The show featuring my songs and the beautiful textile works of artist Katy Schwab will be coming down on the 13th of October, so if you haven't had chance to see it I would urge you to pop in!
Cairn Gallery is in Pittenweim, Fife. I did a live Quinie performance there on the opening day and it was a brilliant day and an intimate performance with such good listeners!
As part of the show I wrote a piece exploring my work and how it relates to my visual arts practice, and I have included a copy of the text here if you are interested.
QUINIE ON SONG AND CRAFT
A Quinie, or quine-stane, is a corner-stone, a foundational stone of a building. I am an artist and musician and I use the name Quinie to explore my position as a student of the foundational space that women occupy in the Scots song tradition.
I first began singing in Scots three years ago. I had always sung folk song and enjoyed using my voice but it wasn’t until I heard Sheila Stewart on BBC Radio Scotland that I understood the capacity of the voice to become an instrument. What struck me about this tradition of singing was the women’s voices, which were powerful and unapologetic in their coarseness. Scots as a language sat with me as a homing force. I grew up hearing Scots day-to-day, and was amazed to discover that the words that I was hearing and using were part of a language that I didn’t know existed.
I began listening to recordings of Lizzie Higgins, a Scottish Traveller singer who was born in Aberdeenshire. Her voice has inimitable control, strength and depth. The restrained way that she can communicate anguish, joy and frivolity never ceases to amaze me. I set about trying to grasp her ornamentation and the way she lets the songs sit in her throat. I realised that the songs that I was drawn to were those of women’s experiences -- ballads about unwanted pregnancy, infanticide and fear, songs about birds, seasons and the passing
Accumulating a repertoire of traditional song is similar to the work of a quilter; practising, reiterating, choosing the colours, shifting, recombining and ultimately bringing together. Like objects, these songs embody histories, and when we sing them they become part of our narratives too. I have developed a repertoire of stories sung from women’s perspectives which play with the inconsistencies and familiarities between the formidable (mountains / moor / ocean) and the domestic (tedium / objects / care).
Musician Richard Dawson describes his songwriting and performance as ritual community music. I am drawn to these stories of women whose lives are different from mine. I share images of spinning wheels, peat, washing drying on lines or abortive forest herbs, evoking a shared cultural understanding of a past. These songs draw a sense of community and give me connection to an imagined and real Scottishness.
One aspect of my music that has translated from my visual arts practice is the play between formality and improvisation. The restrictions set down by Scots singing present me with a framework in a way that is similar to those in printmaking. The parameters provide a rigid space within which to work but each reproduction, performance and recording feels different. Green Door Studios, who I record with, really give space for this kind of making. Recording on tape is similar to using printmaking processes involving press and paper. You can’t control the hiss and the crunches and the whorls and the juices that all bleed into the tape, giving a sense of timelessness and richness to the songs. Traditional unaccompanied song as a medium is not sat in the past – it thrives in a constantly evolving community of singers.
Voice is mark making. It can communicate meaning through shape, tone, texture and volume. Wherever you sing, the rawness of a voice that is not afraid to crack can bring in the sea or wind or salt or peat. This expression of an imagined landscape brings my music together and when I am singing these songs I am exploring an amalgamation of feelings of places.
This singing tradition is not mine and I have sat with this tension throughout the process of learning these songs. This style of singing is a working class art form rooted in communities of Scottish Travellers of the North East of Scotland. Authenticity is earned and owned by the communities that sing these songs regularly as part of their daily lives. As a middle class settled person I have a different cultural history and identity, but am nonetheless committed to exploring and making visible the stories, voices and styles of singing of these women.