We are the Wildlife is the forthcoming debut solo LP from celebrated Irish folk chanteuse and harpist Brona McVittie. As a taster of the magic to come, Brona is sharing a double A side single featuring the traditional love ballad Newry Mountain, a lesser-heard folk song from her home of County Down, and the evocative original composition Under The Pines, both of which you can listen to below. A combination of musical influences, both traditional and comtemporary, alongside a move from city to pastoral countryside seem to have spurred on her latest creative endeavour but there’s no denying her sheer talent as a beautiful singer and harpist which is why we’ve chosen both songs as our Song of the Day.
These two tracks feature harp and subtle ambient effects with the lush richness of orchestral strings from specialist Richard Curran, who has recorded with Bert Jansch and Steve Tilston, trumpet from film-composer Hutch Demouilpied, flute from Keiron Phelan (State River Widening, Smile Down Upon Us, littlebow) and slide guitar and drums from artist/producer Myles Cochran.
Brona recently returned to living in her native County Down after many years in London and has found herself living beside the ocean, forest and the Mourne mountains. The stark contrast between the urban chaos of London and the pastoral beauty of County Down has been rich inspiration for her new compositions, and Under The Pines arose spontaneously after a jaunt in the forest, she explains “one day while out running my usual circuit I stopped at the kennels on the edge of the pine forest to catch my breath. As I listened to the dogs barking I noticed they were replying to their own echoes; the build up and reverberation of the sound of the trees seemed almost supernatural”.
Aside from finding fresh inspiration for writing new songs, another boon in moving back to County Down has been her discovery that there are so many more folk songs from the area than that well-worn Percy French ditty The Mountains of Mourne. Brona has explored the archives and has uncovered some fabulous ballads in the collections of Jackie Boyce and Cathal O’Boyle. Gra Geal Mo Chroi (Bright Love of My Heart) or Newry Mountain was initially collected by Sam Henry in his Songs of the People, and later recorded by Joe Holmes on his album After Dawning (Topic, 1978). Brona states “the song is a vow of love, although I’m still wondering where Newry Mountain actually is”.
Brona’s musical influences are wide ranging, from the hymns that she sang at school and her teenage obsession with Prince, to the 70s folk innovators such as John Martyn and Bert Jansch. She tends to write on guitar, later translating song arrangements onto harp. Her influences include modern day post-folk electronic artists such as Tunng and Colleen, and even Portishead, in contrast, she also is equally stimulated listening to traditional archive recordings e.g. Alan Lomax, and classical composers including Satie and Beethoven.
Aside from her fledging solo career, Brona has built up widespread international acclaim for her work with Irish all-female folk legends The London Lasses, a capella ensemble Rún and post-folk trio littlebow with Katie English (Isnaj Dui/The Doomed Birds of Providence) and Keiron Phelan. She premiered her new compositions in London in May 2017 and will be touring the UK and Ireland in Autumn 2017.