> Gillian Fleetwood: Together With Yourself at Sea Level (Track-by-Track Interview) - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Gillian Fleetwood: Together With Yourself at Sea Level (Track-by-Track Interview)

The Scottish music scene is as much about traditional elements, fantastic musicians, quirky stories and finding your own space as it is about the bangers, belters, booze and bands in the Barrowlands Ballroom. We love all the different sounds and styles taking place right now, and we’ve long been fans of the hugely talented Gillian Fleetwood.

Given we’ve already spoke at great length with Gill during the recording and fund-raising process for Together With Yourself at Sea Level, we thought we’d do something different for the release of the record. This is why we caught up with Gill for a track-by-track walkthrough, to find out the inspiration and some behind the scenes insight to the record.

1: Drawing Room

The drawing room ceiling in Hospitalfield House is entirely made of carved wooden panels, all of individual flora and fauna local to the area. I have spent hours staring at the exquisite panels, thinking about time, nature and how small yet powerful we can be to create beautiful things when we put the work in.

Sections of this piece bring images of a foggy night at sea to me, and Mikey Owers’ bass trombone booms like the most beautiful foghorn.

2: For The Love In Glenbuchat

This is an ode to friendship and platonic love. 

3: Walnut Waltz

I wrote the instrumental part a good few years ago, but added the song section for the recording of the album. In my mind this reflects the feeling of bobbing along in a little boat and is about escapism, love and how music carries us. 

Drummer Tim Lane plays an instrument called a Tongue Drum, which sounds here like a kind of marimba warble. I absolutely love the texture of the tongue drum and the harp together; it makes me really happy. 

4: Because Sometimes Joy is an Act of Defiance

And sometimes that joy is the most powerful weapon we have. 

I wanted to lean into the woody sounds of the harp but also to build a world that would allow the brass to soar above and bring joy to anyone who needs it.

5: Dining Room

Cellist Suz Appelbe has the most glorious roar when she digs in on the ‘cello and I wanted to write something that gave listeners (and myself) a moment to just move with the music and let Suz guide them through the spacious intro to this piece. She’s awesome. 

The dining room is another of the stunning historical rooms in Hospitalfield. It’s really unlike any other environment I have ever had the good fortune to experience, let alone sit and work in. 

When we were recording the album in the house, we were given free rein to use the house and collection as we needed. I am so grateful that they trusted us, and also that I was working with such sensitive, careful people who I also trusted. Engineer Iain Hutchison from Glo-worm in Glasgow is such an intelligent audiophile. He got really excited about how we could capture the different sounds of the rooms, to put the instruments in a real space. I think this piece is one where you can really hear his work. C Duncan was also then able to bring his own sensitive touch to the production. Iain and C Duncan turned out to be a fantastic pairing. 

6: Cedar

The cedar room at Hospitalfield has an exquisite smell. The aroma of centuries old cedar wood panelling fills the room with reassurance and to me, is really comforting. 

Cedar is used as protection from moths, so a cedar chest was traditionally used for keeping precious items safe. I wrote the first theme and the chordal passage you hear in the cedar room at Hospitalfield and then developed the song later. This is a really personal song about moving into a new chapter of your life, but enduring trauma to get there. It explores my relationship with my challenging health circumstances and I kept returning to this theme throughout difficult times and it brought an implicit reassurance. I hope it brings you some comfort if you ever need it. 

7: The Shell Grows

This is the next movement of the Cedar piece, and aims to bring a spacious, impressionistic feel.  It’s harmonically unlike anything I’d done before and I’m really proud of this. It’s the only fully solo moment on the album, a reflection of where I was personally at this time too. Solitude is sometimes difficult but usually important. 

8: The Bathtubs/Freya 

This is the final section of this chapter of the album and is joyful, simple and celebratory. 

The first tune is about the happiness of being submerged in water, be that in a lovely deep bathtub or a clear, calm loch. This is a simple, merry tune in 5/8 about happiness. 

The 2nd tune is for Freya, the first of the grandchildren born in our family. This is a celebration and I wanted to include it as the birth of a new generation felt like a really important marker of time. The music is partly about our place in history and looking forward is an important part of the picture.

9: Monkey Puzzle

This is an old composition of mine, but I included it as there are a number of beautiful Monkey Puzzle trees in the grounds of Hospitalfield House, and I love trees.

Being surrounded by trees is a feeling that makes me feel so secure and content, and while there is tension in this mixed-meter piece, it does feel like a conversation you’d have with yourself when chewing on a problem.  

Producer C Duncan, who’s best known as a song-writer but he had a lot of fun adding the soundscapes elements here. I hadn’t realised he’d been working on it, but he sent it over for fun and I loved what he added. A really fun collaboration. He’s the best. 

10: Cold Water

I love cold water. Jumping in a river, loch or the sea is truly invigorating and life-affirming to me. 

One of the things I love is how your perception changes when you’re down at that level and seeing land from the water. Something about the change of scale really brings me wonder and perspective. 

The piece is a meditation, with the first half loosely based on the style of an old pibroch, but Tim Lane’s drums and Martin Henry’s additional sounds made this really swagger.  

11: John Macleod’s Marching Past

I wrote this while thinking about a life well lived and the passing of the previous generation.  John MacLeod was married to my grandmother and they had been teenage sweethearts who reunited in their seventies! They were a wonderful couple, but they used to argue about whether the plough on my grandmother’s farm had been horse drawn or mechanical and it was amazing for me to hear about how farm life had been for them in their youth in Caithness. Their lives were so incredibly different from ours today, and I am so glad I was able to have these conversations about time and change with them. 

I decided to record this in a full take as an improvisation by myself and incredible fiddler Laura Wilkie on the fiddle. She is so emotionally responsive and I adore playing like this with her.

12: We’re All Cheering You On, Finn / The Fantastic, Plantastic Corrina Hewat. 

For my wee son. When we were going through the difficult process of trying to recover from his birth and we were both pretty worse for wear, a good friend said to me “in the dark in the nighttime, when it all feels really hard, imagine us all quietly in the corner of the room cheering him on.”

As a person living with chronic illness, I had been shielding very carefully throughout much of the early covid times. We hadn’t been able to see our friends or family in person for months at this point, except at a distance outdoors, so this image: which really is quite surreal and funny: both tickled and heartened me. 

It segues into a tune I wrote for my harp teacher, Corrina. She’s a force of nature and was my teacher through most of my formative years. I’m so grateful to her. 

13: For the Love, Reprise 

A quiet closing moment to send the listener on their way with a recap on the importance of friendship. 

Fun fact: The choir here is all C Duncan. Loads of him! His vocal range is huge and his voice is gorgeous. He’d forgotten he had recorded this beautiful choir as an option to use behind the main piece but I saw it on his computer in one of our production sessions and while it didn’t work in the original piece it was too gorgeous to leave unused so we added my vocal and it serves to tie the whole piece together beautifully, I reckon! 

Thanks so much to anyone who’s listened to the album or supported the making in any way. 

I’m so grateful to C Duncan, Iain Hutchison, Tim Lane, Mikey Owers, Laura Wilkie and Suz Appelbe for all they added. They are all hugely creative and wonderful and you should check out their work! 

Gigantic thanks to Creative Scotland for their support. It has allowed me to work to my own time-scale and around my own health adjustments, and to support everyone else on the project too. 

Together With Yourself at Sea Level is released 31st January and Gill Fleetwood plays Drygate on 4th February, as part of the Celtic Connections festival.


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