A lonely isle

A lonely isle is an audio project I’ve been working on with Ann and Richard. It’s a collection of anecdotes about Rockall, a remote island in the Atlantic ocean.

A lonely isle cover

You can check it out on alonelyisle.co.uk, Apple podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn and Soundcloud. The soundtrack is up for pre-order, and it’s bloomin’ lovely.

This is my version of how it came together…

Dead reckoning

This project, which I’ve always thought of as ‘Rockall‘, has been in the works for quite a while. I first read James Fisher’s book about the island in 2012, while I was looking up names for a new company (this was the era of BERG codenames and I liked the idea of naming a company after a sector in the shipping forecast).

Rockall is a tiny, tiny island in the north Atlantic. Fisher’s book is a weirdly cold account of its human and natural history, full of drama but somehow still at arms length. I was pretty taken by it. I tried to spin it into a comic anthology, a couple of video blogs, then costed out a trip to get there and film it… but something never quite gelled. I was going about it the wrong way.

In his book, Fisher talks about how the weather on one trip forced his companions to get to the island by dead reckoning. In the end that’s kind of what happened with A lonely isle. In each of these early attempts I had a very definite idea about what it should be, but I didn’t have the skill to actually make it happen. I had to surrender to the process a bit more, and just let go at each step, waiting to see where it took the idea.

Drift

Rockall was one of the ideas floating around when Ann put out a call inviting people to record with her. After we’d recorded Markov Blake I went back to Fisher’s book to trawl for anecdotes – little fragments of the island’s history we could pull together into some kind of shape.

I tried a few ways of framing these, but in the end it we kept it simple. We held onto the anecdotes, stripped out a lot of the framing material, and wound up with a script that let the islet’s visitors speak for themselves.

At the time that felt tricky. I wasn’t sure that I was actually writing anything. But in retrospect it makes sense, especially alongside projects like The Bureau of Small Observation, A barrow by a beacon and even Her Wilderness and Waves back in 2009 (a zine/album review designed to be read in a random order).

I like projects made up of fragments and facets.

Meanwhile, I’d been chatting to Richard about doing something with music for it. I think this is around the time he and Tom Armitage were working on Songs for Spoken Words, throwing open the possibility of what the project might morph into. I’d had different versions of a Spotify playlist kicking around for a while, so I shared one with him, sent the script his way, and let him take it from there.

By the time Ann and I recorded the script with Matt Addis, Richard had already thumbnailed some beautiful fragments for us. Between recording soundtracks, albums, and sessions at Abbey Road, Richard gave these little pieces room to breathe.

The six tracks tell the stories in a way that the words can’t. You can hear the clouds surrounding Fisher’s plane in We waved, they waved, feel the ground coming up in 18th September. It’s great.

The landing

Rockall’s been kicking around in one form or another for about six years now. I’m proud it’s out and, frankly, relieved. Slow projects are tough (Russell’s got a nice ‘bit’ about that in the talk he did about making a contraption for Howies).

Momentum and motivation comes in fits and starts. That’s a world away from my professional life. It’s nice to let this little bit of my brain spin down and let the project go.

Anyway, go and have a listen. If you like it, let Richard, Ann or Matt know. They did all the hard work.