Six Hundred and Thirty-Five Days

This is a great story and album, as told by the project coordinator, Ann Marie Firth-Bernard:

“The first lockdown of 2020, and the Coigach Community Development Company invited eight brilliant Scottish musicians to collaborate on new work inspired by the people and landscapes of the neighbouring parishes of Coigach and Assynt, on the northwest coast of Scotland. Finally, after the repeated social gathering and travel restrictions of the pandemic, everyone was able to meet in Achiltibuie in May 2021. Many months had passed since people from different households had played music together so this was a first chance to do just that: it was wonderful to hear the threads of fiddle, accordion, harp, pipes and double bass weaving together again in the resonant foyer of the Coigach Community Hall. Over the next few days, the musicians and filmmaker, Jess Phillimore, were introduced to local people and places on a series of walks through Coigach and Assynt’s landscapes, learning about topics ranging from salmon fishing and traditional crofting methods to three-billion-year-old rock formations, native tree-planting and renewable energy production.

July, and the group met up in Inverness to share compositions they had been working on individually and to start experimenting with arrangements, and in September they all came back to Achiltibuie. During this residency week members of the community were invited to join Kathleen and Quee, along with local geologists, on a walk and talk event down the Acheninver Burn, marred only by an accompanying plague of midgies! On the shore, looking out to the Summer Isles, Kathleen taught everyone a Gaelic song, and Quee and Kathleen gave the world premiere performance of ‘Sea May Rise’ outside the hostel.

Covid stopped play for a while, so it wasn’t until November 2022 that everyone could gather again in Achiltibuie. During the week, the collective focused on recording the album, and local singers were invited to a workshop during which they were recorded for Sea May Rise and Cadal Cha Deàn Mi: you can hear them in the choruses on the album! One evening, there was an open music session held in the cosy surroundings of the Bothan on Badentarbet Pier, and the communities were invited to a sharing event at the hall on the last day, to hear the new compositions and to watch Jess’s film, The Many Ways of Water.

And the title, Six Hundred and Thirty-Five Days? That’s how long it took to create this album, from that first gathering in May 2021 to the final mastering. The project was wonderful to be a part of and the music produced is a beautiful tribute to the landscapes and people of Coigach and Assynt.”

The Coigach and Assynt Collective

Mairearad Green was introduced to traditional music at an early age. She is a fluent accordion and bagpipe player and is renowned as a composer.

Charlie Grey is a gifted Highland fiddle player with an unmistakable lyrical style. He and Joseph Peach have produced a series of improvisations on Gaelic melodies.

Quee MacArthur has written and played bass in Shooglenifty and has composed for many dance and theatre productions since the 1990s.

Kathleen MacInnes is a Gaelic-speaking native of South Uist with a rich voice described by a Guardian critic as being reminiscent of “peat smoke and good whisky”.

Graham Mackenzie is an award-winning violinist, composer and music tutor from Inverness who performs with various bands.

Rachel Newton is a singer, harpist and fiddle player who interprets traditional English and Gaelic songs and texts alongside her own compositions.

Joseph Peach is a freelance composer, instrumentalist, recording engineer and producer. His work explores intersections between folk and traditional music.

Ross Whyte is a hugely versatile composer, sound artist and arranger, working across different disciplines, from dance, theatre and film to Gaelic electronica and mixed choir.

Project Team:
Ann Marie Firth-Bernard, Susan Christie, Julia Campbell and Abigail Anne Campbell

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