1. Your Halo
I was playing upstairs in my old flat in Islington, London, when this simple piano tune came out. At the time my life was busy with running a company and attempting to keep numerous clients, shareholders and staff happy. It was like hearing something basic and true that I had known all along; that's what the Isle of Jura has always represented for me. Our family had rented the same three-roomed stone cottage in Jura since the 1940's and I had amazing childhood holidays there. With my father ageing - and me spending most of my breaks up in Jura doing maintenance jobs on the place so it would last another winter - I realised I would have to take the cottage in hand. So, I took the plunge. My beloved old Aston Martin was sold (to the prime minister of Kuwait no less!), and the funds raised were enough for me to buy all the building materials and live simply for two years. The first year for the building, the second year to make some music. This song marks the kernel of the idea of leaving London, through the dim call of an alternative way that I could live. It's the start of re-discovering the freedom I had not known since I was a boy.
2. Fire Mercy Be
The narrative in this song is me yearning for absolute truth in my life and relationships. Perhaps I was 'playing a part' in my old work life - one that I seemed to be quite good at. I suppose everyone does this to some extent, but in my romantic relationships, something was also just not quite right. I had got to the point where I needed to re-kindle aspects of myself that were starting to be forgotten. Jura and music were where to start for me, committing myself whole-heartedly to two things that I was really passionate about. I can feel myself floating in the sea at the Corran sands, the red sun is going down behind the Paps (Jura's highest hills). The water is completely calm and freakishly warm for Scotland, thanks to the tide's coming in over hot sand. In a moment of equilibrium, I can trust that this was the right path to have taken.
3. Summer of My Soul
The freckled face is my own, meeting my grown-up self at the red door to the cottage in Jura. I feel that he senses the spontaneity and recklessness have somehow gone, and he's saying to me, 'Come on!'. My father was a teacher so we used to have quite generous summers in Jura. There was NEVER a dull day. Complete freedom just to run around, making things, swimming, fishing, taking the boat out, cycling down to the shop for supplies, bumping into people - of course we knew everyone on the island and everyone knew me, and who my father was, and who my grandmother was, and who her father was, so they had a very caring attitude to me appearing at unexpected moments around the island. The cows in the croft next to our cottage were brought down for milking twice a day and my sisters and I used to help. Every year the hay was brought in with a great communal effort. I would be up in the highest barn trampling the hay like my life depended on it and, on a very very good day, would get to steer the crofter's tractor. My other jobs were to bring the water in from the well - two heavy buckets, and to go and collect the jug of fresh milk from the Darroch's croft twice a day. I want to experience something as raw and unsophisticated again - a continuing theme.
4. Take Hold
On arrival in Jura, once the initial excitement had subsided, I had some quite interesting psychological experiences. Suddenly living in a vacuum - as compared to my previous life in London. Whilst there were moments of important brain work required - designing and working out things for the new house - the building process involved mainly quite long repetitive tasks. Digging, sawing, nailing, mixing, cutting, fitting. I would be quite happily listening to Radio 4 on the building site one minute, and then three hours later, whilst having been labouring physically, would find that I had completely re-experienced some past events. In particular this happened at night - my dreams were wild with corporate situations, politics and intrigue! Bizarre that, in such gentle surroundings, my mind should be playing out all this stuff. But I grew to realise that this was a form of reconditioning - my mind processing these 'ghosts' so that it could sort of pack them away. This song is about Jura supporting me and my busy mind and body during this time, when swimming, climbing the hills, lying on the shore, getting soaked by the soft rain. I really felt a freedom just to give myself totally to the situation I was in.
5. How Strongly I Felt
My connection with Jura was through my father's family, his grandparents being the last ones to have been born on the island. At the south end of Jura is the most beautiful walled garden. It is the garden for Jura House, the big house on the Ardfin Estate, the estate where generations of my family had worked. When I moved up, the estate was owned by the Riley-Smith family and the individual responsible for creating this secret world of riotous growth and colour was a very cool Dutchman called Peter Cool. They were kind enough to let me go there at dawn and dusk to film the garden in great light. It was as close to paradise as I think you could come in the real world, except for the midges... The birdsong recordings in this song were made early one morning just before sunrise. The garden has always been a favourite of all my family and in particular of my father, and the walled garden is perhaps a good metaphor for the traditional, principled Scotsman who keeps his emotions to himself. I had always had a slightly distant relationship with him, but one of the great things about giving up my career in London was that I had the freedom to spend time with him in his final months. When visiting my parents down in England during my first Jura winter, it was obvious that his incurable condition was getting worse. So I was able just to stay there and help out at home until, ultimately, he was admitted to hospital for his final few weeks. This song sums up how that made me feel.
6. The Light Keeper
There was an interesting dynamic during the first year of being on Jura andworking on my building site. Apart from my dog Minn, and of course the various kind people looking in on me and visits to the bar in the Jura Hotel, the sense of physically distancing myself from friends and family was a new experience. Over the hill behind the cottage lies a beautiful bay - Lowlandman's Bay. On the 'arm' of the bay is the old Lighthouse Station and boathouse, and on a rock two miles out in the Sound of Jura - the straight of water between Jura and the mainland - stands a lighthouse. Some call it 'the Iron Rock'. For as long as I can remember I have been told the stories of how the lighthouse was manned by three different men, who would do shifts of several weeks at a time. They'd leave their wives and children behind at the Lighthouse Station - with no means of communication back to shore other than by semaphore. This music imagines the boatman rowing out to the lighthouse and rowing back in thick seas, leaving a man there alone on a small rock in the middle of the ocean as a storm builds. It had a working title 'To The Lighthouse' until the day some visitors came by the cottage asking how they could get over to the Lighthouse Station. As you really need a Land Rover to navigate the track around the bay, I offered to take them. It turned out that she was the daughter of one of the men I had been imagining, and had her early years in the Lighthouse Station - remembering her father go out to sea for his long shifts on the rock and her mother's stories of signalling to him. She referred to him as 'The Light Keeper'.
Living with the wild nature of Jura makes the London world that I left seem tame by comparison. Although from the outside, the island seems idyllic (and on a good day it really is), the reality is that for generations the islanders have had many hardships and have learnt to live with and accept the raw realities of life and death. Knockrome, where our cottage is situated, used to be made up of two well run crofts, kept by two families, the Buies and the Darrochs. On a wet day, Sandy Buie would almost certainly be found in his old stone shed making walking sticks out of hazelnut spindles that he had collected and carved, so I had a habit of going up and sitting with him as he worked. He was a Gaelic speaker, with such a broad but soft accent that I couldn't always understand the stories and memories and songs coming out of him, but I loved listening anyway. The second verse of this song remembers him and leads into a tune for the strings which sums up the nostalgia and respect I feel for the old Jura crofting way of life.
8. Fruit Tree
The night before my father died, I slept beside him on the hospital floor. He had been ill for a time, so there was nothing left that needed to be said. We wanted this to be easy and peaceful and for him not to be alone. He used to tell us that as a boy, he delivered telegrams on Jura. There were no cars on Jura at that time and so urgent messages were delivered by bicycle - powered by young boys who were quick and keen. In particular, he remembered his cycle rides up to the beautiful house at Ardlussa at the north of the island - a thirty mile round trip on rough tracks - which were made particularly worthwhile by the fuss that would be made of him by the kind cook, who'd provide him with fizzy drinks and fresh scones. I picture him relishing this moment in the back kitchen of the house, whilst the telegram he had delivered was having its impact in the grand sitting room...The man I knew was serious and religious but with a good sense of humour. He became a Christian missionary in Thailand - and he valued his faith and the bible message he preached above all else. So I like the picture of him tearing up the island on a push bike, clutching an urgent telegram, and ending up with his just reward for delivering it. I recorded the wheel and bell sounds you hear in this track using his old bike in the shed at Knockrome.
9. A Tide
In the old days when we came up to Jura, we would always rig up an old battery operated radio and battle to tune it in to get a weather forecast. So we're all programmed into listening out for 'Malin Head', and used to trying to decipher the forecast given from the interference from other European and Russian stations. The radio recordings on this record were taken from a traditional valve radio with its tuner connected to the old corrugated tin roof of the cottage - giving considerably better reception than the old days. You can also hear the waves breaking over Ardfarnal Point, and the gales in the old cottage roof. Storms can be good here because you can't help but let them dominate everything; it allows you to forget your own mind and put things into perspective. Apologies are due to John Squire - for putting his beautiful old 1914 Gibson mandolin through an electric guitar rig for the solo. It was improvised with the intention that I should record it again with an electric guitar - but I decided I quite liked it as it was... sorry John!
When I moved to Jura on my own I accepted that it might mean a time (or lifetime!) of being a bachelor. It was extremely unlikely that the population of less than 200 would provide me with my heart's desire in female form. How wrong I was. My lovely Jane arrived on the island and we married in 2009. The words from Evermore were written for her one morning, as I knew we would be.
11. Spring Will Come
The clock and fire crackling are sounds from the cottage in winter, and the spring lambs were recorded in a field just up the road from Knockrome. The distant flute tune is borrowed from my grandfather Bobby's song, Moira of Jura's Isle, which they still occasionally sing at ceilidhs here. I was feeling like there was an element missing from this song and the idea of over-laying Bobby's chorus came to me in a dream. He wrote it when he was courting my grandmother on Jura before the first World War. I've now learnt the cycle of the seasons – riding out the sense of sacrifice and risk. I wrote this song during my first winter in Jura, perhaps feeling a bit cold and bleak, trying to trust that new things would stir in place of everything I had given up.