Tag Archives: Highland Clearances

Songs of Separation: Groundbreaking Female Folk Talent on the Isle of Eigg

On the picturesque Isle of Eigg in the Northwest of Scotland, ten of the UK’s groundbreaking female folk musicians have been exploring the theme of separation through their songs.

The project, titled SONGS OF SEPARATION, brings together the musical talent of celebrated artists Eliza CarthyKarine PolwartMary MacmasterKate YoungHannah JamesHazel AskewRowan RheingansJenn ButterworthHannah Read, and Jenny Hill. Though the 11540917_1662199680666646_7537123944153860386_nmusicians are individually based in cities across the UK and the US, they came together as a group for the first time on the island and began the process over the last week of rehearsing, arranging, and recording an album of traditional songs which explore the theme of separation in its many forms. The result of this collaboration: a political, personal, and powerful musical reflection relevant to our world today.


Hannah Read performing at Bryant Park during New York Tartan Week 2015


Recently, we were delighted to catch up with project member and talented musician Hannah Read, a native of Edinburgh and regular collaborator with the American-Scottish Foundation who spent much of her childhood on the Isle of Eigg. “It’s an amazing place,” said Read, “and it’s also where I really got excited about music when I was little.”

The tiny island famously gained independence from an absent landlord almost twenty years ago, making it a particularly relevant location to reflect on the ideas of independence, separation, and collaboration.



For Read, who is now based in New York City, the project has not only been a chance to return to her roots, but also a rare opportunity to work with fellow artists she has looked up to all her life. “It’s such an honor to be playing and working alongside all these brilliant musicians,” she said. “These are women who I’ve looked up to my entire life – it’s a real treat to be able to work alongside them.”

Though the project draws both inspiration and structure from its theme, Read emphasized the importance of the organic process. “Collaboration is the center of the whole thing,” she said. “I love the idea of all these women being in the same room, coming in with our own ideas but letting things breathe and seeing what works in the setting, and I know a lot of the other women agree with that as well. I think the energy between us will generate so many more ideas. We’ll all be learning by ear – we’ll all be teaching each other by ear.”

Read also commented on the theme’s ability to span across eras and places: “The Highland Clearances come up in a lot of traditional songs, as well as emigration – and with the connection of separation to the referendum, this collaboration is a really exciting and relevant way to explore ideas of place, belonging, and relationships.”

“I’ve been away from Scotland for so long, and in that way I’ve had my own experience of separation,” said Read. “I’m so excited to get back into the traditional music scene in Scotland and work with these amazing women. It’s a real honor.”

1524837_1662199573999990_4795420930961698356_nThe results of the project will be a variety of recordings and traditional songs on the theme of separation, including two newly composed songs, a residential rehearsal and recording week on the Isle of Eigg, and two field recordings at the sites of the ‘Big Women of Eigg’ legend. In addition, there will also be a short documentary film, to be available for free online, as well as daily film posts during the residential week, available now on the Songs of Separation Facebook pageThe expected release date of the album is September 18, 2015.

For a preview of the group’s incredible work, watch them sing the the Unst Boat Song from Cathedral Cave on the Isle of Eigg:

For quick access to tracks and images, please contact:  jen@songsofseparation.co.ukFor more information about the project, please visit the Songs of Separation homepage at http://www.songsofseparation.co.uk/.