Quite by chance I was lucky enough to be at the album's launch concert in St Magnus Cathedral on Orkney. Lise Sinclair and her fellow musicians were an entirely serendipitous discovery after my wife asked me where Fair Isle was. A Google search led me meandering through hyperlinks to the discovery of the performance in Kirkwall in March 2012. The performers were musicians and poets from Fair Isle, Orkney and Iceland who I had never previously heard of.
The album's inspiration is the short stories of George Mackay Brown from the eponymous collection A Time to Keep
. His poetry and prose was a distinctive voice from the Northern Isles in the 20th century. A native of Fair Isle, Lise Sinclair spoke of Mackay Brown's writing as a voice she recognised, almost uniquely able to address the marginal experience which is life on these islands. One of her Iclandic collaboraters, Ástvaldur Traustason (known as Monk), spoke about how this musical collaboration has given a rarely heard voice to one of the "small things" in our world - usually it is the voice of the "big things" which dominate.
In a word, captivating. The musicians' contributions at an individual level are almost understated and are exemplified by the sensitive contributions of Monk on piano and Ewan Thomson on fiddle. This is very much an ensemble piece - very little evidence here of the ego-driven performances that dominate so much commercial music. The voice of Lise Sinclair has a richly-textured traditional feel about it - in turns it both contrasts and melds with the individually outstanding voices of Inge Thomson and Brian Cromarty carefully woven around it. If I am honest the spoken contributions of Ašalsteinn Asberg Siguršsson went over my head. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a distraction, I just don't speak Icelandic - but I would say this, that the poetic rhythm and sound of his voice does add a certain other-worldliness to the overall sound of the album.
Buy the album, put it on repeat and prepare to be transported to another place. Better still find out where Lise Sinclair and her collaboraters are performing and get yourself to an unforgettable experience - if you regret it contact me and I'll eat my CD!