by Joseph Purcell
Emanating from the Orkney archipelago, composer and multi-instrumentalist, Erland Cooper, completes his Orkney trilogy with the beautiful Hether Blether. On 2018’s Solan Goose, Cooper explored the birdlife of his native lands, while 2019’s Sule Skerry saw the sea and the lives of those who live off its treasures assume centre stage – its live show bringing to life the ferry journey from the mainland to the island. Now, Cooper has fittingly drawn his focus onto the lands of Orkney and the hardy characters who inhabit the rugged scenery.
With the focus on its inhabitants, Hether Blether is a much more vocal affair than its predecessors. Cooper, whose vocal contributions to his earlier works were limited, now moves more to the fore with delightful results; the fragility of his voice shining through as a resounding strength. Hildaland floats majestically on soaring strings, before falling into a touching hymnal reflection – ‘a sweet isle in my life’ – as his vocal gradually drifts out into the soft waves.
Longhope, Cooper’s heartfelt letter to the inhabitants of Orkney, twirls in sync with the words of poet John Burnside. These delicate words express the love felt by Cooper, but through the spoken word of Kathryn Joseph, and against the ambient tape and modular synth works of the celebrated, Hiroshi Ebina. Peedie Breeks‘ dancing notes are met with more hushed delivery in a rhyme to preservation and protection – a reflection on his time on Orkney as a youngster, and a demonstration that he did not take the magic of the isles for granted.
Hether Blether is the pinnacle of Cooper’s triptych. An assortment of stories, touching soundscapes and authentic inspirations founded in lives and experiences of Orkney’s inhabitants, Cooper weaves these aspects together, capturing the character, authenticity and beauty of his muse. Even without a trip to Orkney, Cooper has succeeded in making it a place that seems familiar. His final words, ‘love now more than ever’, feel more vital than ever before, and a natural point to sign off on an extraordinary collection of works, inspired by that most comforting of places: home.
Secret Meeting score: 82
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