Edinburgh-based composer, singer-songwriter and lecturer in music Gareth Williams is launching a new recording based on the final words from well-known Scottish literary works, transforming them into intriguing and elegaic short musical statements. In Songs from the Last Page, Alasdair Gray’s revolutionary Lanark and Robert Louis Stevenson’s dark seafaring adventure Treasure Island are among those whose final words have been set to music, alongside Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ Sunset Song and Andrew Greig’s At The Loch of the Green Corrie.
Since graduating from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in Glasgow, Gareth, who is Chancellor’s Fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, has established himself as a pre-eminent voice across diverse genres, including new opera and contemporary classical music, finding new relationships, participants, collaborators and audiences, and seeking to shed light on stories and communities that have been overlooked, and exploring ideas of vulnerability in vocal writing.
He is launching the album of songs at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a week-long residency as part of the Made in Scotland project, before embarking on a tour with concerts at Dundee Rep Theatre and The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen.
In addition to literary ‘classics’, the project brings to the foreground the diversity of modern writing in Scotland, celebrating work by working-class, LGBTQ+ and Black authors, such as Ely Percy, Ali Smith and Jackie Kay. Gareth cites the final pages of At The Loch of the Green Corrie, wherein the reader is invited to finish the story and put the book down – as the spark for the project, with that wish to be able to linger for a few more minutes in the ambit of the story – something many readers will recognise – sustained by his musical response.
The unique result, labelled ‘literary chamber pop’, is a melange of distinctive and often contemplative melodies, which draw on contemporary classical and pop idioms, while betraying Gareth’s long-held fascination with storytelling and song at the core of Gaelic cultures – as a native of Ireland, and living in a Scotland where Celtic culture is renascent and integral to its identity.
Joined on stage by Justyna Jablonska on cello and Aisling O’Dea on violin, Gareth will be sharing his inspirations behind the songs and reading from the books that gave rise to them.
Scotland’s indigenous languages are another aspect, with a new collaboration with Skye singer Deirdre Graham (pictured above with Aisling, Justyna and Gareth), who has created her own Gaelic song as part of the project, and the live performances are very much part of how Gareth envisaged the album, transforming the singular experience of finishing a book into an engaged collective experience with an audience. As part of the shows, Gareth will be inviting audiences to suggest books that they would like to see turned into future songs.
In addition to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe dates (see panel), there are performances at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen on Thur 7th Sept (19:00), and Dundee Rep Theatre on Fri 22nd Sept (19:30). A background profile and interview with Gareth Williams is to follow on artmag.co.uk.