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About The Magnetic North
"When someone comes to you in a dream and tells you to make an album about your homeland - the Orkney islands- would you disregard it? Especially when that someone is Betty Corrigall, the Orcadian girl who in the 1770's killed herself having been cast out by her village after becoming pregnant by a visiting sailor?"
Well, would you? In January 2011, it's the spark that led Orcadian singer-songwriter Erland Cooper to group together his Erland & The Carnival band mate Simon Tong and singer/orchestral arranger Hannah Peel (of last year's solo The Broken Wave album) to form a new group, The Magnetic North, with a distinct purpose: the recording of Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North, a new album due for a 7th May release on Full Time Hobby.
Betty Corrigall was quite specific, handing Cooper a list of track names based on places in Orkney (beaches Rackwick and Warbeth, sea port Stromness, the rock formation Old man of Hoy etc) and even playing him some snippets from the finished album. "It seemed he had no choice but to follow orders and make the record," says Tong.
The resulting project took Cooper, Peel and Tong from South London to the far, far north, the Orkney Islands themselves. Setting up a portable studio in the living room of Erland's parents' old house on the Stromness harbour front, they wrote and recorded songs overlooking the forbidding Atlantic Ocean. At the Hoy Kirk (church), they recorded with the Stromabank Pub Choir, which comprises almost half of the Isle Of Hoy's population, and Cooper recorded vocals in 'The Dwarfie Stane', a huge neolithic rock on Hoy with a person-sized chamber hollowed out inside. "A crazy English spy/soldier called Guilemus Mounsey stayed a few nights there alone in the 19th century and went loopy," says Cooper. "He carved his thoughts in Persian on the walls of the chamber."
Immersing themselves in Orcadian folklore, poetry and geography, the trio were guided by a 1930s book titled Orkney: The Magnetic North, which seemed to lend itself perfectly to the album's title.
Back in London, The Magnetic North recorded with another Orcadian, Kevin McKormack (aka Half Cousin) on the closing track of the album "Yesnaby" - named after one of the highest cliffs in the British Isles where many a tortured soul has leapt to their deaths. "We have endeavoured to serve Betty and tried to produce the record that she had in mind to the best of our ability," say the trio. "We hope she is pleased."
It's a beautiful, sweeping, haunting album that evokes the near-alien landscape of the Orkney Isles with drama and delicacy. We have a feeling Betty Corrigall would be delighted.