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Threatened Curlew Song Inspires Double Album

Apr 21, 2022

Soulful song of the threatened curlew inspires double album of music to help save it. Money raised will be used for RSPB projects.

‘Simmerdim: Curlew Sounds’ is a unique double album, multi-artist project of newly-commissioned works and soundscapes, inspired by one of the UK’s most iconic and endangered birds, the Eurasian curlew. The project is the brainchild of the Orkney-born musician Merlyn Driver, who, with the support of the RSPB, has made this extraordinary project possible.

Merlyn was born and brought up on a smallholding in Orkney in the north of Scotland and spent a lot of his childhood outdoors (partly because he was home-schooled and had no electricity in the house). The sound of curlews calling out in the simmerdim – the night-long twilight found in the Northern Isles around midsummer – is one of his most vivid memories of home. The curlew’s song, with sounds that seem to overlap between major and minor, makes them haunting, melancholic and strangely ecstatic, all at the same time.

The idea for the Curlew Sounds project emerged from Merlyn’s work on a new song, ‘Simmerdim’, inspired by his memories of curlews. In the course of his research, he discovered the wealth of folklore, poetry, art and music curlews have inspired, and came to realise the true scale of their recent struggles. In some parts of the UK, curlew numbers have nose-dived more than 60% and they are now on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List. The devastating prospect of losing curlews from the British countryside drove Merlyn to act and assemble new creative responses to this iconic bird – specifically to raise funds and awareness for their conservation.

Disc Two is a collection of soundscapes recorded by Merlyn at five curlew locations around the UK

Merlyn reached out to a group of musicians who were either UK-based or from countries where the curlew migrates to or from the UK, such as Norway and Finland, and asked them to compose new music inspired by the curlew. The result is the 12 tracks on Disc One, which range from a curlew Sámi joik to electronic curlew sampling, Indian tabla, an Estonian talharpa fiddle piece, Finnish a capella and traditional British folk.

Featuring: Talvin Singh, David Gray,The Unthanks, Tiny Leaves, Cosmo Sheldrake, Camilla George & Tamar Osborne, Emily Barker, Puuluup, El Buho, feat David Rothenberg, Marja Mortensson, feat.Daniel Herskedal, Tuuletar and Merlyn Driver, feat. Nathan Riki Thomson.

For Disc Two, Merlyn travelled, Alan Lomax-style, the length and breadth of the UK, collecting recordings of curlews at five locations around the UK identified as priority landscapes for curlews by the RSPB’s Curlew LIFE project; Geltsdale and Hadrian’s Wall (England), Ysbyty Ifan and Hiraethog(Wales), Insh Marshes (Scotland), Loch Erne Lowlands, and Antrim Plateau (Northern Ireland), where the aim is to stabilise curlew breeding populations within these landscapes over the next four years.

He has also collected curlew recordings from near his childhood home in Orkney, once home to the highest density of curlews in the UK. Alongside the ‘Simmerdim:Curlew Sounds’ album, there will be a new podcast series (available Spotify and elsewhere) exploring the natural history and conservation of curlews, as well as their place in culture and folklore.

For further information visit: 

TWITTER / INSTA: @curlewsounds

Artwork by Tara Okon

A first single will be out today (to coincide with World Curlew Day) and then the double album is released on 13th May 2022.

Without curlews we would suffer much more than a loss of biodiversity. Their absence, and the absence of their sounds, would cut off pathways for imagination, conscience and feelings. I hope that this project will contribute in a small way to their protection.

*Proceeds from the album, due to be released on 13th May, will directly support the RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme which includes Curlew LIFE and contribute to Curlew LIFE, a new project funded by the EU LIFE programme and managed by the RSPB, delivering for curlew conservation in five priority landscapes across the country, managed by the RSPB and connected to five priority landscapes across the country.

**The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International  a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

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