Transcript for 1.2 Lori and Russell
Transcript for Sharing things 1.2 Lori and Russell.
Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a fourth-year student and I'm the host of this podcast. In Sharing things I talk to alumni, staff and students about their stories. Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.
In this episode you will meet Lori Watson and Russell Jones. Lori is a fiddle player and folk singer who draws on the landscapes, people and literature of her Scottish roots. She's also a leading traditional music specialist and lectures at the University of Edinburgh.
Russell Jones is a writer and poet with a PhD in creative writing from the University. He was the UK's first Pet Poet Laureate and edits Scotland's only science fiction magazine.
We talk about sci-fi, creative juices, pets and inspiration. We also get a fiddle performance in the studio.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Welcome to Sharing things Lori and Russell. How are you today?
Russell: Good, thank you.
Lori: Very good.
Amalie: Yeah, I thought I would start with the question: What have you brought to the studio today and why?
Lori: Oh, shall I go?
Russell: Why not?
Lori: So I brought a fiddle, a violin that was made in Berwick-upon-Tweed which is near where I grew up and went to school. It was made by James Brunskill in 1889 and I also have a bow, which I'm very glad about. I always have a last minute panic that there won't be a bow in the case, every time, but we also have a bow today! So, fiddle and bow.
Amalie: So that's the full...
Lori: …the full kit.
Amalie: What would you say that it means to you - the fiddle you brought today?
Lori: Oh god, I don't know now. I don't know. There's been a few changes in my life in the last few years so I feel like my horizons have broadened a bit but for a long time fiddle was like kind of like a key part of my identity. I grew up playing the fiddle, my great granddad was a fiddle player and he made some fiddles and the fiddle that I learned on was one that he had made. My brother stole it and he's still got it. He was meant to give it back but not a chance now [laughs].
He's gigging, he's touring on it and it's still there with bits falling off and anyway. I think it's a really important means of expression for me, you know when I was teenager and I didn't have the words for anything I could just like get angry and play my tunes or I could be sad and play my tunes and so I guess it's a bit of an outlet. But now it's maybe not quite so core - it's one of the tools of my trade.
Russell: Do you write songs as well? As in the lyrics?
Lori: I am actually, I do sing and write. How did you know?
Russell: I could see it in your eyes.
Lori: I think we might be sitting too close!
Russell: Well Sandy Bell's is around the corner from here.
Lori: It is indeed.
Russell: Have you got any opinions on that?
Lori: Oh I love Sandy Bells. Actually I just moved through to Edinburgh, I've been in Glasgow for 20 years, and I visited Sandy Bell’s just occasionally but I know a lot of musicians that go in there, it's great. It's an incredible legacy. So yeah I'll be visiting quite soon I think. I hope they'll let me play a couple of tunes.
Yeah, Sandy Bell’s was one of the first session pubs in Scotland and so music sessions are actually quite a new thing really, like pub sessions most people associate them with traditional music now and Irish pub sessions are kind of world famous but they really evolved kind of 1950s onwards and Sandy Bell’s was one of the first in Scotland, so it’s been really important. There's been music there since then really. Musicians go in and play informally, it's a social thing for them but they also learn from each other so you can pick up new tunes and songs, you can rehearse, it's a kind of musical conversation and a verbal conversation and a few pints thrown in, so it's a really lovely thing. It's nice to see a naturally evolving session happen, it's not a concert, it's quite different.
Do you go in to Sandy's?
Russell: I used to. I haven't been for a while for some reason, I think I'm not good when it's very busy and it's quite a small place, so sometimes it's a bit crowded for me.
Lori: Yes, I guess it’s quite hot and busy and the music's right at the back, especially during the Festival. I'm scared of the Festival.
Russell: Yeah I don't really go out in the Festival. Maybe once or twice.
Lori: I'd like to know you're coping strategies because I haven't ever lived through it.
Russell: Ok I've lived through about 12 of them now. My coping strategy is: one, just don't go near the centre of town [laughter]
But if you have to, I tend to just stay in one venue if possible because the worst bit for me is walking through the streets when they're so busy so actually if you can find one venue that has lots of different things on. And I'm totally for like the Free Fringe as well so I'll just stay in one place and just go and see anything and then, of course, tip!
Lori: Course, yeah.
Russell: Yeah, that's my general…
Lori: That's good, but I have to work in George Square [laughter] it's a bit different.
Russell: You can't really avoid it.
Lori: Oh I know, I'm just more worried about the safety of other people once I start to get bit angry not being able to get down the street you know [laughter].
Amalie: You're a hazard.
Lori: I have to meditate everyday [laughter].
Russell: I had a [unintelligible] that I have never actually used which is just to hold a clipboard or a wad of papers and then people will assume that you're involved somehow and just part.
Lori: Like a radio headset and all that gear? That could be fun.
Amalie: On that note, do [laughter] you want to tell us about your object today, Russell?
Russell: So well I can't really call him an object but no, he's my pal. He's Pakkun, an English springer spaniel and you'll probably hear him either yawning, or moaning, or snoring at some point depending on how this goes. So he's just lying beside me right now, he's 10, he's very cute. I think he’s the best dog.
Lori: He's beautiful.
Russell: Everyone always says have you got him modelling? Well not everyone [laughter]. Well that's what I prefer to remember. But no he isn't a model but he is very pretty, even if I say so.
Lori: Very cute.
Russell: He's got beautiful hair.
Amalie: So what made you name him Pakkun?
Russell: Pakkun is a character from an anime called Naruto and he's a ninja dog that’s summoned by one of the characters, so I named him after that.
Lori: Are you like one of the characters?
Russell: I wish, I wish I were a ninja but unfortunately not.
Lori: That would be a great song.
Russell: Yeah, yeah go for it honestly. I wish I were a ninja but unfortunately not.
Lori: I feel like a country vibe and I’m not sure how I would pull that together but -
Russell: I always like those sorts of crossovers between two things you don't expect so I run a sci-fi night quite regularly in Edinburgh and we've had like cellists and violinists and things like that but performing sci-fi stuff.
Russell: Well I really like those sorts of crossovers between –
Lori: What happened at a sci-fi night?
Russell: Well at my sci-fi night, I don't know about all the others, we kind of have a cabaret so I'll have a musician to start and end the night and then we'll have poets and storytellers and maybe something else. So we've had sword fighters for example before and they'll each come on and do a little thing and I introduce everyone and I tell a little sci-fi joke in between.
Lori: What's a good sci-fi joke?
Russell: How do you throw a good party in space? You planet [laughter]. Yeah that sort of quality [laughter].
Amalie: Oh no.
Russell: So they are purposefully bad jokes, it's a very sophisticated technique I use to get the audience on side.
Lori: Yeah it's very inclusive isn't it.
Russell: Everyone can have a good laugh and groan.
Lori: That sounds great, where do you hold them?
Russell: Frankenstein's at the moment, we've moved lots of places but Frankenstein's kind of has the capacity and a giant Frankenstein's monster outside the door that growls at you. So it's very on theme.
Amalie: Would you categorise Frankenstein as sci-fi?
Russell: Yeah it's considered the first sci-fi book or prose book.
Amalie: How did you get involved with sci-fi?
Russell: So originally, it's a bit of a convoluted story but I'll tell anyway, so I was looking into doing a PhD and I was interested in Edwin Morgan who was the Scottish Poet Laureate or Makar until he died about 10 years ago.
I was a big fan of his so I was looking at what hadn't been written about very much in his work and he wrote sci-fi poetry so that's kind of how I got into that and then I started to write sci-fi poetry and then sci-fi novels and then I got involved with a magazine, Scotland's only sci-fi magazine called Shoreline of Infinity. So we had a launch for the first issue and then people kept asking, ‘Oh why don’t you do another one.’ So then each magazine we started doing a launch and then we just ended up doing a monthly science fiction night and from me scrambling around in bars trying to get like five people into the audience we now usually get about 60. We also stream it online so people can watch it all over the world.
Lori: That’s great and how often does the magazine come out?
Russell: Quarterly. So that might change, we'll see, we had a bit of a meeting yesterday but so far still quarterly and weekly poetry and prose and we also commission art work to go with the stories from artists. It's really cool to see how an artist - this is another thing about collaboration before and crossing genres - I really like to see how artists respond to one another's work. For example, I write as well so I've written some sci-fi poetry and some of that has been turned into comics by the visual artists and then I'm getting people who play instruments. What are they called?
Lori: Musicians! [Laughter]
Russell: That’s the one. And then I'm asking some musicians to respond to those so it's this kind of, we can either put that into film or in some sort of gallery where you can sort of appreciate the same thing on different levels. Yes I'm really interested in something like…
Lori: This sounds like a full time job, is this what you do or is this a side gig?
Russell: It's a lot of what I do but it is a side line. A lot of what I do is unpaid as an artist unfortunately and I'm sure you can appreciate that.
Lori: Yeah some of the best most interesting stuff you do is unpaid.
Russell: Well yeah, I think that's pretty true isn't it because I want to be paid obviously but as soon as it starts becoming institutionalised you have to sort of start following regulations and start doing what corporations or institutions want and then suddenly you can't start writing ‘fuck the system’. Not that that's necessarily what you're always going to do.
Lori: I know that the weight of organisations and institutions is a big influence. [Aside] Hi Pakkun.
Also audiences, I think you know it's one of the joys of what we do as musicians is communicating and reaching audiences with different, you know, messages and feelings but sometimes the weight of their - of your imagined version of their expectation or the feedback that they give you can be quite a heavy influence on your artistic choices and your time and you know I want to get away from that as well.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: So you mentioned earlier that you get other artists to react to artists' work. Could we maybe test that out? So that you would play a little bit of your work and then you as a different type of artist - a writer - can react to Lori's?
Lori: How is Russell going to react, do you want him to write something? Well I'll play.
Amalie: Can we react? [laughter]
Lori: Ok, I can't wait to see what kind of reaction I'm going to get here.
[Lori plays her tune 'Sillery 1856' on the fiddle]
Amalie: Oh my god.
Russell: Do we clap? Can we?
Amalie: That was so good. I felt enchanted.
Russell: This is obvious going to be completely in my head and totally off of what it's about but I kind of thought of like herring fishing. There was this kind of wave like quality at the start. [Aside] Hey Pakkun.
Pakkun liked it too. I don’t know it's this kind of wave like quality to the music at the start and then this kind of sporadic like darting quality that made me think of fish and then sort people bringing them in. And then these kind of high-pitched elements of like the winds of the sea going through a village that to me that's just kind of what it what made me think of for some reason.
Amalie: What did you think when you made this?
Lori: The tune is written about a boat.
Russell: Ah well.
Lori: It's written about a boat that was used to clear the people off of the Knoydart Peninsula and send them to Canada so that's really close.
Russell: Yeah not far off [laughter]. It's interesting that essentially noise, I don't want to call your music noise, but it sounds like yeah.
Lori: You know noise is fine yeah.
Russell: It is able to communicate something so accurately without words.
Lori: Yeah I mean I know not all musicians think that way. I think most musicians engage with imagery particularly in composition but also in interpreting existing works, traditional works, we are trying to tell some kind of abstract story through the sound and so it can be about, you know, mood and emotion but there's always a bit of development there. So there's, you know, there's little moments of, for me, positivity in the melodic shapes that I've chosen in that tune but then there's also there's quite a lot of movement and kind of a little bit of aggression and unpredictability.
So yeah it's really trying to get the idea of these people leaving home not by their own choice and being on a boat really get knocked about but again hopeful for the future and what they might be able to make of it so yeah.
Russell: I think all of that came through to me. I thought it was a relatively positive piece and that there was that energy in a slight hint of danger there as well.
Lori: Well done, well done guys.
Russell: Well done you.
[Sharing things theme music]
Amalie: Can I ask what makes your creative juices flow because you're both creators in different ways?
Lori: Lots of things actually. I mean sometimes I need to kind of shut out the noise of the world a bit too, to then open up other doors in my head but I mean I draw inspiration from a lot of sources; lots of other art forms, a lot of writing, a lot of other music, natural sounds, historical events.
I'm particularly interested in our connections with nature and I suppose not just human emotion but the way our minds work and the way that nature has been a way of coming to terms with life events, good and bad, and particularly in traditional folk songs natural imagery has really been used not just to express or convey things but there's a healing process in trying to explain what's happening in your mind, in your nervous system, in your body and trying to explain that through what you see in the world around you. Historically that's been quite you know rural situations rather than quite urban stuff, that is changing a bit and at least in folk music we use a lot of natural imagery. What about you Russell?
Russell: Similar, different I guess. The point of inspiration often for me is other people's artwork so reading someone else's poem or listening to a piece of music. But I was interested in nature. I guess I am one of those kind of more urban writers because that's where I've lived and that's kind of my point of perspective and also I guess just because of my perspective on the situation of nature at the time that we're in of humanity kind of destroying it, which has been going on for a while now of course but we're kind of this extreme point now and it's very difficult for me to be positive in that way about humanity's impact on it, but I do agree that the other way around nature's impact on humanity is a force for peace and good times.
Lori: Yeah, I mean I think it's really interesting that you say that because, you know, over the last kind of 10 years I've been exploring some of those themes and working with the kind of shapes and moods and specific regional landscapes and now when I'm looking back reflecting on the work I'm realising that it's just you know probably about 10 years of musical exploration of sadness which was not what I realise I was doing at the time. So it's not particularly positive music at all, it's actually, it's pretty I mean I wouldn’t say melancholic but there's like a rawness, there's like a pit of despair there yeah.
Russell: Do you actually find it easier to write sad pieces?
Lori: Yeah, I do at the moment. I'm actually about to see if I can write something a bit more upbeat.
I feel like I need to just - because I thought I was kind of using, you know, not a full palette because I think that develops over time, but I thought I was using a pretty varied palette but I've kind of realised actually I was not caught up but I you know I was really engaging with the, I don't know, the concepts and the stimuli that I had for the work and I've responded to that in quite an honest way and I've got this you know everything's just pretty sad and down beat actually. And now I just want to check that I've still got those other parts to my, you know, music making [laughter] so yeah, prepare for some upbeat anthems.
Russell: Do you think it's maybe the subconscious coming through a little bit you're trying to do something more positive but actually something else is interfering.
Lori: Yeah, I mean I think there's always your - you'll know - there's always what you intend to do and then all the other stuff that just comes out that you then you can craft and play with it once it's out but it's also quite nice not to deny those things isn't it? I mean I've had some of my own mental health issues and some really, really sad life events through that time and I'm sure all of that was finding its way out as well you know.
Russell: Sadness, the only reason I mention… I feel like there's a kind of similarity, I'm guessing it's just an artistic thing, yeah there's an artist that I spoke to once called Marianne Boruch. She was a professor - she still is a professor in America - and she said that she felt metaphor was a defence mechanism so because we can't cope with the reality of something we turn into a metaphor. I can almost see that in music as well maybe or in that way you know you're trying to do one thing but actually it's just a way of coping with something else.
Lori: I think there must be a lot of that and not just in our artistic expression, just is in the way we live our lives and the conversations we have and the choices that we make [laughter].
Russell: Like Facebook where everyone portrays this idealised version of their life where only the good things are kind of on display.
Lori: Yeah, I mean, I'm kind of interested in different art forms in terms of what they're expressing and the way that they express different things. So it could be you know situational or specific experiences or it could be larger kind of emotional experiences, but in folk music, we get, a lot of people think oh it's just for fun. But we've got the full spectrum like any art form, you can say a lot with you just a few bars of music, a few bars of melody, so that's something I've been exploring but then, you know, I think most folk would agree that in short stories or in poetry the full spectrum is really obvious.
Russell: I think cartoons and particularly video games are one of the greatest art mediums because they can incorporate all this stuff, the visual, the written words, the music. For me, video games also incorporate that element of choice and being involved in it which actually most art forms don't because you're sort of not tested in the same way. You know if I listen to your piece of music and you go, ‘Ok now what do you think that was about because I'm not playing another song until you tell me’. You have to get it right.
Lori: Or the gig is over.
Russell: Whereas video games kind of do that and they kind of involve you in another way. Are you into games at all?
Lori: Erm, no. I guess I haven't really had the time to fully invest and I do enjoy it but I don't particularly care. I don't mind losing, I don't mind being rubbish at it apart from GoldenEye on the N64.
Lori: Well yeah I'm very competitive about that. I've actually got one in the house, I put it through the projector.
Lori: It’s so incredibly fuzzy that squinting does nothing to help because it’s just the way it is. I love it.
Russell: Yeah, they've changed quite a lot now. So obviously that's what games were like but there are a lot of games now that aren't like that and it's kind of storytelling really and you sort of follow the story and you make little decisions and interact and make moral decisions and those sorts of things and you kind of an interesting…
Lori: What was the Black Mirror episode that they did? Where you have to make all the choices in the story.
Russell: Oh yeah.
Lori: Yeah, I did enjoy that. I mean I was frustrated because I didn't get the outcome that I wanted and I had to start again. [Laughter]
Amalie: It's just creepy.
Lori: Yeah but I liked the way, I think it's a great idea and it reminded me of those books that you get in Primary Five where you had to make a choice and go to different page.
Russell: I love those books.
Lori: …and I was fascinated by how clever it was all you know in terms of the way it was interweaved.
Russell: I always think there's a great scope for that come back because you've got the internet and Kindles and e-readers and you could actually have the whole public creating new twig-branches of different stories so it could become huge. You could have an almost infinite number of options and number of stories that everyone's involved in.
Lori: How would that work? How would you pull that together?
Russell: I guess you'd need a system to help you to log on and read the bit of the story before and then write the new bit that was one of the two options.
Lori: Do you know has that been piloted anywhere?
Russell: I don't know if that exists, I think there are much smaller projects where people have done that between one or two of them but don't know if it's been opened up to the world.
Lori: But you could potentially try it with like 30 writers and see what comes out.
Lori: Do it.
Russell: Yeah, I'd love to do all this stuff it's just there's no time nor no money in it but there might be well if it took off.
Lori: Yeah there must be a bit of research funding somewhere.
Lori: Yeah come on guys.
Russell: It would be really cool I think it's like as a global project writing project.
[Sharing thing theme music]
Amalie: What would you recommend of yours that you've created to the other person?
Russell: I wrote a whole collection called, when I was a lot younger, called ‘Aquarium’ which is all about fish. All different kinds of fish. I can only remember, I can remember one of them:
Life's a contradiction,
catfish on the shelf.
Should he eat the fish flakes
or should he eat himself?
And no-one gets it because cats eat fish. I remember my tutor at the time didn't get it. I'm sure some of them were very profound.
Lori: I really like that one [laughter]. So catfish eat the fish flakes too, do you get different kinds of?
Russell: Yeah, I used to keep fish for a while, they're quite a nice animal.
Lori: Do they need to be in warm water?
Russell: I didn't keep catfish. But yeah mine had to be in warm water because they were tropical.
Amalie: Aren't they kind of hard to maintain?
Russell: Some are easier than others, so very tropical fish usually are pretty difficult especially if they are salt water because you need to you control the levels of salt and various other things. A lot of them are relatively solitary so they'll kill each other if you're not careful but the ones I had weren't too bad but a lot of them did die to be fair. Eventually I gave them away because I wasn't doing a great job and also I was moving flat from the third floor to the third floor and you don't want to carry an aquarium. Even empty, really.
Lori: Yeah. Not instantly portable. I had a couple of Japanese fantail and one of those wee black moor guys but they're cold water and much easier. We gave one of them a very fancy Viking burial in Kelvingrove Park and I snuck another one into Blackfriars [laughter].
Russell: By Viking burial, you don’t mean you burnt them on a raft?
Lori: Yeah, we did.
Russell: Oh you did ok.
Amalie: Wait, so you buried your fish in Greyfriars graveyard?
Lori: Yeah, that was the other one.
Amalie: I love that.
Russell: A friend for Bobby.
Lori: Yeah we snuck in there. I had a spoon [laughter] under the cover of darkness. This is going to get me in trouble isn't it? But I just felt after we made such a big deal of the first one it was only fair that the second one got something memorable. Oh yeah actually I took him to Sandy Bell’s for the wake first so he was at his own wake, the second fish.
Amalie: Fish in a bar?
Lori: Yeah, he was in a little tub and he'd been in the fridge for a couple of days in his little coffin, this little tub, and then we took him. He was in my pocket at Sandy Bell’s.
Russell: Did he not go a bit weird?
Lori: No he was still beautiful. He was all shiny, beautiful orange, big fans, beautiful fanned out fins and tail. Just looked perfect in his wee box.
Amalie: What would you recommend of yours to Russell?
Lori: Probably the album that I released a couple of years ago – Yarrow acoustic sessions. I'll send you a copy, I should have brought some with me.
Russell: Thank you.
Lori: I don't know why I didn't. It was yeah it's one of the saddest ones but I think that the - it's traditional music and it's folk music but it just reaches quite a lot farther. It is something that, I'm not proud of a lot of my work because I'm a bit overly critical and you know it's something I'm working on but I give myself a hard time, so I find it really difficult to engage with my previous work in a neutral way but this album I did it one song at a time. I did it one song a month and that really changed my process and my thinking about the work so each song for me has its own identity. It wasn't kind of like seen as a whole at any one point until the end and I thought, ok, which songs kind of work for this place and which songs are going to tell the bigger story. A lot of the arrangements are really, really simple and there are some kind of big dramatic moments but it's the really quiet kind of simplicity that's in it. I'm proud that I moved away from worrying about what you should do and kind of not just flamboyance and technical stuff and not just, you know, showing all the modes of expression, but actually just trying to tell the truth about each of these songs. And be really simple if that's what they needed. So yeah that's what I would share [laughter]. I'm just here to cheer you all today [laughter].
Amalie: I want to ask one last question, if you could associate your object or your live animal with one word what would that be?
Lori: Over to you, I'm talking too much.
Russell: I'm going to be all soppy and say ‘love’. Because I think animals, well you know particularly Pakkun, I work alone so I'm a self-employed writer which means I sit alone a lot and write and read.
I think if I hadn't had Pakkun I would have just been very isolated but because he's there and we're sort of like best pals and we go everywhere - you know I brought him here. We sort of go everywhere together. So yeah I think I would say that you know.
Lori: That's really lovely. I feel like we should get him on the mic.
Russell: The problem is he's very quiet.
Lori: He's so lovely.
Russell: He doesn't bark or anything. He could sniff it.
Lori: Does he talk to you, do you get a bit of communication?
Russell: Well he's very vocal when my partner is around. In terms of he speaks human you know that sort of thing. But otherwise, no, he's a really quiet dog.
I think he used to be a gun dog you see but he's afraid of the gun so I took him on. I think he was sort of taught not to make noise because he didn't want to scare the animals before they'd been flushed out of the bushes, so yeah, he's pretty quiet but he's very into cuddles so if you like that and he'll smile at you and just want to be around you all the time, which is nice and it's kind of unrequited love, he's always given which is nice. You don't really get that with humans you know there's always there's always something behind it but [laughter].
Lori: Oh, that's your cynical side coming out now.
Russell: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah well you know. That's poets for you [laughter].
Lori: That started so positive and ended up in a total lack of faith in your fellow humans [laughter].
Russell: They're ok, they can be ok too you know but there's more stuff going on there they can't be simply happy.
Lori: Yeah you're right. We're always busy and always thinking other things.
Russell: I think it's a nice lesson we can learn from animals sometimes; just live in the moment and just enjoy what's happening and not worry about what might happen or not happened.
Lori: Yeah my partner and I were discussing this other day, like how to learn to be content and actually one of the best examples of that is dogs. Of all the animals around us dogs have really good just settling into the moment and being super content and just like, ‘Yeah this is good right now’. They really know what they're doing.
Russell: That's it, get a dog.
Lori: I need some of that. Yeah well it would eat the rabbits so that's not going to happen.
Russell: How about you, have you had a chance to?
Lori: Oh god, I don't know. I suppose my head is full of words for this instrument. Do you know probably ‘voice’ but actually. I'm a singer as well and what I've always, you know every time pick up fiddle my aim is to make it sound - to make it sing make it sound like a voice. That's always what I, I mean it has its own tonal characteristics too but year I just think of it as another voice.
Amalie: I like that. Thank you Lori and Russell for being on Sharing things.
Lori: Pleasure, thanks so much for having us.
Amalie: Of course.
[Sharing things theme music]
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