I wake at 4.30 to the keen of gulls and the wish-wash rhythm of sea meeting harbour walls. Boats of all shapes and sizes pepper the fractious surface as they bob and shift like restless birds, their mastheads singing spooky in the wind. Somewhere beyond my view, the big engines of a cruise ship keep a steady bass line as they have night-long. Below my second floor window a lone council worker in luminous green safety gear picks litter with a long grab. He works slowly, moving along the pavement, one cigarette butt at a time, sometimes at first try, sometimes after two or three attempts. I want to ask if if he bends in the middle; if it wouldn’t be quicker to use his regulation gloved hands, but I keep my silence. The ways of council are quite beyond my ken.
Yesterday afternoon I drove the switchback to get here, here being the local town that almost sinks with the weight of tourists in the summer. As I came down the hill and saw the street paved with cars, cheek to jowl, bumper to snout with barely room between for a cat to sleek through, my heart sank. I just knew there would be no space for me, and if a gap appeared I would need to do something terrifying like go into reverse; to snake my mini into an impossible unspace whilst holding up a line of critical drivers. I always think the whole town stops to watch me cock it up, which I generally do. I abandon my car wonkychops but safe enough and check into the hotel, for I am here purposefully. I have come to see the singer sing me a lift, and I am not disappointed.
It’s over 30 years since she and her band, Capercaillie came to us for a ten day first recording of their album Delirium. I remember the excitement I felt, the panic that sent me checking and re-checking their rooms, picking flowers for every surface and cooking delicious meals. It was a happy time and the band so easy to be with. Music spun its magic throughout Tapselteerie over those days and nights of change and development, of repeat after repeat, of a single instrument making its own voice heard and then folding like velvet into the cut and colour of the finished garment. And above it all the singer soared like a bird, canting on the breeze, sunlight on her rainbow wings.
Age has not fallen her. Her voice is exquisite. But what impacted me most last evening was how she throws her whole self into the melodies and the words. Taking songs from way back in history, songs from all across the world, songs of waulking, grieving, loss, joy and hope, she gifted them to us. Even not understanding a word of Gaelic, I knew about what she sang. She showed me with her face, her body, her hands describing the air around her, and the music beneath her voice was no less emotive. Lifting and rounding, punching and raging, weeping and sighing, the instruments in sensitive and dynamic composition gave flesh to the bones as she sang them all, one by one, calling them by name.
When it was over we talked. It thought me of our different paths over 3 decades, our lives lived out in very different circumstances and, yet, we have a bond, like a stave of music, solid and strong no matter how long away or how far. I walked down the hill beneath a darkling sky, the town silent as midnight moved closer. I am so very glad I came because there is a new song in me this early morning and it sings out clear and strong.
As I drive home, back into the ordinary, the song comes with me. I can feel it like a bird, right here beneath my ribs, just waiting for its time to fly.