Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews musician and composer Freeland Barbour before his visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 1.
“I always wanted to play,” says Freeland Barbour of his introduction to Scottish music. “Though I had piano lessons from age five to about 14, it was the accordion that took my fancy, goodness knows why. Maybe I liked its dissonance!”
The hugely successful multi-instrumentalist – who has founded two cèilidh bands, been a member of four, held the role of music producer with BBC Radio Scotland, and was the first accordion tutor on the traditional music degree at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – will be at the Skye Book Festival on September 1st to discuss his latest project, The Music and the Land.
“The books are huge!” says Freeland of the two-volume work, published by Birlinn, which reaches more than 700 pages. “About 35 years ago I had the idea to link tunes that I had written with photographs of the places that had inspired me to write them.” To do that, he enlisted the help of two photographers, Robin Gillanders from Edinburgh, and Cailean Maclean from Skye, who will be chairing the event at the Aros Centre.
The books are divided into geographical chapters, with introductions from well-known figures in the Scottish music world, including the likes of Dougie Maclean, Phil Cunningham, and Runrig’s Calum Macdonald. “I feel so lucky to have so many talented folk make a contribution to my efforts,” says Freeland.
In Scotland, the music and the land are inextricably linked – a link alluded to in the work’s title. As Freeland explains, “Traditional or folk music generally relates to the topography that it has sprung from, and because Scotland has such a varied landscape, we have quite a large range of style relating to these various landscapes.”
In fact, it was the view from Glen Fincastle of the hills above Blair Atholl, on a clear summer’s evening, that inspired the initial idea that became The Music and the Land. “I wrote a melody, and thought it would be good to have a picture of the scene as well, for those who would not be familiar with it.” With that, the motion for the books was set in place.
For the photography in the books, Freeland said he “was keen that we showed aspects of the countryside that perhaps don’t make it onto calendars and postcards, and I’m pleased with the results… I knew Cailean would straight away understand the link I was trying to reinforce, and of course he did. I armed him with a list of possible places and people, and what he came back with is, I think, stunning.”
“I think it’s fantastic that Skye has its own book festival,” continues Freeland. “It’s terrific to see cultural variety all over the land, and book festivals have a big part to play.” At the Skye Book Festival, Cailean, whose photographs will be on show during the session, will be joining Freeland in discussion. And as Freeland reveals, “I’ll play a tune or two as well, and there’ll be a few reminisces I’m sure, and one or two faintly humorous tales perhaps!”