Category Archives: 2023

Stina Marie Claire & Raveloe

Stina Marie Claire

CCA, Glasgow
3rd Feb, 2023

Raveloe took to the stage at the CCA Glasgow to give a well written performance of her songs (all her own writing) that we were lucky to catch because of the covid restrictions. Kim Grant started her musical life in 2019 as a solo artist and ended up recording during these restrictions. Her band looked great on electric guitar like a rock band in set up, and her music had transformative powers and the lyrics were close to her heart, their togetherness and tightness had us glued. It rolled around with a feeling of suffering stories and painful things but put to a kind of Celtic rock with grace. She stood tall and ready, leading the band and the audience through her songs.

The room at the CCA was a nice space with about 144 capacity so there was a warmth of intimacy; allowing for the music to find an easy conveyance travelling very well. Stina Marie Claire (which I think was an alias) was followed on by her band Honeyblood who were all in white, playing, violin, cello, guitar, drum and keyboard. She did very well talking about herself and the group.

Music for her was an obvious necessity, and her voice had an epic, enjoyably sad tone to it as she opened her throat. Her stories were founded on that sadness, an advocate of crying during pain, let it out she said. She began with a song called ‘The Human Condition’, a name somewhat cutting edge in music.

There was a variety in the performance not only of genres but also instrument swapping. As she announced that the evenings sway would be all or some or none. Written fresh from her EP the tales she told were of solitude, suffering but from a point of personal (ongoing) experience, all in some kind of loss.


It stepped up and up as the songs grew great flesh and they started chopping things up. With great rhythms strong, broad and eventful. She even got the band to quit the stage a couple of times leaving her to perform some solo numbers on guitar and piano. There were many things that were a first for her. One being that it was the most musicians she had played live with.

She came across stronger and closer to us, reeling us in to a world of hurt, grief and night terrors (that can be pretty heavy). So she had presence, and another worldly style sharing her burden and asking us for at least acceptance as a character still in love. She created a changing persona that by the end we saw happen before our eyes, in her last songs she simply sat at the piano to sing in a now prevalent sadness, another thing new to her.

I felt as gently as I could when taken up by this page who signalled some great craft with no little naivety on what she would do and say onstage. And her listeners paid due attention offering outcries between songs and great whoops of support.

The all in white stage presence and innocently looking dress she wore had some kind of comment to it (all details ticked), maybe of that innocence or some kind of clinical appearance. After all she commented that the evening was more about therapy than a live music show (though of course it was for both.)

She came on, held out her hand, as music felt its physical presence grow, her voice become more and more profound and went on until we were in her hands just as she was. She put a broad story into place, she suffered in her experience and she brought it all on with only about an hour’s worth of music. We left with a treasure in our hearts and some alleviation from our heads. Not to mention her outreach for sordid things too many still suffer. Great music to be picked up and allow yourself an insight into how you may be feeling yourself, on the open stage of the 2023 Celtic Connection.

Daniel Donnelly

Anna Meredith and C Duncan

Tramway, Glasgow
2nd Feb, 2023

At the Tramway last night in the South Side of Glasgow we walked into a large space with a most generous stage. Quietly the first act came on a C Duncan and his band began things with some softly melodic music full of pearls and lyrics that held the same. He is a young and modern composer but he uses music from any time he may like.

It was hard to pinpoint exactly what his influences might be (which is a good thing) but his general style was ever continuous. His light and husky vocals offered a kind of sacred sound familiar and new, bending notes that at will fitted perfectly to the stage. Nice rolling music that visibly and in plain sight warmed the room making that great acceptance.

We hit the heights when headliner Anna Meredith began her set that was nothing less than the gods coming home (tarrah). May I first comment on the instruments involved in this out of the park music; drums, whose tempos came out of nowhere, a tuba (a remarkable choice, especially when looking at the kind of music owning among other things a celebration of techno.), cello to the right and plenty of variations when swapping tools.

Totality was at hand, with levels that almost could have terrified but thundered together to all corners of the room. They used their instrument to create some great crescendos I had to internally ask how these musicians had come together, because it worked in blowing us away with every song and turn.

There was a fan presence, or at least there must have been seeing the scale of enjoyment. I hung out in a corner just taking it in, what a view where I couldn’t quite see those onstage. It was artful with stunningly and beautifully captured moving images for the high backdrop. She sang as if with the heart of a saint, one who could race in exuberance followed in enhanced music that was eye opening. Carefully placing gentleness, in the back of the room replacing with rave like frenzy. Again I comment on the classical instruments involved, they took a new place and gave up nothing less.

Triumphantly joyful, a parade of music good enough to cause a parade in the house (a term I use endearingly where I mean the audience). It opened up a crack in the sky formed to develop skills beyond belief; lyrics from the heart and music from the last few decades perhaps even liking punk or other things pre techno. Anthems, distortions, evocation and an obvious will, unafraid.

It was amazing to experience such abandonment where no harm is done, not for anger but not to hide her words either. A banging night a banging room, stage and an evening to enjoy this queen like and to blow cobwebs away to strip you of everything but your eyes and your ears. There should have been camp fires because the people started to sway in dancing circles. I can’t praise their music more than saying that the gratitude levels were of marvel. Well done and congrats and may you play to many more stages and bring this important music for the future to come.

Daniel Donnelly

The Willow Trio: The Swan of Salen

A CD popp’d thro my letterbox the other day, & with Burnley Football Club not having a midweek game, I finally found some time to listen to it. So, The Willo Trio, & their ‘Eala Shailein,’ which means the Swan of Salen. Overall it is an mixture of instrumentals from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake & traditional Scottish pieces with Gaelic names whose melodies have been drawn by singers such as Julie Fowlis & Flora MacMeil. Among the fifteen tracks of this transcreation, you might also get Hungarian & Spanish dances, so cool & eclectic is The Swan of Salen.

All pieces have been arranged and performed by the Willo Trio, Sam MacAdam, Sophie Rocks and Romy Wymer; who will be releasing the album on February 17th, which you can pre-order now on bandcamp.

Two days after that, on February 19th, at 4PM and 7PM, there’ll be a performance in front of a ballet film, tickets to which you can get here. What you’ll see is a unique blend of Tchaikovsky’s music and traditional melodies played live on three clàrsachs, and a brand new choreography by Deborah Norris ( projected behind the musicians.

It is a bit of a concept album really, a story set on a small tidal island on the shore of Loch Sunart, where lie the ruins of the iron age fortress call’d Dùn Ghallain. Recorded, mix’d & master’d by Luigi Pasquini at Dystopia Studio (Glasgow), Eala Shailein is a really versatile & lovelily flowing selection of highly crafted, well-wrought musical pieces. For me track 4’s blend of cascading finger picking over the ‘Waltz from Swan Lake / Spanish Dance’ was inspirational, while track 12’s ‘Danses des Cynges’ pluck’d the most emotion from my soul. For track 4, I even got up & did an elegant boogie with an imaginary dance partner – I was pullin’ some reyt moves.

Damian Beeson Bullen​

An Interview with Amber Arcades

Amber Arcades is heading to Glasgow for Independent Venue Week

Well, hello Annelotte de Graaf – or should I say Amber Arcades. So, where did your stage name come from, what’s the back-story?
To be completely honest, I was just hanging out with my friend (Maartje, who played bass in my band waaaaaay back) and we wrote down a bunch of words that “sounded cool”. And these two sounded extra cool together! Then later I thought of what it could mean and I linked it to this story of Godfried Bomans about a man in the woods who thinks he lives in a castle. I know that doesn’t sound very romantic, but honestly I’m not fully against meaning being bestowed on things in retrospect. I feel like the meaning of many songs I write also doesn’t fully sink in until months after.

What are your first musical memories?
My mum playing a cassette tape of Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass. That super low voice used to scare me so much. Also a tape of Bhagwan songs, my parents had friends who were in the commune. I can still remember the lyrics: Bhagwan your love is an invitation, to live a life of celebration, on the wings of love we fly with you. At the time of course I had no idea what this meant.

Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years?
Oof… Too many! If I have to pick one I’d say Sharon van Etten. Her songs really helped me back when I was just starting out to discover a way of using my voice that felt very natural and easy.

So… desert island, solar powered CD player, 3 albums – what are they?
Elliott Smith – Either/Or for when I’m feeling sad that I’m on an island all alone.
Arthur Verocai – Arthur Verocai for when I’m chilling at the beach.
Mort Garson – Mother Earth’s Plantasia for when I am trying to befriend the local flora population.

How did you find, & then reconcile, juggling a legal career in Utrecht with your love of music?
I like being able to move in and out of both worlds. Both careers have given me so much in terms of knowledge, experience and insights. I’m very lucky that my job lets me take time off when I need to for my music so it’s possible to keep doing both.

Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence?
It’s a very associative process. Most of the time I start with a small piece of a melody that pops up in my head when I play a certain chord and see where it wants to go. Each added note implies some options for the next one. But anything can be a starting point and evolve in something else entirely. Sometimes I’ll take the chords from an already existing song, find a new melody for them, and then change the chords again, so in the end it’s a completely new song. I’d say it’s quite a playful process where I don’t really filter myself a lot, at least in the initial stages.

Ten years into your Amber Arcades journey, how have you evolved as a songwriter?
I feel like I allow myself to be more playful while I simultaneously have more control over the process. I guess that sounds almost mutually exclusive, but that is how it feels. Playful in the sense that there’s no taboos or constraints while writing, any idea is welcome. And more control in that I have a better understanding of and feeling for song structure and how to build and craft melodies.

You’re about to release ‘Barefoot On Diamond Road’, on Fire Records, next month – can you tell us all about it?
It’s the greatest record I’ve made so far! Although I think that of every new record, haha. And then in hindsight I love them all equally! But honestly, this one feels very special and “true” in a way, like I’m getting closer to myself and accepting what I’m finding there. It feels like I’m finally recognizing stuff that was a big part of me all along, like my love for nature and certain sci-fi aesthetics, and putting them at the front of this record, like, this is me, hello!

What’s it like being signed to Fire Records?
Wonderful! They’re truly excellent people who are so full of love for music.

You have a tour coming up with Fire Records, can you tell us about it?
As a part of Independent Venue Week I’m touring together with Hater and Thala through the UK. It’s going to be very special I think, I feel very lucky to be out with such a good group of people and musicians! Musically I think it’s a great match and who knows, maybe we’ll even find a way to do something special together for the shows.


You’ll be coming to Glasgow, have you been to Scotland before, & if so how did it go?
I’ve been a couple of times, to play shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow. I absolutely love Scotland. Even just driving through it. It’s just so incredibly gorgeous. One time we had a day off after a show in Glasgow and drove up to Loch Lomond for a hike, it was stunning. Also the cities themselves are amazing, such great venues and food.

How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts?
My record is coming out on February 10 and I can’t wait to finally share it completely with the world. It’s been a while in the making and like I said, this one truly feels very special. We’re heading to SXSW in March. Other than that I can’t reveal too much yet, but I’m confident it will be a year full of beautiful moments with music, nature, food and people.

Heading West: a Story about a band called Shooglenifty

Glasgow Film Theatre
30th Jan 2023

I must confess that I chose ‘Shooglenifty’ Celtic Connection’s 2023 somewhat at random, boy did it pay off. This event was a documentary/film that brought together a most brilliant journey for a band whose serenity rubbed off everywhere. The film was a show to see behind the curtains and marvel at what they had done and still do for music with a flight that almost brought tears to my eyes in the first moments.

We were introduced to the footage and said hello to Angus R Grant (I can also say I had never heard of him) and immediately fell for his story in the band Shooglenifty (a light hearted name). Their story since the 90’s has done nothing but develop and become. The musical influences of their happening were scenes of Folk mixed with a new disco or dance and at it they mastered it for themselves.

The boundaries were so easily transgressed as time went by, in their travels, taking them to the Asia (not least India) their art perpetrated all and yet was ever revealing itself. To scenes of Scottish mountains the haunting music offered a depth of a springboard of roots as friends and close ones where filmed telling the truth about Angus in particular. They laughed they wept and they spoke of the highest of respect for Angus’s life and personality.

The discovery during this film was nothing less than a spiritual one; their shows were a means to many things, showing how music really is the greatest lover. It led them across the planet with a beloved Scottish sound that brought their sense of harmonic fusion to fit in leading places reeled at the Connections, nightclubs and dancing for folk.

And every step along vague completions the band was more often than not spontaneous. They verbally fought for a free flowingness that may have even ended up as some kind of enlightenment through entertainment. Their personalities grew and grew onscreen, life and the joy spurned out of them as they used their roots to landscape a music as straight as an arrow and as heartfelt as to capture a kind of powerful, effortless communal between band and audience.

Angus R Grant

Bringing that element of old and new, made in caves, that grew larger and larger as people began to fall for them. They knew to read the room, to ask of the audience what they would like and in doing so dispel many myths about the stage.

It was a live and excited atmosphere. They fused and channelled themselves championing a scene they helped to set, with lots of smiles and hard won laughter importantly keeping a pristine and amazing flow. This had them in a state of changing cultures (almost swapping them) and with sparkling eyes remarking that the greatest teacher thus far was difference of style and technique in a world as bright as day.

He died relatively young in his late 40’s, but he also died a man loved.
His absence brought about a number of crises not least ‘Do we replace our fiddle playing magician?’ The momentum of the Shooglenifty train would not wither but instead find another fiddler that came along as easily as their talents always had.

The love in evidence poured out as their journey by necessity had each who knew him tell us how he could just touch your heart, I was right there with them at the Glasgow Film Theatre as someone who now loved these strangers, he performed like a leader and brought to the set a great honesty and skill (as the band certainly did). The spirit shared by the band looked like being also shared by life itself, so many times meeting them in abundance.

Their musical achievements are still in effect as a band who brought a great deal to the table, and in a sense of heightened freedom they had this ongoing tale to tell and brought inclusivity on a global level. Never knowing how and why, they somehow made great decisions on a whim, and to their tilted hats were given more then they needed. If nothing else than to make sure of the bands continuance, to keep bringing fresh life to life and love to love, and bringing joy to their communities, club nights, festival (where they have done very well), doing it for the rest of us and totally for themselves.

No facade, mask, just being themselves in a universal special. One of the best adventure documentary I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across: about a greatness of sharing, to bring the world alive both in themselves and all who they would meet to play with (of which there were plenty)Their musical story is so interesting, compelling, adorable.

Daniel Donnelly

Eliza Carthy & The Restitution / Angeline Morrison

Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
30th Jan, 2023

Angeline Morrison took to the stage in a white and black flowery dress. At The Strathclyde Suit of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall’s’ third floor the room was full. She had done much in her young years and began with a flow. Soft and moving in temperance she bore herself to bring her music about her songs. ‘The Brown girl and other folk songs’ her 2022 album is in another world of self written music.

She had a style that complimented her many years of study. And in her retelling she swore against injustice by talking truthfully. These honest songs are prevalent for the festival, placing a free speech concerning history with any potential of an upsetting yet timely place onstage.

Her naturalness stood out, she stroked her instruments and gave a sense with whispered singing and loving hands. In a joyous turn of events Angeline was the perfect beginning for the shows intentions. Setting us up with our backs straightened a little.

Eliza Carthy arrived backed by her band ‘The Restitution’ who have evolved their styles to express the state of restitution that lives long in hearts. Placed it in a timeless presence of celebration and joy, the rolling boundaries were immediately lost. In her larger than life presence, they thundered through their first tune. Liveliness billowed out of the 6 piece band including piano, fiddle, some guitar and drum; the energy between them was on all their faces with smiles and jovial laughter.

Another bunch of styles mixed and well planted together, looking to speak your mind in lyrics and story’s behind those. The cleverness of writing was coupled with the experience of the band. Well used to showing up to have and give a good time for all and having the highest of reaches. It felt even operatic in moments, with heavy metal being played with fiddle as the centre. She stood smiling in a black robe and raised her arms while in a great state of managing her stories (some true and some only slightly true).

It was those most interesting lyrics that gave the fun its theatrical timing in a performance of voice and entourage. Really gripping them in a tight hand and with a gutsy, gypsy quality choosing truths being quite unafraid of risking offending anyone, she delivered it with grace instead, up front.

Knowing herself, she put the music into a kind of proportion as the band bonded between their instruments, in a constantly masterfully skilled and tasteful embarkation. We were in the carriage for the whole ride and what an exciting ride it was with swift and decisive and ambitious ambience.

Angeline Morrison

Playing into a melting pot of styles of music that still found originality in every moment. A night for murder, wisdom, passion, and pain, put on with a band that created a greatly expanding presence. Had a great message and I got the message loud and clear! They were affably, brilliantly talented and brought out a heavy weight in the light of joy and love.

A singer who knew how to perform and how to reach hearts and heads, with a sound resounding on so many levels to cover any great time. Great, look forward to more; you’re blessed if you get to see them: Eliza Carthy & The Restitution.

Daniel Donnelly

Kris Drever: Fuineray to Catterline and Herkja and Grosse Isle

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
27th Jan, 2023

At the resplendent Royal Concert Hall’s New Auditorium the evening was set for The Celtic Connections second week of line ups. It was to show a wonderful 3 act set of anciently and powerfully modern music making with vocals and melodies to die for.

Of the three first up was a band called Herkja (an Island) who are from Shetland at the tip of northern Scotland that holds great mysteries of life there. As a 4 piece ‘Herkja’ brought to life the stirring and potent sound of the traditional music so new and old, amazing to see and also brilliant.


It’s no use pondering the levels behind playing music like this, music to honour instruments and special play at work. With the delectable joy that comes from it pouring forth to a room enthralled. Emotional coverage when listened to made wholly open in the stories attitudes (of room, love and care) soft voices; endemic beautitude!

Grosse Isle were welcomed to a room in a good mood. The sentiments at play during their songs couldn’t have gone better, in a thing far beyond obstacles. So tastefully they welcomed us in return and in an accent scooped up into French. During the show we were reminded of the endless quality in music, formed and written that seemed to even rule the world, with Irish uilleen pipes doing just that in majestic beauty.

Grosse Isle

Welcome was then given to the long and far reaching strides from another relatively local hero who was top billed Kris Drever, his entourage for the evening included fiddle, accordion and keys and guitar. Drever’s words were his own; he switched between electric and acoustic guitar on his own terms while celebrating his and others wonderful play of proud and sultry beautiful vocals and guitar playing.

I heard the work masterful describing a musician working so well with learned confidence and relaxing presence. It felt open wide in everything from lyrics (that were true because of the truth behind them of really rather upsetting terms) the music itself describes its own sentiments almost as a creature whose historic world shimmer with strength, memory and evocation.

In his two decade experience as a prominent emergence from the Shetland folk scene, he recorded his debut album, called classical, ‘Black Water’ (already making sure of great truth to his story.) He draws on all of this to bring us his songs in an evening embarked.

His veritable style and very enjoyable protagonistic singing reached long into the night, with the sound and brain of tradition mixed with copious amounts of right on modern statements and a curling twisting of many bended notes. Through the breath of life these melodies have the strength of stones and the wit of giving yourself to your heart land. Given to shaping a frosty break free for a few hours of grasping melodies so as to hearken to the Celtic centre.

It doesn’t get better than this, music that holds the bar as high as could be, as whole as to sound and gifted voice to the freedom in their hearts.

Daniel Donnelly

When Mountains Meet

Anne Wood

Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow
26 January, 2023

Surprise was on the faces of all during this performance to dispel the ages and separations in culture, class, style and a hard hitting story were brought to life by traditions of meeting as friend with a leap in the Connections stage. “When mountains meet” had as subtitle; Jub Milain Pahaar: a musical adventure from Scotland to Pakistan. This gave the evening something good to grip onto and take hold of in a big way.

The subtitle acted as a kind of recognition of the fine arts of theatre and music that was above exquisitely put together. In the spirit of the Connections, who are celebrating 30 years of hard and very fun work they yearly bring together. To the delight of all in well attended shows that differ wildly and yet are connected in the world wide (Scottish) festival.

The gorgeous church hall/room saw shadows stretch up with a feeling of a low fire burning in the deep. That burning was this most gracious and temper able play/gig that got straight into the state of story. Old Celtic clothes and shawls were worn by the 4 piece band on stage providing such a great basis for the music, while Pakistani clothes were worn by the actors who stayed to one side of the room or roamed freely through the seated audience.

It’s a long way from Scotland to Pakistan and it was a journey well made as to mimic the true story of a long absent and even unknown father who for Anne Wood lived on the other side of the world. But she decides to go anyway seeing it as a return to a home she had long not seen. Coming together were every track that you can think of in a musical and theatrical and very softly spoken and unintrusive telling that was so well.

They travel as Anne one and all together through sights of such brilliance as to be celebrated as they stood to celebrate every theme by singing, dancing, swinging of the best of taste and the most compelling tale where the whole room rooted for Anne. But it was all cut short to the shock of our protagonist when her own father denounced her as taboo as he tried to make her world into something she was not used to.

The spirit of fusion is very much alive at the Connections and has been since the beginning when they decided to give it an international stage. The work does nothing less than forge and form collaborations and this work “When Mountains Meet” were as vividly and triumphantly seen as to move closer and further away from each other with the epic emotional seismic, joyous hearts. Hearts that go through every level with the courage of conviction winning out on splendid and attractive proportions.

It was a night of mystery, uncertainty, pain and regret but it held up a torch to a room filled with praise and love. The journey described was remarkable, beautiful, refreshing and soulful. And a definite benevolence poured through in the interactions, as compassion and reasonability won the day. A play/gig about abandonment, and choosing the right paths to tread – the ones where you never know how things may end or come to be.

An exciting, enthralling, magical evening from wardrobe to expert fusions of style that though are so far away from each other and so distinctly similar. A grouping of storytelling very enthusiastically moulded for the stage that spilled into the room, I thank them with gratitude for a great time.

Daniel Donnelly

The Real World And The Gerry Jablonski Band

The Voodoo Rooms
Edinburgh Blues Club
26th January 2023

The award-winning Edinburgh Blues Club opened its doors tonight in one of Edinburgh’s most prestigious and pretty venues, The Voodoo Rooms, a compact venue that has housed great musical talent over many years… and tonight was no exception. Especially if one likes one’s Rock N Roll deep and dirty, performed with the musical mastery of experienced Blues Wizards, & to a packed house and enthusiastic audience.

First up. The Real World.
Gregor Gilmour, Guitar And Vocals.
Ian Fisher. Guitar And Vocals
Andrew Merchant. Drums.
Jim Carr. Bass.

The Real World are a Glaswegian four-piece of consummate musicians, whose hearts are lodged in the greatness of the 60’s. With strong influences of Hendrix and The Stones, they whipped up a funky storm that certainly got me in the groove, with a combined chemistry and musicianship that was both infectious and educational, & included a tribute to the great and late, Jeff Beck. I learned something new tonight. Stevie Wonder wrote Superstition for Mr Beck. i was glad I got to the venue early, because Real World are a real gem of musical ear candy, a band that demonstrates how great Rock n Roll should be done, proving to be the greatest support for tonight’s headliners. I couldnae help thinking how perfect this band would be for Rabbies Tavern at Eden Festival. Oh yes baby I loved them.

The Gerry Jablonski Band.
Gerry Jablonski, guitar, vocals
Peter Narojczyk, harmonica
Lewis Fraser, drums, vocals
Grigor Leslie, bass, backing vocals

The Real World warmed the venue up expertly and perfectly for tonight’s Headliners, The Gerry Jablonski Band. Heralding from Aberdeenshire, I dinnae think that I was prepared for how brilliant this was going to be. Showcasing new material from their critically acclaimed long player, “105,” it’s a hard rocking, thoroughly engaging body of work, and the musical craftsmanship is nothing less than mesmerizing. Each of the band members brings a virtuoso of talent to the table. ith a spell-binding chemistry that thrilled the packed to the rafters Voodoo Rooms. Peter Narojczyk’s harmonica playing was next level brilliant – The harmonica was as much of a lead instrument as the guitars and vocals -, while the call and response between Gerry’s expert guitar licks was reminiscent of the chemistry between David Bowie and Mick Ronson.

Drummer, Lewis Fraser, combined the deepest penetrating rhythms while sharing lead vocals. Divine’s a drummer, and I know how difficult it is to play and sing at the same time, however Lewis took it in his stride. Completing the rhythm section on bass and vocals, Grigor Leslie combined to deliver the best live performance I have seen for quite some time. A true blessing to witness this level of musical perfection in such a small venue. Am still blown away with how good this performance was.

Just brilliant and without a doubt 5 Stars. The Real World And The Gerry Jablonski Band rocked my world tonight and found a new fan in Divine. Good Time ❤

Words: Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Photography: Raymond Speedie

An Interview with Maja Lena

Maja Lena is taking her PLUTO album on the road…

Hello Maja, can you tell us where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi! I’m from a town called Stroud.

Maja is not your real name, is it? What’s the back-story?
Maja is my Swedish name (my Mum is Swedish) and is what my family and some of my friends call me, and Lena is my middle name.

What are your first musical memories?
Watching Top of the Pops, making up songs with my Sister about a Christmas tree, singing songs with my Mum & Dad, my Grandpa listening to classical singers, Swedish songs about trolls, dancing to song-tapes in the kitchen.

Who has been your greatest musical influence over the years?
Leonard Cohen

So… desert island, solar power’d CD player, 3 albums – what are they?
That’s a tricky one! I’m going to say at present Mike Oldfield – Discovery, Aldous Harding – Designer, Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen

Where do your songs come from & how do you shepherd them into existence?
I get very inspired by nature but also like to create alternate worlds and landscapes in my head and set some of the songs there. I usually write with my guitar or a synthesizer, and if I can, come up with the melody and lyrics simultaneously. Often I’ll come up with an idea, go and hum or sing it for a while over a mundane task like the washing up or take it for a walk. Then I’ll take it back to the instrument and repeat as many times as necessary. I usually end up keeping only 20% or some of my ideas as I often don’t end up liking them anymore the next day!

Before you turn’d solo, what past musical projects were you involv’d in?
I was the lead-singer in a band called Low Chimes and various iterations of the band prior to that. I played in my friend Pete Roe’s band for a little bit with my Low Chimes band-mates, and sang with a few different bands in my late teens now and again.

You’ve describ’d your debut album, the Keeper, as “forged in the fires of fear and self-doubt”, can you elaborate on that?
I started writing The Keeper as a way of processing the end of the band. Even though it was an amicable break-up, I was really sad about it for some time and missed it a lot. I felt very unsure about branching out on my own and if I’d be good enough. It took a while to build up the confidence to do it, and to find a way of working with the self-doubt and worries still niggling away at me.

What are the key ingredients to your sound?
A mixture of organic and synthetic/electronic sounds, such as nylon guitar and clarinets with lots of synthesizers. A strong beat is very important to me too, and I like a lot of the synth and electric guitar sounds to be gnarly and whacky sounding. We also like to try and make things sound quite warm in general when recording, so we recorded a lot of the instruments through valve amps for the latest record. I’d always record to tape if I could, but it’s a pricey business. One for the future!

Can you tell us about the influence the natural world has on your creativity?
It’s influenced me musically and visually for as long as I can remember. A lot of things come up for me when I’m out in nature. I find it incredibly cathartic which then feeds into my song-writing. I also love that there’s always new magic to be found, flora and fauna to learn about and an endless amount to see and explore. I feel most at home in it.

You also paint the artwork for all your releases, are the visual arts a major part of your soul’s creativity, & if so, why?
Yes definitely. For me they all tie in together as one. The album artworks, for example, are of the key places each album is set. I love to try and bring these to life through working with other creative friends too. My friend Martha Webb made a load of costumes and flags for the second album PLUTO which feature in the video she made for The Stone. It was a really enjoyable experience and one we had a strong joint-vision for. I love trying to bring the songs and worlds to life in as many ways as possible, and visuals to go with the music have always been very important to me.

What is your personal process, from writing a song to recording it in the studio?
Once I’ve written a song in the way I mentioned in answer to an earlier question (which can take anything from a day if I’m very lucky to a few years), I’ll make a demo of it and send it to my friend and producer Rob Pemberton. We’ll then usually have a bit of a back and forth about ideas, parts we’d like to add or take away etc and go through a pre-production process. Then we’ll begin recording and this usually happens in mini sessions here and there over months. For both albums we’ve had other musicians and band-mates come in and play on them too.

You have just released an album called PLUTO, what was the creative impulse that began the project & how did it evolve?
I’d been listening to a lot of early new age music as well as 80’s synth soundtracks – such as those of Joe Hisaishi for the early Studio Ghibli films. I was also listening to a lot of dance and electronic music, and knew I wanted PLUTO to be more synth laden and beat driven, yet keeping some organic/acoustic instrumentation in the mix. I’d also been watching loads of sci-fi such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica so was feeling inspired by space and alternate realms and realities. There ended up being Plutonic themes running throughout the album such as creation and destruction, transformation and renewal – hence the album name. A lot of the album ended up being set on an alternate world also, so the artwork is a snapshot of this planet/world with Pluto nearby.

Any shout-outs for the contributors?
Definitely! Rob Pemberton who I made it with. Alex Heane, Emma Gatrill and Sasha Lewis who played on it. Shawn Joseph at Optimum Mastering who mastered it. My manager Aled Chivers who released it on his label Chiverin. Everyone who’s made the visuals – Martha Webb, Luke Oakley-Smith, Robin Parrish, Ella Webb, Anders Duckworth. My live band Rob, Alex, Lachlan McLellan, and sometimes Charlotte West and Rachael Dadd. Everyone who’s worked on the campaign – Aled, Matthew, Simon, Caitlin and InGrooves. Everyone who’s helped and supported in any way and anyone listening to the music!

You have a tour coming up, can you tell us about it?
Yes! It’s the PLUTO album tour so we’ll mainly be playing songs from that plus a few from The Keeper. The tour begins later in the month and we’ll be doing 13 UK dates in total – 10 in England and 2 in Scotland. It’s my first headline tour with this project so I’m especially excited about it! Tickets are available from my website if you fancy coming to a show!

You’re heading to Edinburgh, where we’ll be attending the show – what’s your experiences of Scotland so far?
Ah great! Look forward to seeing you there. I’ve always loved visiting Scotland. I absolutely love the nature and the mountains and I’ve always enjoyed visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh. We played in Scotland a bit when I was in Low Chimes and also recorded our first EP at a studio in a beautiful spot near Fort William, all which I have fond memories of. I’d love to spend some time exploring more of the nature and hiking.

How is the rest of 2023 looking on all fronts?
It’s looking exciting at the moment! I’m going to focus on writing the next album and working hard to save money to record it – I work on a natural horsemanship yard and regenerative agriculture project, so I’ll be there for a good portion of the year. I also want to learn more about trees so will hopefully be doing a lot of reading. As well as getting to know synthesizers better and trying to improve my guitar playing. I’d also like to try and see more of my friends, do more DIY at home and hopefully some mini camping trips!