Far Flung Collective brings together musicians and traditions from distant corners of the British Isles, with a particular focus on the Outer Hebrides and South West England. Featuring a core quintet of acclaimed Uist-based musician/composers Anna-Wendy Stevenson (fiddle) and Simon Bradley (viola), young Scottish vocalist Mabel Duncan, and Dorset-based musicians Alex Roberts (voice/guitar) and Dan Somogyi (piano, guitar) – alongside a changing cast of talented young Scottish players – the Collective first emerged in 2016 as the artistic manifestation of a longstanding music education collaboration between the University of the Highlands and Islands Applied Music BA (Hons) degree and Bournemouth-based SoundStorm Music Education Agency. Debut album Far Flung Corners launched at a sold out Celtic Connections concert in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in 2017, and was described in Songlines as a ‘beautiful, engaging… gorgeous and delightful release’. The recording was notable for Stevenson’s Suite Uist, a majestic tribute to the Scottish islands which she has made her home. It soon became a BBC Radio nan Gàidheal CD of the week.
Now comes Black Bay, Far Flung Collective’s second album, arranged and recorded over the space of a weekend at the stunning Black Bay Studio, on Great Bernera, off the west coast of Lewis, following a week’s residency in Stornaway in 2019. This time featuring Lewis-based accordion player Stephen Drummond and young fiddle player Selina Clare Ross, Black Bay contains eight originals, mainly composed by Roberts and Somogyi, plus a gospel-tinged cover of American-based singer May Erlewine’s Afraid and a new version of the traditional English Spencer the Rover (made famous by John Martyn). In many ways, Black Bay is a contrast to the first album – immediate, fast, impulsive, an album achieved in an incredibly short space of time, inspired by the environment in which the musicians found themselves. The gently upbeat Catflap Astronaut (about childhood innocence and friendship) and the joyous Shaggy Baggy Highland Cow (composed with young people in the Hebrides, a message to English counterparts telling how great young life can be in the Western Isles), contrasts with more serious themes explored on richly textured tunes such as The Final Departure (inspired by migrations in many contexts), Left Right (a musing on revolution) and Three Kisses (Robert’s re-telling of the traditional House Carpenter folk tune, this time from the point of view of the abandoned son). The band members use their respective places, connections and differences to inspire creativity, artistic dialogue and new music. Black Bay has certainly succeeded in that mission.