inspired by a winter memory.
'I'd gone to Krakow to play a festival just before Christmas,' he explains. 'It was snowy. While I was there I recorded some classical guitar improvisations. This was the basic tracking for the album. I also took some photos using Infrared film. One photo became the cover. So that's the snow and the red in the title. I think the alphabet bit came from talking with my son.'
For Reeve, whose birthday is on Hogmanay, winter is a period of intimacy and renewal. 'I’m invariably away in a beautiful part of Scotland with loved ones, and it tends to be a smooth transition – even a wee bit joyous and celebratory – from one year to another, despite what might be occurring in society at large,' he says. 'Affirmation of the microcosm – the world is full of good people and good stuff, such as cheeky lochs and mountains and loganberries and bulbous dugongs.
'I love coming into somewhere warm and cosy when it’s cold and exceedingly crisp outside. I relish the atmosphere of quiet intimacy, withdrawal and slow, steady renewal that remains tangible, even during the seasonal consumer goods onslaught.'
Finally, I ask the Wintersong performers if they have a favourite piece of music or art they associate with the season.
'One of my favourite Fall songs is 'Winter'. I'm not sure it's really about the season, mind,' says Youngs. 'For us northern hemisphere people Christmas is a winter festival and I'm a sucker for Christmas music. Two pieces that come to mind are Benjamin Britten's 'Ceremony of Carols' and Yoko Ono's 'Listen, the Snow is Falling'. Actually, going back to Krakow, I remember wandering round and hearing Wham's 'Last Christmas' out of a cheap speaker in the market area, and finding it very moving.'
Roberts: 'Maybe it’s the German part of me speaking, but I find many of the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich beautifully wintry. It’s hard to choose just one, but I’ll mention Abtei im Eichwald (‘The Abbey in the Oakwood’, 1809-10).'
For Hubbert, winter will always be bound up with the ice planet of Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. 'Now that I think about it, I may just cycle a rickshaw around the stage for half an hour whilst signing Darth Vader’s theme … (best political protest EVER!)'
Two albums by Finnish psych-rockers Circle evoke winter for Tucker. 'Forest and Miljard always makes me think of winter, all that snow on the Finnish landscape!!'
Platform, Easterhouse, Glasgow, Sat 22 Nov, 5pm.