The Isle is full of noises...
Music and creativity on the Isles of Scilly
The word 'blog' is not pleasing. It sounds like someone being sick. (Blogging’s sadistic video cousin - 'Vlogging' - is a similarly grim coinage, prompting filmic images in the mind's eye of futuristic dystopian pistol-whipping robots taking revenge on the entire whimpering human race.) I shan't be vlogging anything in the near future, but blogging I have decided to make peace with in an effort to share with you the extraordinarily vibrant music and poetry inspired by a few tiny specks of granite and sand in the wide Atlantic.
I will be blogging up a fortnightly series of articles and posts dedicated to the Isles of Scilly and the creativity that the islands inspire. Scilly is an extraordinary place - that much is a commonplace. The loyal band of regular visitors who return each year, like migrating swallows heading south on instinct, know this absolutely. The islands attract extraordinary people - navigating towards a place that is beyond the horizon; a place that is remote, beautiful and other-worldly; a place inhabited (and visited) by the independent, the creative and the soulful. A place that is, above all, cool.
It is, of course, a place that inspires, and my articles will take a look at those who are inspired by Scilly (including myself) and why it is that the place is so resonant. Music and poetry will be the focus (though I suspect I will inevitably get sidetracked into talking about food, dry stone walling or spoon whittling amongst other important things). But then, creativity on Scilly is a wide brief. People who have lived here have always been creative in the broadest sense, from the Bronze Age builders of remarkable stone structures, to the modern chef turning pristine shellfish into beautiful platefuls. Often, Scilly’s inhabitants have had to imagine, adapt and innovate in order simply to survive. Barely subsisting on a diet of limpets? What about burning kelp to produce chemicals for the glass industry? Or pilotage - we have the finest seamen in the country to guide your ships through these treacherous waters and beyond - that will provide a good living (particularly if combined with the odd moonlit trip to France to pick up contraband brandy). Pilots no longer so vital in a modernising maritime world? What about shipbuilding? Or we could try sending a few early narcissi to Covent Garden to see what happens… well that worked. Hitherto-successful flower farming industry in decline due to foreign competition? Let’s diversify: let’s grow grapes and make wine instead to sell to the growing tribe of Scilly-smitten visitors. Or beer. Or artisanal gin. Or fudge, chocolate, ice cream, beautiful canvas bags, essential oils, fine ceramics, art, silver jewellery or magazines. Or sea salt, textiles, cult clothing, greetings cards or soap . Or even music…
So here is a recording of the very first morsel that I was inspired to write by the nagging Scilly muse. It’s called Church on the Beach and describes Periglis Church on the tiny island of St Agnes, where the interrelationship between sea and man is most obvious. The deadly Western Rocks seem only a stone's throw from the clear light windows. The bank above which the church is built is frequently breached at the top of stormy spring tides, endangering the boats pulled up alongside the church wall and threatening the small stone cottages nearby. The graves in the churchyard and the plaques on the walls inside the church speak movingly of lives lost at sea; often lost in the attempt to save the lives of others.
Church on the beach; graves in the grasses;
Plaques on the wall; centuries of losses -
The names of men who put to sea
In wind and storm, now in the lee...
Of the church on the beach
Where the sea reaches everyone we love;
Of the church on the beach
Where the sea breaches everything we have.
Sailors and sons; heroes and lovers;
Houses of grief; islands of mothers
Whose pain is etched in brass and stone -
A name, a date: so much is shown...
In the church on the beach
Clear light glass; seabirds calling;
Waves on the sand; rising and falling.
It's still the same - the tithes are paid.
It costs the same when men are laid...
By the church on the beach
This was just the beginning for me… Since then, I have recorded ten albums of music and words inspired by Scilly and I have collaborated with many musicians - from Scilly and from much further afield - with the shared aim of trying accurately to represent and celebrate the place in sound. The isle is indeed full of noises.
Shakespeare, as far as we know, never visited Scilly, but he did have a thing about islands:
Be not afeard, the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That if I then had wak'd after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again, and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I wak'd
I cried to dream again.
The Tempest (W. Shakespeare)
I wonder what Shakespeare would have blogged/vlogged about…
Author - Piers Lewin
I am a musician and writer living on the Isles of Scilly. These articles and posts explore music, poetry and creativity inspired by the landscape and culture of the islands.