Arun Sood: Searching Erskine review – elegy to a Hebridean past | Music


Born to a Scottish mother and Punjabi father, Arun Sood grew up hearing tales of his grandmother’s life on Vallay, a tiny Hebridean island accessed only at low tide from the coast of North Uist. Grandma was Katie MacNaughton, a housekeeper for George Beveridge, who tragically drowned wading home in 1944 (his father was Erskine Beveridge, the renowned Scottish archaeologist). The island was abandoned soon after, but Katie never forgot the songs and the sounds that she heard there.

Searching Erskine album artwork
Photograph: Tommy Perman

Neither has her grandson. Sood has revisited the island, his family’s memories and folk tunes to make this beautiful album. It includes interviews with his mother, aunt and former inhabitants of the island, field recordings of walks, whirling weather and birds, and fascinating manipulations of traditional music. Cailin Mo Rùin-sa, a Gaelic song sung by Sood’s uncle on the night that he died, appears three times: voiced belly-deep on He Was Drowned, played on the chanter of a bagpipe on Lachlan’s Drones, and performed in an English translation by Rachel Sermanni on the final track, Crossing. Arun’s daughter’s foetal heartbeat provides the pulse of that track, showing how heritage passes on.

The spirit of sonic collage holds echoes of other Scottish works such as King Creosote and Jon Hopkins’ Mercury-nominated Diamond Mine, but Sood’s accordions, cellos and pianos also meet more abrasive textures. On Old Dictaphone, the melody of An t-Eilean mu Thuath (Isle to the North) sighs like a Burial sample. Vasa’s series of dense ambient drones provide a portentous backdrop to Ernest Beveridge’s writings about Vallay’s geology and climate, read in the New Zealand accent of his great grand-nephew, James. A gorgeous accompanying book adds photographs, art and philosophical thinking to this fascinating exploration of music and memory.

Also out this month

Hardanger fiddle-player Benedicte Maurseth’s stunning Hárr (Hubro) pays homage to the people of her mountainous corner of Norway. Her mesmerising, droning strings mesh with the langeleik (droned zither), marimbas and recordings of rare birds and reindeer. Nanna Barslev’s Lysbaerer (By Norse) is a heavier take on Norwegian traditions using medieval instruments such as the moraharpa to build an intensity that throbs close to metal. Iona Lane’s Hallival (self-released) is a far gentler, but still intriguing debut by the Leeds-born folk singer and songwriter schooled by Nancy Kerr and Jim Moray. Her sweet voice recalls Emilíana Torrini, while her lyrics and musical arrangements crackle with wide-eyed curiosity.

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