Fresh from causing a stir supporting Lau on their recent UK tour Siobhan Wilson has her mini album set for launch in her hometown of Glasgow next week. The recording gathers together some of her friends with the city’s music scene and also features Aidan O’Rourke, for a set of elegant, refined and emotive songs. They draw on the time she spent in Paris immersed in the culture and music there, but also on the sense of returning to her native Scotland, with tales of sweet sorrows on her lips. Say It’s True is a brave and beautiful record, a stunning sounding and something to be properly proud of.
When I speak to Siobhan, it’s no surprise that she is palpably excited, “When my copies of the CD arrived I was thrilled. There it is finished, and that’s me on the cover.” If it sounds like a little wild-eyed innocent not believing her luck, half an hour of conversation makes it very apparent that it would be a grave mistake to underestimate her, or take her for any sort of ingénue. Siobhan simply seems determined to live the moment to the full, savour it and enjoy it. The same is true when I ask about supporting Lau and she enthuses, “There such great guys who really go out of their way to make you part of things and they’re also such fabulous musicians, so it was a real joy to do the tour. It’s the best thing I’ve done so far.”
But then, again you have to remind yourself, that she took the stage solo and launched into her set as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Even as she admits that playing the Union Chapel in London was special because, “So many of my favourite bands have played there, but it was even more beautiful inside than I’d thought,” you have to concede that she played a blinder, won the crowd over and seems to have enough about her to make that a recurring habit, wherever she plays. If there were nerves, they weren’t evident and there’s just such a positive energy in what she says and does, with even a suggestion of fearlessness.
When talking about the new Say It’s True EP – or with seven tracks, a mini-album in my book – Siobhan is very quick to credit the involvement of others. Firstly Creative Scotland, she wants to know if I’m aware of the work they do, which I assure her I am, at least to some extent, as they have appeared as a regular thank you credit on some very fine CDs. Still she wants it known that it was their support which allowed her to decamp to Chem 19, Castle Of Doom and The Surgery, in Glasgow, with various like-minded musicians, friends mostly, but as she’s also keen to emphasise, “The best people around at the time,” to make the record.
There’s the mastering too as she explains, “It was mastered in Austria, I didn’t get to go, but it feels like the EP has travelled a long way to get made.” When I suggest that mastering is an under- appreciated step in the process, one that can make a real difference, Siobhan agrees, “It came back sounding fabulous, I’m so happy with it.” I concur and so did Tom Rose, whose Reveal Records is releasing this.
I’m also curious about the CD credits which read, “Recorded and mixed in Glasgow, Scotland with Tony Doogan, Chris McGarry Gordon Skene [and] Jamie Savage.” I ask Siobhan if she had overall control, but she insists, “They all played their part and had input into shaping the sound, Tony at Castle Of Doom, [which he set up with Mogwai], Chris at The Surgery, Jamie at Chem19 and Gordon at his home studio.” But then on the other hand when I push her about the arrangements, she also admits, “I’m very fond of doing pre-recording demos. I did a lot of work on the cello, which was always my first instrument when I studied music, building up layers of strings.” There’s a determination in the way that she says it that leaves little room for doubt that, Siobhan will back her own judgement when it comes to the record, just as much as anyone.
If you’re looking for real evidence of that fearlessness, however, then the time she spent in Paris is surely proof. Siobhan admits, “It was supposed to be a gap year, but I stayed for five. I learnt the language and joined a jazz band.” While the summer heat didn’t suit her, we get lost for a few minutes in talking the pleasures of pavement café culture (and more) for a few minutes before she concludes, “Eventually I just had to admit, I’m not French and I miss home.” Again Siobhan turns to the positive and tells me how much she is enjoying the scene in Glasgow right now, “You’ve got Celtic Connections, which is huge, but the whole of Scotland seems so alive and vibrant with music.”
We also lose ourselves in a few minutes conversation about French music and I ask Siobhan about its appeal and influence on her own sound. She tells me, “The French have an attitude towards culture, much like they do with food and wine, where they want to celebrate the really good things, keep hold of them and maintain high standards.” We talk briefly about Brel, Gainsbourg and Francois Hardy. Brel, Siobhan’s particular favourite, who was of course Belgian by birth, but set a tone that still echoes through French music today. Siobhan is eager to point out, however that it’s not just the music, but the life experiences, especially ‘le grand amour’, that have shaped this record.
It obviously helps that Siobhan is an excellent musician with a gorgeous voice, skilled on a number of instruments. She plays guitars, ukulele, mandolin, piano and keyboards, glockenspiel and as already mentioned, cello. Gordon Skene, formally of Frightened Rabbit adds his own multi-instrumental talents to most tracks, while Admiral Fallow’s bassist Joe Rattray plays on four and Aidan O’Rourke is on three. All songs are Siobhan’s although one is co-written with Tommy O’Reilly.
Siobhan is also prepared to admit that the love of her life didn’t quite work out that way, so that inevitably colours these songs. She even admits that they stray into some dark, soul searching, although also assures me that she’s a positive and optimistic person by nature. All of that does come across through this superb set of songs.
Say It’s True, the title track opens with a brief a cappella carrying a heavy trail of reverb as Siobhan repeats, “What once was lost has now been found.” The song builds up steady layers of orchestration with ukulele, guitars, harp and Siobhan’s trademark cello, overdubbed to create a quartet. There are suggestions of that love not running smoothly as Siobhan sings, “Writing words of love and Sorrow, You said they would set me free,” and then in the bridge, “You left on an aeroplane, are you ever coming back my way?” Siobhan is joined by an impressive male voice backing chorus that includes Aidan and Tommy Reilly.
If that’s suggestive of heartbreak, then it gets more obvious and the title of the next song, Terrible Woman, is a give away. The song displays a strong French influence, with two distinct parts, firstly the slow, nylon strung acoustic section and then the breezy pop-song. It brings something cinematic, possibly an odd song in a Michel Legrand score to mind. Siobhan sings “I’m just not ready to fall in love, I don’t want to be kept, Don’t want to belong to anyone, Does that make me a terrible woman?”
The next trio are a bit more oblique, but two slow moody piano and cello led songs in Desperate Thing and The Great Eye sandwich the disarmingly bright and poppy White Gown, although all three seem troubled by the dark places that Siobhan has alluded to. The first starts with the long slowly drawn out line, “Never will I be loved of love again,” with the piano adding to the sense of weight pulling you down. It heads inevitably towards, “Without you I’m a desperate thing.” The White Gown appears to be a hospital robe, with the urgent press of mortality countered by, “There’ll be a tomorrow, if nothing else let’s focus on that.” The Great Eye returns us to the weighty pull of the piano, but here the ills are mental as Siobhan asks, “When will there be peace again in my mind.” Those latter two make clever use of Siobhan’s voice layering counter-melodies to create very different effects.
Things are more positive in You Make Everything Better, but whether this is the same love affair or a new one isn’t clear. Either way Siobhan simply asks, “What’s a girl meant to do, when she’s so in love with you?” Finally the blissful, ethereal Believe In Everything, even suggests, “We are children again, We believe in everything,” as if to show that the sense of wonder still exists within her. In a way it echoes the opener in the way she modulates her voice holding onto the word ‘everything’, much as she does with the word ‘true’ at the start.
By her own admission the record charts some dark emotional territory, drawing on what has been left behind in Paris. There is light, however, shining through these obsidian shards of broken hearts, as Siobhan gathers moments and memories, gaining the strength to push through to a life ripe for the living. In the process Say It’s True has become a great set of songs, blessed with some blissful tunes and the kind of careful, skilful arrangements that suggest huge promise in store. You could say it’s truly beautiful.
Review by: Simon Holland
Released 29 June 2015 via Reveal Records
Order it here
EP Launch: Jun 24th The Glad Cafe, Glasgow (plus Special Guests)