Rachel New ton has several different musical threads running concurrently and with a packed schedule of shows on the horizon, has managed to grab a few moments to tell us more about the commissioning, performance and recording of Changeling. It’s an exquisitely beautiful work that delves deep into folklore to examine the changeling myth which, as she explains, shows the ingenuity of the human mind in trying to explain things beyond our ken. Although bizarre to our 21st century minds, the idea that children and even mothers could be replaced by faerie folk was widely believed and finds echoes in cultures around the world.
The mythology chimed with Rachel’s own love of folksong and revealed a wealth of material that served as inspiration for a simply stunning suite of music, rich in texture and emotion and skilfully captured by Mattie Foulds. Here she tells us more about how it all came together.
How did the commission come about? Who have you worked with on this?
The original commission was from Celtic Connections festival, who each year ask three musicians to each produce a body of work around a theme and showcase it as part of the festival’s New Voices series. I decided to call my New Voices Changeling, which was performed for the first time at Celtic Connections this year on the 2nd February. I was then awarded funding by Creative Scotland to record the music for an album.
Where did the original concept come from and what inspired the theme?
I have always been fascinated by the dark side of folklore and folksongs, especially when there is an otherworldly aspect. I am interested in how imaginative people were in creating these characters and stories. I knew I wanted to focus in on this for my theme and it was the word ‘changeling’ itself that drew me in at first. When I started to look into changelings and the faerie folk, I realised there is a wealth of inspiration there. I wanted to explore the human emotions and life events that these stories reflect.
Once you had that how did you approach the composition? Did lyrical or musical themes come first? Was it a mixture of the two? Did you already have musical themes and ideas to fit the concept or did everything start from scratch?
I didn’t have anything musical at first. I took quite a different approach to the project from my usual and just read a lot and listened to a lot of stories. I felt it was important that I do that and that the music would come easier after a bit of groundwork. I then looked for songs, lyrical ideas, traditional texts and poems that I could set music to or arrange. I had quite a few stories and ideas that didn’t make it on to the finished performance and album. What I ended up with seemed to fit together somehow, at least in my own head! There were some pieces that came really easily and some that took much longer. I had the basic melody for Queen Of Elfan for a while before I could figure out what on earth to do with it!
Are you constantly writing and coming up with ideas, or do you have to tackle each project as it comes?
There’s always stuff swimming about in there, but I do find having a specific project is a great way of focusing and a little pressure is good for me personally when it comes to making music.
Were you able to approach it in the same way that you normally work or did you feel extra pressure (time pressure perhaps)?
I had set myself deadlines in a way that I’d never had to do before, as I needed to have the music ready to send to the musicians and have everything rehearsed for the performance at Celtic Connections. As I was recording the album two days after the performance, I also needed to have that all mapped out. I seem to remember that Christmas was my deadline for all music to be sorted, although I was definitely still writing it after New Year! There were a few moments of doom that’s for sure!
What was that original performance like? You’ve just done the Edinburgh launch as well, what was that like in comparison?
The original performance was really enjoyable. I was glad as sometimes when there’s a lot of nerves and pressure, I can’t actually remember the performance afterwards, but this was different. I felt fairly relaxed once we started. The other musicians were so focused and I felt I could rely on them, which really helped. The Edinburgh launch recently was totally different as it was really informal. Quite emotional as it was more personal and intimate as an atmosphere.
How did you choose the other players? What were you looking for from them? What did they bring?
I am so happy with my choice of musicians for Changeling. They were all brilliant and contributed so much to the performance and the recording. I wanted a group who would engage with the work and really want to make it come together and I definitely got that from all of them. The only musician I didn’t already know before the project was Alec Frank-Gemill the horn player. I chose the instrument as I think it’s such a beautiful sound, but I didn’t know for sure if it would work within the music until we were in the studio. Alec was really fantastic and I’m so glad Su-a, who plays cello and saw on Changeling, recommended him.
The record sounds beautiful and Mattie has captured it wonderfully well. Tell me about the recording. How did you build up the sound?
Mattie is such a great person to work with in the studio. I really trust his judgment on getting a good sound. It was just the two of us there for much of the recording as I set down all the harp and vocal parts first before anything else was added. We added the other instruments as the musicians came in to record. We recorded Three Days live as it would have lost so much character to do any other way. It was really nice to have performed most of the music just before recording. I had practiced so much for the performance and knew everyone else’s parts so well from writing them all down that I felt pretty comfortable and everything felt fairly easy going.
Was everything scored and arranged? Did things change in the studio? When was the horn introduced?
I scored it all except the percussion parts, which Mattie provided. There were a few changes and additions in the studio. Corrina added a fantastic layer of harmony to The Fairy Man and Lauren played quite a few extra harmonies here and there. Alec on the Frech horn was a new addition for the recording and although I wrote parts for him, he also contributed some beautiful improvisations.
You have a really busy autumn with the Shee and the Furrow Collective, as well as the album tour. Is the album tour with the same line up? What are you looking forward to? How do you manage to juggle all of these things (and more)? Do you ever take time off?
The album tour is mostly just myself and Lauren with Mattie joining us for half of the tour. I have adapted the parts to work for two, meaning poor Lauren is sometimes playing the cello parts as well as her own at the same time! I have combined the two harp parts as well. I would love to do the bigger production again soon, but I also really enjoy playing the music in a smaller line-up as I think it works well in this way and suits the music. As well as the tours you mentioned, I’m also looking forward to touring with Emily Portman and starting work on her new album this winter as well as a new collaboration I’ve joined called Boreas. I’ve hardly had a day off since the start of the year. I am having a brilliant time and love all the bands I’m in, but I sense I might have to schedule in a bit of a recovery period in December before it all starts again!
Interview by: Simon Holland
Mo Churachan (Live)
The Fairy Man (Live)
13 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Old Cinema Launderette, DURHAM
14 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Old Bridge Inn, AVIEMORE
16 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Glad Cafe, GLASGOW
17 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Castle, MANCHESTER
25 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Musician, LEICESTER
26 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ The Stables, WAVENDON
27 – ALBUM LAUNCH TOUR @ Cecil Sharp House, LONDON
For all of Rachel’s appearances including The Shee, The Furrow Collective, Emily Portman Trio visit her website here where you can also sign-up to her mailing list: