Govanhill Voice spoke to Iain Copeland, originally from Glasgow, Scotland, and is well known to fans of many Scottish Traditional/Celtic music groups including Sketch, Session A9 and Peatbog Faeries.
Iain has also been a member of many other high profile Scottish groups and has appeared regularly in many cutting edge projects on the contemporary Scottish music scene.
Hi Iain you’ve had a few other projects on the go too which are pretty interesting including an artist’s residency can you tell us a bit about those?
I think like most artists or musicians as well as there being a creative need to do different things, there is also a financial need to be doing stuff as well. I find that I always have a couple of things going at the same time, maybe even 4 or 5, then when one is heading for the finish line I’ll be inundated with that until it’s done.
Sketch at Cambridge Folk Festival.
I have a main project in the band Sketch, which is continually ongoing, bubbling away and also occasionally spawning the odd side project or interesting tangent. For instance last year (2015) I was guesting on the BBC Radio Scotland Travelling Folk show and shortly after the show finished (or my part in it) I had a phone call from Graham McLaren of NTS (National Theatre of Scotland) asking if I would be interested in doing development on a production he was doing in collaboration with the RCS (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland). That production was ‘Kidnapped’ by Robert Louis Stevenson and featured the students in the last year of their degree with a series of different professionals helping not only with the final outcome as a production but continually assessing and inspiring the students throughout the development stages as well as the performance. It was very much a ‘Physical Theatre’ production and featured quite a lot of circus skills, some of the set pieces were really demanding on the students, particularly with some days having 2 shows. It was a real privilege in fact to watch some of the training and precision the pieces required, which in turn meant I had to structure the music to suit.
Essentially I ended up breaking the Sketch release ‘Highland Time’ down into arrangements for the production. Given the way I have worked out how to do the band’s music live, it followed that a similar approach could be taken in the performance. Throughout the development stage and the performances I used my laptop and the software Ableton Live which I use for the gig. It was one of the most rewarding experiences in music that I’ve ever had, every one of the people involved were amazing. Needless to say, I continue to work on bits and pieces with quite a few of those involved. If readers go to this link in fact there’s a bit more about the project and they can listen to a couple of tracks that were written at the time and also both of the Sketch album releases.http://iaincopeland.com/how-sketch-got-kidnapped-2/
Some of the music was completely re-written for the project and there was some new music written for it as well. One of the interesting spin offs (if I can call it that) came from one day in rehearsals being asked ‘have you got anything romantic’, its great how working in theatre will throw a question at you that you just never expect to hear. So in true crofter fashion I decided to write something romantic, I jokingly called this piece ‘The Love Sketch’. Strangely we didn’t use that piece in the end but one night I was in a humourous mood and I told someone about this piece of music that I had done, that no-one must ever know was me, and played it to them. To my surprise it was a hit and wasn’t judged a yucky pile of shit like I expected. This is when the idea to do a whole album of romantic traditional music came in to being. So from theatre to the next sort of Sketchy album which I’m working on at the moment (amongst other things obviously) ‘The Love Sketch’ I love it. I’m currently working with fantastic young Gaelic singer Josie Duncan on this project. I started hearing vocals quite early on in the creative process for this. Josie is one of the best of the up and coming young singers coming out of RCS. Between us we’ve turned into quite a songwriting team and have got quite a few original pieces written. Josie’s mum is also has quite a lot to do with the Back Gaelic Choir from Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and as far as I know has agreed to have the choir do some recording for the project. This is my entry into the world of vocals big style, talk about in at the deep end! I’m so looking forward to going to Lewis for that recording, the voices are simply stunning and uplifting. It has turned out to be yet another unexpected but rewarding project and I actually can’t wait for when it’s the time to go for the finish line on this one!
I really must mention that at the same time as the Kidnapped project I was commissioned by Williams Bros brewery who make Heather Ale to write a piece of music for a small documentary they were filming as part of their PR push for the business. It has more vocals in fact. I used the Glasgow Gaelic choir for this one. The poetry was done by Caithness poet George Gunn, translated into Gaelic by our regular Sketch singer Darren Maclean. You can hear the final track and read a bit more detail on the process at this link;http://iaincopeland.com/the-making-of-fraoch/
I should also give a quick mention to the artists’ residency that I had in Sutherland or ‘Mackay Country’ in 2011. I was basically given a bursary to study local musical history and tradition (and the living tradition) and use that inspiration to produce an album from my journey. It was literally a revelation to me to be able to pursue my art and have some financial back up to allow me to do so without stressing about paying the bills. I spent a year in the area and met some really fantastic people. Producing a cd for me is a continuous process and this was no different. I recorded as I went and I had more ideas really than could go on one cd. The resulting cd had some of the members of Barátok in it in fact. Early in 2013 I was given a gig at Cetlic Connections in Oran Mor with that project. It got a 4 star review which pleased me no end. There’s loads more info on the project here http://iaincopeland.com/a-northerly-land/
Your new musical project Baratok is in collaboration with Hungarian musicians, how did that come about?
In 2008, I was taking part in a collaboration in Perth Concert Hall between traditional music group Session A9 and Indian percussionist extraordinaire Trilok Gurtu. Trilok had brought his own band for the gig and we spent a few days working together. That’s when I met Hungarian violinist Zoltan Lantos. Zoltan knew a few mutual friends and we discussed not only him visiting the Isle Of Skye where I’m normally based but myself having a trip to Hungary, more for a holiday than doing any playing. Although it has to be said that it’s very rare for most of the musicians I know to go anywhere without playing at something! Anyhoo I went to Budapest in February this year (2016) and while I was there hooked up with Zoltan, we ended up discussing doing a project like this and now after bouncing it back a forward we’re taking the plunge and starting it off by doing a gig in Cottiers on Wed 28th Sept. In fact, in reference to your question about it being musicians (plural) this time it’s only Zoltan that’s travelling over, basically to get the ball rolling. Once we start the project in earnest I think I would like the great Hungarian percussionist Horváth Kornél to join us if he’s up for it. He regularly plays with Zoltan and can be seen here:-
We’ll also be going to Hungary I hope to stage the project over there.
What does the name mean?
Barátok means Friends or rather ‘Kindred’ as is best in the trad world, haha. I literally spent forever trying to name the project as it needed to reflect not only a sense of kindred spirits but also collectively the brotherhood of music. Music, for me, transcends language and borders, it has been a universal constant throughout my life as a musician. I don’t really need a lot of local language if I can play my instrument kind of thing. I like the name however Zoltan said to me ‘We need to call it something else if we tour Hungary’ I asked him why and he says ‘cause it’s a soap on the television in Hungary’ doh ‘Friends’ got it haha!
How did working with folk musicians from a different tradition and cultural background affect the work?
To be honest I’ll go back to the previous question, there is a universality that connects all music. I always find it interesting learning new traditions though. My personal take on it is that all folk music has a ‘key’ or code to it. For instance, Scottish music has what’s known as the ‘Scottish Snap’ in it, it’s a rhythmic pulse that consists of beat one then the and of 2. It’s reasonably common in other folk music but Scottish music has it in spades. Although he’s Hungarian, Zoltan’s style is very heavily based on Indian classical music. He stayed in Delhi and studied Indian music for about 11 years in fact. A quick trawl through youtube and you can find quite a lot of him playing in that style. Here’s link to one of him playing in a raga style at the start. We’re planning a version of this for Barátok and I’m looking forward to playing those kind of phrases with him.
Most of the musicians involved in the project have a background in many different styles. I’ve played jazz with most of the Scottish people in the group. We’re joined by a couple of fiery young lads straight out of the RCS traditional music course as well. It’s a real melting pot of styles and I’m hoping that although we’ll probably adhere to more traditional music form we’ll also be able to stretch it a bit and try some more experimental stuff as well. I find the raga style in Indian music fascinating, the drone is quite common to Scottish music but the improvisation is another thing entirely.
A lot of traditional music has a similar structure, was that the case here? What challenges has this project presented to you guys as writers and performers?
I think one of the immediate challenges has to be making it feel good, by that I mean have some kind of spiritual basis to it. Sometimes when musicians with a certain amount of facility or technique get together it can be a little ‘join the dots’ technically amazing but pretty soulless. The balance of these elements really makes or breaks music for me. My attraction to Scottish and Irish traditional music is the primal spirit in it, with jazz it’s the ability to take off into the stratosphere whilst touching your very soul, and the raga style can be trance like and again very spiritually uplifting. Phew, I hope after all that we actually manage to pull some of that off
Iain, you mentioned earlier that you were normally based on the Isle Of Skye, is that still the case and how did that affect your ability to work and create?
I have been based in the Isle Of Skye now for about 14/15 years. I went there to in 2002/2003 to start recording the Peatbog Faeries 3rd album ‘Welcome To Dunvegas’. I took basically a portable studio and set it up in a house in Roag near Dunvegan and we spent 3 months recording and producing that album. At the end of it, the house we recorded in became available and I took the plunge and rented it. I’ve lived on Skye ever since. It has had its drawbacks, travelling was always at the forefront of any work that came in, but you get used to it. Even now I don’t really think much of travelling a few hundred miles for a gig.
I have to reveal though, there’s so much going on in Glasgow musically at the moment, both for myself and the traditional scene in general that I’ve sneakily taken a flat in Govanhill and have started to enjoy living in the city again. I still regularly travel to Skye for that battery refresh but I also love living and working in Glasgow. I don’t think I really realized just how amazing Glasgow is until I visited some of the other major cities around the world. What’s that Tom Waits song, yes, San Diego Serenade with the great lines in it ‘I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long. I never heard the melody until I needed the song … I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west’
That’s how I feel about Glasgow, it’s a world class place. I think it should be proud of it’s racial tolerance and the fact that so many ethnic groups get on so well. There is real cultural richness in Glasgow and it’s actually not that hard to find, you just have to look. I’m pleased to be continuing that with the debut of the Barátok project taking place here in fact.
Where does the Barátok project go from here? What’s next in the calendar, when do you hope to release the record?
The idea for the Barátok project was always to try and tour it, round Scotland in particular. The record when it’s finished will be released on my own label, Skye Records; http://skyerecords.com/
I reckon the release date will coincide with touring to launch the record. Well that’s the hope anyway. We hope to tour sometime in 2017, possibly an even year from now in the autumn, it’ll probably take me that long to organise it all anyway!