Recording projects present very individual challenges. In 1995, for example, I was asked to record and arrange a cassette of pre-school songs in Gaelic, a language I know little about. But thanks to two wonderful singers - Ellen Jack and Donald MacAskill - Am Bodach Beag (the Funny Little Man) became a great hit with the Highlands and Islands playgroups. The brief for Out of the Stones, commissioned by Orkney Islands Council in 2005, was to make a CD of the kinds of music that could have been heard on Orkney over a 5000 year period. Bill Taylor, my collaborator, and I gathered an army of musicians from as far away as Slovenia, playing instruments as diverse as bull-roarers, triple pipes, and bowed lyre. The CD launched with a concert in St Magnus Cathedral.
The music I composed for Ken Loach's 1976 children's film Black Jack, based on the historical novel by Leon Garfield, was scored for just three players - penny whistle, viola, and hurdy gurdy. I improvised some sequences live on the penny whistle, while a rough cut of the film played on a huge screen in Anvil Studios, where the Star Wars score had been recorded. One of my tasks was to gather together musicians and singers who would perform live in the film (which featured a travelling fair). Among them was Packie Byrne of Donegal, who was a great favourite with folk club audiences. The film was beset with disasters: the most expensive day's filming - the procession to the Tyburn tree with a cast of hundreds - was wiped out by torrential rain; halfway through filming the money ran out, and catering transformed overnight from smoked salmon to egg sandwiches. But what a privilege to work with one of my favourite film directors, and the celebrated lighting cameraman Chris Menges, on a strange little film that's slowly coming into its own.
Working with other performers has always been interesting... sometimes terrifying, but mostly rewarding. A stint in Basildon in 1974, in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, illuminated rep theatre life like little else could. Taking part in Charivari's production of The Shipbuilder, at Whitby Folk Week in 1984, I was able to work with professional dancers and some of the best musicians on the folk scene, before an audience of thousands. Storm was a community music drama staged by Ross and Cromarty Council in late summer 1995. I devised the scenario - a 20th century take on the traditional story of the man who steals a selkie woman's skin - and wrote the songs for a group of more than twenty singers and musicians. We presented the show over five nights in Cromarty. After the final curtain call there was just enough time to grab a pint in the Royal Hotel before the ferry carried us across the water to our homes on the Nigg Peninsula, as the sun set over the Cromarty Firth.
Sounding Dunadd was a sequence of four events which I devised for Kilmartin House Museum in Argyll, among the greatest concentration of prehistoric tombs and standing stones in mainland Scotland. The first, in May 2013, was a story walk along the glen to Dunadd hill fort with botanist Patsy Dyer. In June, Kilmartin Glassary Church was host to an evening of songs, stories and music about Travellers, featuring Mod Gold Medallist Joy Dunlop, clarsair Bill Taylor, children from the local school, and a specially convened choir performing songs by Sydney Carter and storyteller Duncan Williamson. September saw an outdoor drama based on the terrifyingly gruesome folk tale The Hobyahs, performed by the children of Kilmartin Primary School in the ruins of Carnasserie Castle. In the final event, Twilight at Temple Wood, we took a crepuscular ramble around the ancient stones, while I told the story of The Magic Monster Bear. There were drummers, banners, a choir and fire juggling, and finally a feast in Kilmartin House.