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Sunday, 8 April 2012

Orkney: Symphony of The Magnetic North

I often get emails from folk asking me to promote things on my blog and so far I have refused. But a request from Heather Steele of Full Time Hobby Records this week touched a chord (no pun intended). She was inviting me to write about a group with links to Orkney called The Magnetic North and their new album.  I'd already come across one of the tracks via Facebook but hadn't been able to upload it here. So this seemed serendipitous.

Below is some info from the press release and at the bottom is a link to the album which you can hear in it's entirity online via soundcloud.

The Magnetic North
Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North
New album featuring Erland Cooper, Hannah Peel and Simon Tong

“When someone comes to you in a dream and tells you to make an album about your homeland – the Orkney islands – would you disregard it? Especially when that someone is Betty Corrigall, the Orcadian girl who in the 1770's killed herself having been cast out by her village after becoming pregnant by a visiting sailor?”

Well, would you? In January 2011, it was the spark that led Orcadian singer-songwriter Erland Cooper to group together his Erland & The Carnival band mate Simon Tong and singer and orchestral arranger Hannah Peel (of last year’s solo The Broken Wave album) to form a new group, The Magnetic North, with a distinct purpose: the recording of Orkney: Symphony Of The Magnetic North, a new album due for release on May 7 through Full Time Hobby.

Betty Corrigall was quite specific, handing Cooper a list of track names based on places in Orkney – Rackwick and Warbeth beaches, sea port Stromness, the rock formation Old Man of Hoy – and even playing him some snippets from the finished album. “It seemed he had no choice but to follow orders and make the record,” says Tong.

The resulting project took Cooper, Peel and Tong from South London to the far, far north, the Orkney Islands themselves. Setting up a portable studio in the living room of Erland's parents’ old house on the Stromness harbour front, they wrote and recorded songs overlooking the forbidding Atlantic Ocean. At the Hoy Kirk they recorded with the Stromabank Pub Choir, which comprises almost half of the Isle Of Hoy’s population, and Cooper recorded vocals in The Dwarfie Stane, a huge neolithic rock on Hoy with a person-sized chamber hollowed out inside. “A crazy English spy and soldier called Guilemus Mounsey stayed a few nights there alone in the 19th century and went loopy,” says Cooper. “He carved his thoughts in Persian on the walls of the chamber.”

Immersing themselves in Orcadian folklore, poetry and geography, the trio were guided by a 1930s book titled Orkney: The Magnetic North, which seemed to lend itself perfectly to the album’s title.

Back in London, The Magnetic North recorded with another Orcadian, Kevin McKormack (aka Half Cousin) on the closing track of the album ‘Yesnaby’ – named after one of the highest cliffs in the British Isles where many a tortured soul has leapt to their deaths. “We have endeavoured to serve Betty and tried to produce the record that she had in mind to the best of our ability,” say the trio. “We hope she is pleased.”

It’s a beautiful, sweeping, haunting album that evokes the near-alien landscape of the Orkney Isles with drama and delicacy. We have a feeling Betty Corrigall would be delighted."

Watch the video for the band’s debut single ‘Rackwick’ here:

View the video for ‘Bay Of Skaill’ here: and available to download for free via ‘liking’ the band’s Facebook page:

The Magnetic North UK tour dates:
May 23 – London, Wilton’s Music Hall
June 28 – Orkney, St. Magnus International Festival


  1. Having today returned with heavy heart from eight days in a bungalow on Stenness Hill to the grim inevitability of East Lancashire, I have just watched the videos for 'Bay of Skaill' (where we walked on Monday) and 'Rackwick'(where I saw a silver sea twice on Wednesday).I have to say I was deeply moved by these songs and films. Both seem to me to utterly capture the essence of this extraordinary place.
    I fell in love with the idea of Orkney when I read Greenvoe at University 30 years ago- finally had the chance to go for the first time last Easter- came back in Summer and our fortnight in August will be our fourth trip to Orkney in fifteen months.It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, felt, heard , smelt. It is my Eden. I'm lucky that my wife and daughter also seem to 'get' it. So seeing these beautiful films and songs on the day of our return deeply touched me.

    carterbrandon lancashire

    1. i'm so glad you enjoyed these clips. Orkney has a way of seeping into your soul...... Hope you get many more visits to Orkney. "Drop by" Graemsay next visit if you have time :-)

    2. Now heard the whole album. I find it unbelievable that this wonderful music exists. My prediction is it will be regarded in thirty years as one of the best ever albums of any genre which makes an attempt to convey the 'feel' (as opposed to the sound and sights) of a particular place. Having spent the Wednesday before we left making our first visit to Hoy, we spent all too brief moments at the Dwarfie Stane - the drive and walk to this place are unlike anything I have ever 'felt', and Hoy Kirk where there's an extraordinary archive and an Old Man of Hoy exhibition, we 'saw' Rackwick ( a 30 year ambition- I need to spend more time there- I mean 'need' as well!!)- I applaud Erland Cooper and his band on making these places become 'felt' again- at least in our house!!

      While I'm on Sian , my wife, daughter and I have been seriously considering the move to Orkney since our last summer visit. We are both A level Psychology teachers- evangelical passionate ones mind- but Psychology is more an obsession with young people in England as opposed to an option (as it is, more sensibly perhaps, here). Frankly we would stack shelves, host soirees at Skara Brae, do whatever it took if for one minute we thought we could move to Orkney. I've been head of dept for seven years at a large FE college, both wife and I have 17 years experience in total.She also is currently SENCO at private girls GS in Lancashire- while I am also a senior examiner. Had warning in November when I became ill - 3 month breakdown- but back now and well.
      We have a house to sell- we could raise about 35k in total inc house and savings. Ali wants to wait till we've got definite job to go to, I'm prepared to take the risk -rent for a year to find things or things to generate income- feel optimistic we could offer something.
      I have not approached any Orcadian or non-Orcadian for advice on this- wondered what your story is and if our 'plans' are feasible or just pie in the sky?
      I would be extremely grateful to receive your thoughts.
      Best regards- recent additions to the blog are great-very interesting-by the way.

      What I'm interested in is your story-I've not spoken to