When, in February of 2015, I wrote an email to Robert Macfarlane< I never imagined in my wildest wild dreams that in 2019, in January, I would find myself working with some of the finest people in the land.
I’ve spent the last week in the fine company of Adam and Caroline from Folk by the Oak, who set about commissioning and developing The Lost Words, Spellsongs. We were staying in a beautiful house, and one by one by two or more musicians began to arrive. We had all met before, for a couple of days in the Lake District and in the intervening time ideas had begun to form, but now, in these few days, songs were to be written, spells and summonings out of silence, and a stage show organised. Five venues, four shows in February, a cd/lp to record. I had been so looking forward to this, but on arrival found I was, well, a bit shy……(didn’t last long)
Caroline had the perfect thing to relax us. She had arranged a foraged feast, put together by her friend, Liz, who conducted the evening with glorious showmanship, cooking in the amazing kitchen in Monnington House. So amazing.
What followed over the next few days was astonishing. Listening to these people make song from silence, add such a layer to our book, well……..and while they crafted the air to vibrate and take the spells deeper into the soul, I worked away to shape the package that would hold the disc, the vinyl, upstairs, in a corner of the bedroom. I wanted to show the musicians, and Caroline and Adam what I had in mind. I wanted to paint each musician as a creature, with a part of their instrument, worked on gold leaf, to echo, harmonise with The Lost Words, and I began with Rachel Newton and her harp.
Sketch became painting…..
After putting a wash on the egret ( a thing which confused a good many people) I took the painting downstairs to add the gold while the musicians played. White gold for this one.
Later I added the colours to the strings and thankfully got them in the right order, and worked into the image to balance it better.. It was wonderful to paint with the harp beside me. All the other pieces will need to be worked using sketches and photographs.
And all the while songs took shape, working in pairs, alone and then together, adding words, lines, harmony, and it was just wonderful to hear the developing picture of the music. And Robin looked after us all, and Caroline and Adam came with food, and it was heaven on earth, utterly being in each moment, wanting to hang on to it, but knowing that I needed to go home, and paint.
There was much watching on my part as well as listening. Trying to find each creature. Jim was a barn owl at first. But then he changed. He’s quiet. Listens. But when he opens his mouth to sing, he has a beautiful voice. So, he’s a lark. And Chris is raven. I will work on these over next couple of weeks as fast as I can paint. Working on the rough drawings while listening to the music was sublime.
So, we have four performances coming up. I think the Southbank is sold out. And I will be on stage, painting. So, I painted otters while the music played and I spoke, enchanted, chanted and spelled an otter in ink with Robert’s words then a partner for her while a river of music washed over us.
Later I inked a small charm.
Now the musicians are all in the studio, working hard to put the cd together. Alison, who designed The Lost Words and the walls of the hospital, is working on banners for the stage, and the cd/vinyl design. I am home for a week working on the binding of creature to instrument to musician, a different kind of spell.
There will be more images to come as Ellie Lucas was there with her camera. She’s the photographer for the project, and has put images up on The Lost Words Spellsongs instagram and twitter. Follow all the musicians for more, on this project and all the work they do. There are links to them on the Spellsongs website.
What a way to start a year.