Harbour of Songs is a new album which has been launched by the Stables to tie in with both the MK International Festival 2012 and the Lone Twin Boat Project which is part of the Cultural Olympiad. Last night there was a talk by Lone Twin and the Unthanks Adrian McNally who was the artist-in-residence who facilitated the project as part of the album launch.
I’d seen the boat, which is currently moored out of the water in Queens Court, a plaza within the shopping centre and got a sense of its story but I hadn’t appreciated the enormity of the project or the beauty of the story which lies beneath the gorgeous exterior. The Lone Twin, who were a walk about performance act, came up with the concept for this story collection over a decade ago, but it was an Arts Council grant – won as the South East entry to the Cultural Olympiad – which saw it come to fruition. They collected pieces of wood, which were used to make the boat, and given with the timber were the stories of meaning attached to the objects donated.
1300 varying bits of timber and accompanying stories were collected over the course of the project and all were used in some way within the boat which was built by Sydney medal winner Mark Covell amongst others. It was constructed using similar techniques to dry stone walling – i.e. what was picked up had to be placed, within the boat rather than put down again.
For the album the 1300 stories, which are all detailed within a book which accompanies the boat project, were distilled down into about 100 which represented the range of objects donated and themes of the stories. This group of stories were then given to McNally to pass on to the song writers, authors, poets and musicians who would collaborate with him on this project. These collaborators include Guy Chambers, (who wrote many of the Robbie Williams hits and had gone on the summer music camps the Stables run as a child), Nick Hornby, Ralph McTell and Janis Ian amongst others.
One unknown amongst the musicians involved was Raevennan Husbandes who gave us one of two stripped down album tracks at the end of the event. She has a voice which is rich and velvety, combining jazz, folk and blues within her tone. Listening to her sing House of Wood, written by Guy Chambers, was mesmerizing. I know I am sometimes prone to overstating a case but if you follow the link to Harbour Songs I posted at the beginning of this post and click on the taster available towards the bottom of that page you will see what I mean….it’s a heavenly voice to listen to. The other live performance came from Jonny Kearny who was singing with The Unthanks string quartet yesterday evening. Dressing Up has a sound and feel which conjure up echoes of Nowell Coward. Hannah Moulette’s Pampelmusse and the Conjouror’s Stool which is also on the CD but wasn’t played last night has a similar feel to it as does Jani Ian’s The Tiny Mouse, although the latter also has a slight hint sea shanty to it as well.
Overall the album is one I would highly recommend and I would probably give it 4 rather than the 3 stars the Observer reviewer did in his piece. As he pointed out “the concept satisfyingly exceeds the sum of its parts” and whilst no tracks stand out far above the others, (my personal favourite is House of Wood), it is an enjoyable album to listen to in its entirety. Unlike a lot of things like this, or albums in general there are no tracks you wish weren’t on there. It is chilled, relaxed and ideal for having on as you sit and ponder life or curl up in the garden with a book and a long drink. In short it’s a lazy summer afternoon album. Such things are rare pleasures in this day and age.
I was really pleased that the Stables and MKIF put on this talk and that they’ve put on the acoustic sets. TOH and I have not been able to afford to go to any of the main events, like last nights Unthanks concert, because cost has been prohibitive but we have been able to get the flavour of the festival and enjoy it. This engaging with the skint is something that chatting to Alison Young, the tent organiser, I realised is a conscious part of the festival ethos and part of the wider philosophy of the Stables. It is this philosophy of the arts belonging to the people, and people belonging to the arts which was not explicitly articulated but is what I saw coming across which makes MKIF a truly community festival and which has fed into the Harbour of Songs project. The Stables are committed to developing local, national and international talent and making the arts – particularly jazz and folk but all types of music- accessible to all, they understand the link between music and social history. And that’s what the boat project and Harbour of Songs are both about in the end; collecting, treasuring and sharing our social history in a way which is accessible. It’s been a privilege to have gotten the chance to have heard them share the treasure and I’d encourage you – if you get the chance – to enjoy it to either through purchasing the album, book or going along to see the boat.