The evacuation of the remote Hebridian archipelago of St Kilda in 1930, due to hunger, illness and a failure of an old way of life to survive in the new, is one of the defining moments in modern British history.
It has also been a perfect tale for artists, with the director Michael Powell’s superb 1937 film Edge of The World perhaps best depicting the visual horrors and splendour of this battered island. Now we have an aural record to match Powell’s film thanks to folk musician Alasdair Roberts and the poet Robin Robertson.
Their album is a perfect marriage of Robertson’s rhythmic, harsh descriptions of the landscape and Robert’s atmospheric music and thickly accented vocals that ooze history and sadness.
Roberts also takes a turn on vocals, reciting Leaving St Kilda and Well of Youth with backing from harpist Corinna Hewat. Of these the nine minute long Leaving St Kilda is the most powerful and the highlight of the album, coming across like a haunting Tolkien-esque version of BBC Radio 4’s The Shipping Forecast. The music is deliberately kept to the back ground on this track to let Robertson’s superb poetry tell its story.
Robert’s music also really shines through, particularly on the traditional sounding Farewell To The Fowler, which has a medieval feel to it showing the extent of the history that the last inhabitants of St Kilda left behind
The whole album is a stunning piece of work about a little known but important part of British history when a traditional society relented in its battle with the elements and the modern world at the edge of the world. Listening to Roberts and Robertson’s evocative portrayal of its harsh, jagged landscape it shows how their choice was inevitable.
by Joe Lepper