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Bennett as the Fireside Music Company to produce shows about Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy. These two strings to her fiddle bow might seem at odds with each other on paper, but Watson argues the opposite.


“I feel very drawn to connecting with our roots, and what went before, but doing so in a way that feels very vital and alive.” The borders suit such a project, she adds, as they have an innovative spirit about them. “There’s always been a very creative tradition in the Borders around folk. It’s not particularly focused on preser- vation and continuity, but about people meeting, and making, and joining togeth- er in new ways.”


Watson finds it hard to pinpoint the major influences on her own music, although she adores many Scottish artists for the “leaps they have taken” like com- poser Jim Sutherland, Lau fiddler Aidan O’Rourke, and harper Catriona McKay. She also holds Hands Up For Trad organiser and concertina player Simon Thoumire in great esteem: “He’s ambitious, and a risk- taker, a total pioneer”. She’s also recently been playing with Isle Of Lewis indie- rock/folk artist Iain Morrison (son of the famous Isle of Lewis piobaireachd piper of the same name), who has encouraged her to let loose with her vocals (“I sang really loudly on stage with him last night, which is why I sound like this today!”).


Crossing into that indie-rock world has made her realise how rock bands amass knowledge about music in different ways – her is more scattershot, more impressionistic, more avant-garde. “Lots of people catalogue all their influences, and know all the lyrics and steps taken by their favourite bands. I’ve just picked up stuff as I’ve gone along, and try and piece things together in new ways.”


W


atson knew that focus- ing on song would help when she began her Yarrow project; she had previously spent lots of


time on instrumental compositions. “I wanted to get across the feeling of being in that particular valley, so it made sense to me that a group of traditional songs, alongside other poems and images, could do that really well.” She didn’t decide on the songs straightaway, though, but tried to let the valley inspire her. “I always try to see very honestly what exists in a place, and then put that into sound,” she explains. “Asking myself how can I get this experience to work in terms of atmospheres and field recordings? How can it form a real expe- rience in our minds?” She also confesses that she doesn’t think the past can just talk to us through musical melodies. “So what can we add to those old tunes that doesn’t compromise that feeling, and that doesn’t compromise tradition?”


What Watson adds is magic: a combi- nation of the sounds of water, air and rain, pianos, keyboards, accordeons, harmoni- ums, guitars and double basses, alongside her stunning heavily accented vocals, and stark, soaring fiddle playing. She lifts the listener out of their present-day existence into a very different, rural, timeless world.


The Yarrow Acoustic Sessions begins


with Yarrow (A Charm), a harmonium sigh- ing us beautifully into a song shaped by Watson from the lyrics of contemporary Borders poet Walter Elliot, themselves


inspired by a Scottish Gaelic song about the beauty and magic of the local yarrow plant. Watson turns the song into one about women’s power, bolstered by the strength of the landscape around her (“With the power o’ the Yarrow/So strong will I be/I will wound every man/Ah but no man will wound me”). Then follows The Flyting O’ Life A Daith, adapted from a poem by Scots folk revivalist Hamish Henderson, a song about embracing nature set to a gorgeous melody by Scottish singer/collector Alison McMorland. Roud borders ballad Fause Fause becomes bleak and pizzicato-string- struck in Watson’s hands, while her spoken- word rendition of Alexander Anderson’s poem, The Sense Of Being Lonely, almost stops the heart, as field recordings ripple behind her at St Mary’s Loch.


The album’s highlight among all this beauty is the startling Fine Floors In The Valley, a Scottish variant of The Cruel Mother, which brings the protagonist’s predicament to terrifying life. A dark piano line holds us through The Dowie Dens Of Yarrow before Capernaum shakes us with its ambient sparseness, and What A Voice makes Jeannie Robertson’s ballad from the 1950s’ collection Songs Of A Scots Tinker Lady sound sharply alive. Battle lament Flooers O The Forest shines full and bright, while October Song bubbles and swims, Watson’s voice dashing up-river, becoming part of the current forever.


An album this good makes it clear that


Watson will continue swimming against the tide, looking at her lands in new ways, giving them new colours and contours. What is the best thing she has learned, I wonder out loud? “It’s good to keep all doors open,” she laughs, her voice ringing down the line, resounding for all time.


loriwatson.net F


Photo: Louise Bichan


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