Sometimes art calls for a response. And when Phillip Jon Taylor’s Wish Fulfillment Press published a pamphlet of poetry from high school – and lifelong – friend David Ross Linklater, it stirred within him a desire to create. The result is Star Muck Bourach: Linklater’s words spoken in his own voice and set to a musical score written and performed by Taylor.
An earthy, ambient collection, it is a unique showcase of both artists’ talents and a transportive experience that conjures the beauty and brutality of the natural world and our often insignificant place within it.
Following its release, SNACK spoke with David Ross Linklater about the project and its origins.
There is a real sense of place to Star Muck Bourach. Where were you when you wrote these poems?
Many were the product of lockdown, which informed much of the work; feeling so stationary and needing to escape from that. I was missing home terribly, so I wrote to feel closer to it. They’re mostly all about where I’m from, Easter Ross. ‘House by the Divine’ was started at my Granny’s home after a visit there, but the majority were written in Glasgow. I’d hope that anyone reading feels like they could be anywhere there’s farmland or shoreline, as they aren’t anchored to one place in that sense. I’d want people to picture somewhere that means something to them personally.
Does your poetry help you to keep memories alive?
I’m a nostalgia addict. I like to explore the past, give it life and meaning or bring to the surface a new way of seeing things. It’s a way of capturing something that’s gone; paying tribute to a moment, conversation or person. The past is a very deep well, so there’s plenty of writing to be taken from it.
How did the collaboration with Phillip Jon Taylor come about?
We went to high school together, Tain Royal Academy, and were both in the school football team. I can mind the day we decided to tell our PE teacher we were quitting the football team to spend more time skating. He was gutted and said we were throwing away our talent. He was probably right, but we didn’t care. Skating was the thing.
Over the years, we’ve both been supportive of each other’s work – Phil’s had me in some zines he’s done and I’ve always loved his music. Then in 2019, he asked me to contribute to the PAWS album Your Church On My Bonfire. I wrote a piece for the last song on the album and went to the studio to record it with them. It was the first time I had heard my words back with musical accompaniment, and it felt like we really worked well together.
When Phil started Wish Fulfillment Press it felt like the obvious next step, publishing a pamphlet together. Once we saw that come together, with themes that we both relate to, centred around the area we both call home, we knew we wanted to create an album with it.
Do your words take on a new life when read out loud/accompanied by music?
I’ve always liked recording my own work – I find out a lot about a poem when reading it aloud, or hearing it back – some things I might miss just reading it. It’s all part of the process.
When put to music, they feel more alive, more fully realised. Phil has caught the feeling of the place so well. It’s a shared experience we’ve had growing up that comes through in this album, I think – a love letter to home. When I first heard the score, my partner and I were lying on the bed listening to it. We were both really moved by it. He’s captured the nuances and subtleties of the words so well but has also added more depth to them.
When you write, do you ever have music or songs in your mind, like a soundtrack of sorts?
I almost never write without music, so in that sense, yes. I go through phases of getting into a band or artist and only listening to them for days, weeks, months, et cetera until it fizzles out and I move on to another. Then in time I’ll end up back on that same artist – it’s a cycle. It must be maddening to live with, hearing the same song 300 times a week. My partner says that if she hears ‘Fire on the Mountain’ one more time she’s locking me out. But aye, music certainly inspires me hugely, in not only my writing but my life.
I listened to a lot of soundscape and instrumental stuff when writing these poems, like Joanna Brouk, Jon Hassell or Boards of Canada. But I also had on repeat the likes of Buffalo Springfield, Townes Van Zandt and Sandy Denny, around that time. The pamphlet isn’t necessarily inspired by it, but music generally puts me in the right mindset for being creative.
Has Phillip Jon Taylor’s score unearthed anything about your work that you hadn’t been aware of before?
It’s been awesome to hear Phil responding to the work musically, and hearing his interpretation of each poem. The way he shades certain lines and images and generally how it’s come out in the music lets me see what has resonated with him. It’s confirmed to me that I’d love to explore more by combining music and poetry, two of the great loves of my life.
I’ve realised too how each poem can be summarised by a feeling or ambience. Phil’s done something great in being able to capture that in the music. You could listen to the score without the words and still take away some of the main themes of the pamphlet.
It makes it more accessible for people who might not necessarily pick up the pamphlet. Music reaches right in and grabs you. Poetry can be more of a slow burn. Phil’s work means that people who find poetry doesn’t connect with them right away can get an idea of the overall pamphlet through the music.
If you could describe your favourite thing that Phil’s music has captured about the collection, what would that be?
He’s given the nature of it more of a voice. You can really hear the waves and the wind of the place, smell the smoke of the fire, and see the countryside; something visceral. With his music, Star Muck Bourach is more emotive, atmospheric and fully realised. Honestly, when I listen to it, it just feels right, something we can be really proud of.
Star Muck Bourach is out now via Wish Fulfillment Press