The Scotsman Sessions #4: Karine Polwart

For almost 20 years, Karine Polwart has been a key figure on the Scottish traditional music scene; award-winning songwriter, musician, storyteller, and even a published essayist. In 2016, though, she turned her hand to the creation of her first solo theatre show, co-produced with the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh for that year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Wind Resistance – which was scheduled to return to the Lyceum stage this week, before all performances were cancelled – is a magnificent cycle of songs co-written by Polwart with the composer and sound designer Pippa Murphy, and linked by a narrative that resonates with a series of linked themes so profound, and so vital to the times we live in, that it often brings audience members to tears.

Karine Polwart lives in the Midlothian village of Pathhead, and loves the local landscape – including Fala moor, where she once lived in an old farm cottage – with a rare combination of curiosity, passion and profound knowledge. Wind Resistance tells the story of Will and Roberta Syme, the long-dead parents of Polwart’s old Fala neighbour Molly Kristensen; a couple who married just after the First World War, when Will returned to Fala, and whose marriage ended less than a year later with Roberta’s tragic death in childbirth.

Around this spine of narrative, though, Polwart weaves a whole range of other themes and stories, ranging from the difficult birth of her own first child, to her constant reflection on the power and beauty of the moor’s natural environment and wildlife, mirrored in this short video. Her narrative and songs encompass thoughts about war and peace, pain and healing, disco-dancing and football, and the often untold stories of women’s reproductive lives; when Polwart took this show to the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2017, women queued to talk to her afterwards about mothers, aunts and sisters long since lost in childbirth, and often mourned only in hushed whispers, because of the circumstances of their deaths.

Time and again, though, the imagery of Wind Resistance returns to our increasingly precarious relationship with the natural world that still lies so close to us, in this case just 15 miles south of Scotland’s capital city; and in particular to the idea of the skein of geese flying over Polwart’s house, on their autumn return to Fala from the north. For Polwart, the almost miraculous co-ordinated power of their flight is a defining image of the interdependence that binds human beings together in community, and also binds us into the natural world. There is an irony in the cancellation of performances of Wind Resistance because of a crisis that will place such untold pressure on the National Health Service, to which Polwart knows she – and all of us – owe so much. Yet there’s also a rich fulfilment of this show’s purpose; to remind us that we cannot and do not live alone; and that the institutions which best reflect our deep connection to the rest of humanity, are the ones which will save our lives.

The album of the show, A Pocket Of Wind Resistance, is available for purchase online at Until the end of June 2020, all income from digital sales of the album will be used to support Midlothian Food Bank. Karine Polwart is also currently supporting the Help Musicians UK fund, at

Listen to Karine’s session at: The Scotsman Sessions #4: Karine Polwart


The Hobbledehoy love Karine Polwart’s music

Birding in a Dangerous Time

How to mostly stay home, but still partake in a spectacular spring migration.

While the deadly coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the globe, a much different wave is sweeping through our backyards almost unnoticed — one that offers much-needed inspiration and emotional relief during troubled times.

The annual northward spring migration of birds is underway, providing citizens with not just a distraction from the ho-hum of self-isolation, but an opportunity to experience one of the greatest natural wonders on Earth without even leaving the house.

“This migration — birds coming from distant countries — can open your eyes to another world, something entirely foreign,” says Rob Butler, a B.C. bird expert, author and former federal research scientist. “Most people are completely oblivious to it.”

According to the National Audubon Society, at least a billion birds migrate annually along the Pacific Flyway — a route that follows the west side of the Americas and crosses a vast range of habitats from the tropics to the Arctic. Continue reading

Edinburgh festivals cancelled for 2020

Edinburgh’s August festivals have been scrapped for 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent global cultural shutdown. The festivals – which bring hundreds of thousands of artists, performers and audience members to the city every August – have pulled the plug on this year’s events after weeks of speculation over whether or not they would go ahead.

In a statement on their website, the Edinburgh Fringe Society’s Shona McCarthy said: “Today’s decision that the Fringe will not go ahead as planned was not taken lightly. We have spent the past month listening to a broad cross-section of Fringe participants, as well as to government, healthcare professionals, residents and many more; however, in light of present circumstances it was unavoidable. Public health must and always will come first.”

Artists who have already applied to perform at the Fringe will receive a full refund of their registration fee or the option to roll it over for 2021. Ticket-holders who have purchased tickets for 2020 shows, many of which have been on sale for weeks, will be refunded. [ . . . ]

Source: The Skinny

The Ballad of Shirley Collins Now Streaming

FIRE FILMS announce feature documentary THE BALLAD OF SHIRLEY COLLINS about the iconic English singer is now streaming for the first time via Vimeo on Demand, including the first-ever digital release of a host of bonus materials.


  • Audio commentary version of the film with Shirley Collins in discussion with the directors Tim Plester and Rob Curry
  • Featurette telling the story of Shirley’s secret comeback show at the Union Chapel in 2014. Includes the full footage of the show itself.
  • Behind the scenes film exploring the making of the film’s mesmerising reconstruction footage.
  • Field recordings of Sam Amidon and Elle Osborne playing songs they learned from Shirley Collins 

The singer who lost her voice.

Having been an indelible presence in the English folk scene for more than 20 years, Shirley Collins was until recently remembered predominantly for losing her voice in mysterious circumstances in the 1980s. This film explores [ . . . ] Continue reading

My eagle-eyed winter wander around the Isle of Wight

The island isn’t only for summer holidays: the colder months are perfect for birding and walks along trails that will form part of the England Coast Path

The Isle of Wight is having a moment. That’s what conservationist Dave Fairlamb tells me as we eat homemade cake on a silver-grey afternoon, watching meadow pipits above Newtown’s salt marshes.

“From a nature perspective,” he says, “everything’s converging.”

Dave has just launched Natural Links, offering birdwatching breaks and courses on the island, which has been focusing on its natural assets in the past year. Two Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust projects – the Wilder strategy and Secrets of the Solent – launched in 2019; Visit Isle of Wight published a Slow Travel Guide; and the whole island was awarded Unesco Biosphere status. Last summer also saw the start of a white-tailed eagle reintroduction project, with six birds released on the island’s north coast.

We see no eagles but as we stroll along the harbour we spot a swirl of dunlins – “about 600,” Dave estimates in an instant – and thrill to a fly-by of overwintering Brent geese, [ . . . ] Continue reading