Alasdair Roberts talks Archive Trails and what to expect this evening

Archive Trails comes to the end of its tour this evening and finally Glasgow gets to experience this unique event.

In early 2011 three artists, Aileen Campbell, Alasdair Roberts and Wounded Knee, on the invite of local promoter Tracer Trails, got access to a resource at The School of Scottish Studies containing a huge archive designed to document and preserve Scotland’s oral traditions.

The trio got access to this resource for 12 weeks and now are touring the country bringing a set inspired from their stint in the school.

The tour so far has been a success, packing out venues around the country including some rather remote locations, like Rosehall and Aviemore.

During the mid-point of this tour I caught up with one of the participants, Alasdair Roberts to find out what they were actually doing, how the tour has been received so far and what to expect for the final show in Glasgow.

“The audiences have been appreciative of the work, regardless of their size, Cupar and Edinburgh were, I believe, particularly good shows in terms of audience numbers and reception,” explains Roberts.

“We’ve travelled through some interesting parts of the country and the venues which have hosted us have been very varied indeed – from the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to a pub/restaurant called The Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, a concert hall in Perth and a hotel lounge in Sutherland.

“It’s been interesting to see how the work has developed and adapted to each new performance context and audience.  Overall, I’d deem the tour a success in all of its variables.”

At a glance Roberts before may be mistaken for just an ordinary Scottish folk musician, but listening to his music and looking into his past would tell a completely different story.

His former band, Appendix Out, were signed to US label Drag City shortly after Roberts had allegedly handed a demo to legendary American singer Will Oldham, who he later collaborated with, and were respected enough to do a session for the late John Peel.

Roberts’ work under his own name has been loyal to Scottish folk traditions; he has credited many other traditional songwriters as inspiration as well as releasing full albums of traditional folk songs, so the invitation to be involved Archive Trails could not really be more suited to anyone him.

Archive Trails sees Roberts’ evolve from his usual comfort zone, with the help of drummer and puppeteer Shane Connolly, bringing a show inspired by the folk play Galoshins.

The play, related to the Mummers’ play found in various parts of Britain, was performed by children around this time of year in the Borders and Central Scotland, but died off in the early 20th century.

Roberts’ Galoshins sees him bring together a patchwork of different sources to bring a new interpretation of the show through music and puppetry.

Roberts has clearly been affected by his time at the School and does not seem to want to leave the experience behind him:

“I regard the sound archive of the SSS as a potential source of lots of future work, particularly as I envisage that my work will continue to engage with Scottish traditional material in various ways.

“For example, I’m keen to reach a state of practice which involves the integration of traditional song/ballad influences and the folkloric stock of Scotland and beyond with more compositional techniques.”

So, what to expect from tonight’s live show, from the rave reviews and interesting ideas the artists have been following, it’s not going to be dull.

“You can expect three very different performances, each piece draws on our individual research paths and experiences in various distinct ways,” Roberts comments.

Aileen Campbell’s work takes in a variety of different modes of presentation including performance, sound and video, with her primary focus generally being the human voice.

Her live performances in the past have seen her synchronising her own vocals with house hold appliances, singing soprano while bouncing on a trampoline and encouraging audience participation to create a totally unique experience.

Roberts is keen not to give much away about Campbell’s performance for Archive Trails but does state: “Aileen’s is a video work concerned with notions of learning, oral transmission and the invisible processes which go on behind the creation of the sound archive and without which it couldn’t exist.”

Experimental vocalist Drew Wright, aka Wounded Knee, draws on his own archive of song inviting his audience to come along with him into his findings at the SSS, through folklore and language and the art of popular song.

Wounded Knee’s usual live performances are generally amongst the most memorable you’ll see, as he mixes his experiences as an occasional children’s entertainer and a folk musician to produce a show that an audience can participate and engage with in equal measure, so expect something a bit special tonight.

The tour coincides with not only the 60th anniversary of the SSS but the fifth birthday of DIY promoter Tracer Trails who has consistently brought to life some of Scotland’s most intriguing and endearing shows and festivals over the past five years.

So, there is much to celebrate and with a promise of more events akin to this in future we look forward to the next thing to be drawn out the bag.

For Roberts, the tour brings fruition to what has been an exciting experience:

“The tour is in a sense the culmination of the research process, the latter of which was enjoyable in itself but the former, bringing the work to people, has definitely been the highlight for me.”

The tour ending in Glasgow holds special to Roberts not only because it’s his hometown but because of the massive musical heritage the city holds.

And if you’re not won over by what’s already on offer, Roberts comments:

“The most special thing about any Glasgow show is, of course, the wonderful Glasgow audience, but perhaps there will be some extra treats in store that night”

Archive Trails is tonight at CCA, doors 8pm, tickets £7.


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