As the rest of the UK resisted the temptation to head outside during a hot Easter bank holiday, a music label on the tiny Hebridean isle of Eigg is making a virtue of the lockdown by releasing songs recorded by artists in isolation and reinvigorating its remote community in the process.
Easter weekend would usually mark the start of the tourist season on Eigg, which has about 100 permanent residents, but visitors can no longer reach the island, with the ferry company that connects Eigg to the mainland only carrying residents.
Eiggers, such as the musician Johnny Lynch, are turning to new methods of generating income as life on the island, which was already transforming before the coronavirus outbreak, changes due to the UK-wide lockdown.
Lost Map Records’ residency project Visitations on the isle was started in 2018 by Lynch, who records music as Pictish Trail, attracting musicians such as members of British Sea Power and Jason Lytle, lead singer of Grandaddy.
Visitors are set up in a secluded “bothy” cabin, where Lynch provides accommodation, supplies, recording equipment and instruments, and have a week to create music inspired by their stay on the island. The results, released on vinyl and as digital downloads, are illustrative of the ideas residents have come up with to generate income as island life changes.
The bothy sits on a lamb farm and was built by Sarah Boden – the former assistant editor of the Observer Music Monthly who grew up on Eigg and swapped London for island life a decade ago – with help from EU funding supporting farm diversification.
“There’s talk of family farms disappearing and there being another wave of island clearances, that’s one of the reasons why we decided to do the bothy,” she said. “Eigg’s visitor numbers have gone up but there’s a dearth of places for people to stay.”
“It can be quite isolated here so [the bothy] can be good way to bring interesting people to you and feel like you’re not missing out on everything,” she added. “Obviously, that’s gone now.”
Boden is preparing for lambing season, which begins next week, without the help of two Belgian volunteers who can no longer reach the island, and the prospect of falling lamb prices. “Sales are in September, so hopefully some normality will return by then,” she added.
Boden and Lynch say the isolation element of the lockdown is not too difficult for Eiggers. “It’s not hugely different to our lifestyle in the winter because you don’t see that many people,” said Boden. “If you go out for a walk you won’t see anyone.”
Despite the lockdown the latest set of recordings, including one by Los Angeles collective Arthur King that features Lytle, have been released along with podcasts that detail the recordings. The acts came to Eigg in 2019, attracted by the chance to become detached from everyday life. “I wanted to try to create an archive of music from the island where people were experiencing the island and generating music from here,” said Lynch.
“Every release so far has featured people going out and using field recordings from the island that’s been reflected back in the music. It’s pretty cosmic; it can get very experimental.”
Although none of the island’s permanent residents have Covid-19, Boden said the lockdown measures were being followed strictly as illnesses can travel quickly around Eigg’s population.
“There’s a winter bug that’s called ‘the bomb’ and everyone usually gets it in the same week because we all congregate in the same places. There’s a tea room and a little shop where the boat comes in and that’s the main public place on the island.”
“So I could imagine that it would go around quite quickly if it did come here,” added Boden.
From Lanre Bakare at the Guardian
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