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Northern Flyway – an audio-visual production exploring the ecology, folklore, symbolism and mythology of birds and birdsong.

Sep 10, 2018

In 2017 Jenny Sturgeon (Salt House, Jenny Sturgeon Trio) and Inge Thomson (Karine Polwart Trio, Da Fishing Hands) wrote and created Northern Flyway – an audio-visual production exploring the ecology, folklore, symbolism and mythology of birds and birdsong. Northern Flyway premiered to a sold-out audience at The Barn (Banchory) in January 2018 and a CD of the songs was recorded at Mareel, Shetland, over four days in early February 2018.

“Humans have always looked to the birds. In mythology, they are carriers of souls, messengers to the gods, our familiars. In ecology, they are our measure, our meter, they mark the seasons…”

The music draws on the extensive field recordings of birdsong expert Magnus Robb, Sturgeon’s background as a bird biologist and Thomson’s home turf of Fair Isle, Shetland. The songs combine vocal and instrumental composition, interviews, sonic experimentation and lush and varied bird song from the northern hemisphere. Themes of human and avian migration, the seasons’ cycle and humanity’s relationship with nature resonate through this multi-dimensional work. Alongside Jenny and Inge, Northern Flyway also features singer/multi-instrumentalist Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow, Rachel Newton Band) and vocal sculptor/beatboxer Jason Singh (Follow the Fleet, Tweet Music).

Jenny Sturgeon – vocals, harmonium, dulcimer

Inge Thomson – vocals, accordion, flute, thumb piano, kaoss pad, wave drum

Jason Singh – beatbox and sound design

Sarah Hayes – vocals, piano, keys, flutes, Hammond

Magnus Robb and The Sound Approach – bird samples

Featuring – Whooper swan, Rosefinch, Swift, Siskin, Gannet, Curlew, Snipe, Lapwing, Linnet, Crested Tit, Osprey, Gold Crest, Black Grouse, Dotterel, Golden Plover, Red Grouse, Snow Bunting, Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, White Fronted Goose, Waxwing, Redwing, Ural Owl, Tawny Owl, Goldeneye, Raven.

This project was made possible through support from Creative Scotland, PRS Foundation, The Scottish Ornithologists Club, The Barn, Northlink Ferries and LoganAir.

Track list and description:

Flyway – A flyway is a route used by a large number of migratory birds moving from breeding to wintering areas, and back, each year.

Rosefinch – These cheeky wee beauties can vary in colour – ranging from a deep rosy blush, to a very pale buff colour.  This song is inspired by one that hung about the garden being very photogenic.

No barriers, No Borders – The freedom with which birds move has long been admired. Something which grows ever more significant as man-made barriers and borders continue to restrict human movement.

The Gannets – Inspired by the Gannet colony on St Kilda. The Northern Gannet is the largest member of the gannet family, Sulidae. These majestic birds are one of few seabird species to be thriving, while populations of other seabird are decreasing across the UK.

Curlew – Inspired by a pair of Curlews that nested behind Inge’s childhood home, written for her parents, Stewart and Triona of Quoy.

Lost Lapwing – Inge’s favourite bird.  Lapwings have an unmistakable call – otherworldly.

Their display flights are beautiful too.  Mythologically, they carry an unfair reputation, as witches familiars, souls of unbaptised children, betrayers of Christ, betrayers of the covenanters.

We are the morning – Inspired by observations of changes in species abundance across the seasons. Capturing our joy in hearing the dawn chorus.

The Eagle Adapted from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Eagle (A Fragment)’. Tracking up the side of the mountain you hear rich and varied bird life. The bird calls in this song demonstrate vertical movement up the mountain – and of course, at the top is the iconic Golden Eagle. In Joe’s interview he perfectly captures the excitement of seeing birds of prey on the wing.

Loch Carron Flame – This song began life as an homage to the hardy white fronted geese, it ended as a lament to the lost flame shell colonies in Loch Carron.

Nomad – In the Autumn there is a ‘fall’ of migrating birds in the UK – the nomadic waxwings and redwings are always a delight to see and hear. They arrive in their hoards and strip trees of fruit, hungry for food which has failed in colder climes.Owls – This song is for those wise and curious creatures, the owls.

Huginn and Muninn – These were the name of Odin’s ravens and it is said that they flew round the world once every day collecting thoughts and memories. Corvids are incredibly intelligent and striking which, is perhaps why they feature so heavily in folklore and mythology. Jenny’s favourite bird is the raven.

2018 Tour dates:

17th September – Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh

19th September – Cecil Sharp House, London

20th September – St George’s, Bristol

21st September – Cornerstone, Didcot

22nd September – Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff

23rd September – The Stables, Wavendon

25th September – Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

26th September – The Tolbooth, Stirling

27th September – Lemon Tree, Aberdeen

29th September – Lyth Arts Centre, Caithness

30th September – Findhorn Bay Arts Festival, Findhorn

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