It wasn’t until the melodies caught the ear of care home volunteer Stuart Mackenzie, that the ‘Lost Songs of St Kilda’ were saved from extinction.
St Kilda, a deserted Scottish island dubbed ‘the Edge of the World’ has had its songs brought back to life thanks to Trevor Morrison who lived in an Edinburgh care home.
Before his death in 2012, Trevor would enchant his fellow residents with his strange and haunting music which he played on a rickety old piano.
Having been taught the songs as a boy by a piano teacher from St Kilda, Trevor kept the songs alive throughout his years playing to whomever would listen. It wasn’t until the melodies caught the ear of care home volunteer Stuart Mackenzie, that the ‘Lost Songs of St Kilda’ were saved from extinction.
“I bought a £3 microphone” Stuart recalls “and recorded Trevor playing a knackered care home piano” – Which is exactly what you hear on ‘The Lost Songs Of St Kilda’ – eight simple melodies, exactly as Trevor remembered them from those childhood lessons on Bute.
The songs made their way to Decca Records after Classical A&R Executive Fiona Pope, a cellist from Glasgow, heard about the existence of the recordings and was asked to transcribe the melodies. She later took them to Scotland’s foremost contemporary composers to reimagine, reinterpret and remix their favourite tunes. Each song is named after part of St Kilda (including its magnificent sea stacs) and evokes the wild beauty of the landscape.
Sir James MacMillan wrote a string arrangement of the track ‘Hirta’ and conducts the Scottish Festival Orchestra on the album. Other contributors include Craig Armstrong, Mercury Prize nominee Christopher Duncan, Rebecca Dale and Francis Macdonald (drummer of Teenage Fanclub) whose orchestration of the track ‘Dùn’ includes a poem, ‘To Finlay MacDonald from St Kilda’, written by the late Norman Campbell – read and sung in English and Scots Gaelic by North Uist singer Julie Fowlis (who performed on the soundtrack to 2012 film Brave).
Now for the first time ever, a concert has taken place on St Kilda with Internationally renowned composer Sir James MacMillan putting on an extraordinary piano performance. Playing the ‘Lost Songs of St Kilda’ in front of a handful of people who endured an eight-hour boat trip from Skye to be there. It was the first time music has been heard on St Kilda since its evacuation in 1930 and the first time a piano has ever been taken there – transported flat packed in a storm-force vessel across the Atlantic Ocean.
Before Trevor Morrison died in 2012, he wrote a letter thanking those who helped him record the songs which he said had haunted him all his life, conveying his wish “that these few tunes from the long-forgotten isles can be preserved and given a future.”
With the ‘The Lost Songs of St Kilda’ his wish is finally fulfilled.