The Kildas, The Glad Cafe, Glasgow, Thu 26 Feb 2015
- Alex Neilson
- 3 March 2015
The remote islands of St Kilda and Fair Isle are featured in an evening of islands, songs and loops
The Hebridean island of St Kilda is shrouded in myth and mystification. Evidence of habitation on the barren outcrop dates back to the Bronze Age, but the last of a dwindling population was finally evacuated in 1930 after flu epidemics and the ravages of World War 1 compounded centuries of privation. Since then, St Kilda has mainly been enjoyed as a bird colony, but more recently a flock of artists have been magnetised by its dreich mystery.
In 2013, folk singer Alasdair Roberts teamed up with Scots poet Robin Robertson to create a beguiling album, Hirta Songs that evokes the spartan majesty of the archipelago. In 2007 an opera was staged on the island, recreating the astounding feats of daring the 'birdmen' undertook to hand catch sea fowl – the islanders’ primary source of sustenance. Now, artist Deirdre Nelson has coordinated a gaggle of writers, musicians, textile designers and visual artists for an evening that explores and explodes aspects of St Kilda's culture and mythology. Tonight's performances run alongside an exhibition by textile designer Nelson, currently running in the Glad Café, which is the result of her recent studies of 'the Kildas'.
Theatre impresario Ruth Little begins with poetic introductory speech that lanced one of the biggest misapprehensions about the place – that no such a person as St Kilda ever actually existed. It was a misnomer that stuck after an elaborate series of chinese whispers, stretching from the Outer Hebrides to the most remote outposts of the Commonwealth ('St Kilda' being the name of the ship that transported immigrants from Scotland to Australia). As well as providing many fascinating facts about the island, Nelson also researched the other six Kildas across the world in an attempt to establish common cultural bonds and nominate saints from within the communities, as surrogates for the absent St Kilda.
GSA graduate Nelson visited Kilda, Australia and discovered some of the poetic methods of subversion the immigrants would enact by etching love messages to abandoned sweethearts across the faces of the regent on the worthless coins of their former country. She also designed fabrics that incorporated the unique hues of the islands vegetation and encoded graphic scores designed by singer, Hanna Tuulikki, for her Away With The Birds choral piece, performed in Canna last summer.
Tuulikki and Mischa Macpherson provided the most captivating performance of the night in a vocal duet, the power of which was minimal in approach and liminal in effect. The two singers exchanged mimetic, elongated vowel sounds based upon the residual strains of Gaelic waulking songs. They floated tones that were hypnotic and unresolved: ricocheting, blending and chasing each other in a symbiotic fusion, like an aural orouboros perpetually devouring its own tail.
Closing the evening, accordionist extraordinaire Inge Thomson delighted with some finely crafted self-penned songs, chronicling the poetic ebb and flow of life on her native Fair Isle. This was followed by a finale from Thomson, Tuulikki and Jason Singh, who met for the first time the day before, and presented their version of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'. An ‘info-taining’ and lovingly assembled night in Glasgow's hippest and most eclectic venue.
The Kildas was part of the Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme, a partnership between the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee, Glasgow Life, Creative Scotland and Sea Change. http://thekildas.com/; https://twitter.com/thekildas.