Iain Copeland

A Northerly Land 
Released on 2nd Dec 2013.

“A Northerly Land speaks to themes of local and seasonal migrations woven into centuries of cultural change. It speaks of who we are and where we come from, while also signposting where we are trying to go. The voices, in terms of instruments and spoken word, are immediate and international – but equally they are emphatically local and embedded in place and people.”
(Dr Isobel MacPhail, Mackay Country Community Trust)

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It’s not often that album endorsements come from leading academics – but then Iain Copeland’s debut solo release, A Northerly Land, is no ordinary album. Created during a year-long artist’s residency in the furthest north-west corner of mainland Scotland, as part of an innovative community history project, it’s a brilliantly multilayered, sumptuously textured tapestry of traditional and contemporary elements, live instrumentation and digital wizardry, music and the spoken word, by turns euphorically funky, thrillingly adventurous and profoundly moving.

The area where Copeland was based, the 2,000 square miles lying east and south of Cape Wrath in north west Sutherland, is often known as Mackay Country – or Dùthaich Mhic Aoidh, in the Gaelic – after its ancient ruling clan. Along with four other artists – including writer George Gunn and Gaelic singer Fiona J. Mackenzie, who both feature on the album – he was selected by the Mackay Country Community Trust as a creative contributor to their ongoing research project Moving Times & Telling Tales, led by the above-quoted Issie MacPhail (as she’s called locally). Two of the project’s main themes – the former practice of ‘hostelling’ within Sutherland’s secondary education system, whereby children from such remote communities would board at school in term-time, and the history of inward migration to the area – inspired several tracks on A Northerly Land, which simultaneously reflects Copeland’s personal artistic odyssey during the year.

Originally from Glasgow, now living on Skye, Copeland has toured much of the globe during his 20-year career, with leading folk acts The Peatbog Faeries, Session A9 and Sketch, as well as numerous jazz and rock line-ups. Common threads of travel and migration, and their accompanying gains and losses, are thus woven throughout the album, not least in stunning contributions from such stellar guests as saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and trombonist Rick Taylor, who’ve settled in Scotland from elsewhere. Through extensive researches into Mackay Country’s history, music, stories and poetry, Copeland also forged fresh connections with its Gaelic-speaking Traveller community, an ancient living culture ‘discovered’ in the 1950s by iconic folklorist Hamish Henderson, and represented here by the celebrated storyteller Essie Stewart, recorded on a walk retracing her family’s annual summer roamings. Resonantly recited by its author, George Gunn’s poetry – from a companion volume produced during his residency, also called A Northerly Land – forms another vital strand through the recording, its verbal evocations a stirring counterpoint to Copeland’s intricately wrought, brilliantly wide-ranging soundscapes.

Further guest contributions come from guitarist Malcolm MacFarlane and Ross Ainslie on whistles/cittern, among an instrumental line-up also including bagpipes, fiddle, bass and trumpet. Traditional and contemporary tunes feature alongside original compositions, from joyous jigs and reels to spinetingling slow airs, all underpinned by Copeland’s inimitable percussion and production skills. Following the album’s release, plans are afoot to stage A Northerly Land as a live collaboration with Gunn and guest musicians during 2014.

“The Mackay Country residency allowed me to explore a whole new world of production and writing that I hadn’t really experienced before,” Copeland says. “It gave me the breathing space to stop and think from an entirely new viewpoint, without the usual financial pressures. Having that freedom, to create music purely as an end in itself, made it one of the best artistic processes ever.”

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