INTERVIEW: Ceitidh Mac | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“I think our ears really like the cello,” muses Welsh-born Tynesider Ceitidh Mac. “It has such a versatile sound – the low-end frequencies, the bassline riffs, the lyrical tone of the bow – I’ve heard it has the same range as the human voice, and although it’s usually considered a classical instrument there are lots of people changing the ways in which it can be played. I love performing in venues where you’d never hear a cello normally!”

Alongside the likes of Me Lost Me and Heather Ferrier, Ceitidh (think “Katie”, of “ceilidh” with a T) spearheads a clutch of North East artists following individual yet ideologically aligned paths, conjuring fresh, exciting shapes from sounds many would consign to yesteryear. With a charismatic smoky vocal to match her instrumental prowess, the alt. cellist-songwriter’s reputation has blossomed on the back of her captivating live shows – yet despite a clutch of promising singles is still to manifest in a definitive studio statement.

For this reason, August’s I Reach For The Pen EP represents not only progress, but also a true breakthrough; its 17 glorious minutes heralding Ceitidh Mac’s arrival as a bold, unique virtuoso worth cherishing. Her first cohesive, purpose-written body of work (and, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, her maiden vinyl release), this revelatory six-tracker offers a comprehensive showcase of a burgeoning artist of multitudinal talents, equipped with tools to resonate far beyond an excited local scene.
“I’ve been playing Scrapheap live for a while, but the other songs represent my past year or so of writing,” she explains. Ironically, it’s a period which – at least at the time – felt less like a purple-patch and more like a creative dearth, as instinct and routine clashed with the necessity for remote working. “It definitely wasn’t the most inspired time for me. I struggled without the structure I was used to – gigging, and all the other things which go with being a musician – as well as having all that time but not feeling energised by the world or the state it was in.

“It was a sort of different, almost forced way of writing,” she continues. “Because we couldn’t move around or interact with other people so much, I was just left with my own brain, trying to pull creative stuff out of it – but sometimes you need that interaction to be inspired. The last two songs on the EP – Dragon’s Out and When The Tune Rises – are about those inner workings; that ebb and flow of inspiration and trying to grab onto it when it does eventually come.”

I do think it’s important to reflect the social and political things which go on, but I like to do so in a way that’s relatable and slightly ambiguous

As a listener, it seems almost dumbfounding that this laborious process has spawned such dazzling results. Indeed, far from a toilful dirge, I Reach For The Pen, is both bustling and resplendent, marrying bewitching experimental flair with breezy tones akin to alt. folk luminaries such as Rachael Dadd and Rozi Plain. As Ceitidh explains, however, these impulses stemmed not from a single significant breakthrough, but rather a series of low-key eureka moments, often as unexpected as they were trivial.
“It was about trying to appreciate the small things.
I really enjoy finding those tiny little details in life which everybody experiences and bringing out those everyday processes.” The aforementioned Scrapheap, for instance, was sparked by a petty note (“Please park properly next time!”) left anonymously on her car’s windscreen, while stunning lead track Birds reflects the splendour of awakening to a natural, chirping chorus. “That was definitely one positive,” she recalls: “When the traffic stopped you did suddenly begin to hear the birds on the street I live on – silver linings, I guess! In a way, it’s an EP of two parts: whereas the final two songs are more introspective, the first half is more about looking out, appreciating nature and questioning our human behaviours. I do think it’s important to reflect the social and political things which go on, but I like to do so in a way that’s relatable and slightly ambiguous, so listeners can interpret songs in ways which make sense to them.”

In addition to the four focus tracks, I Reach For The Pen weaves in a pair of instrumentals; cuts Ceitidh admits offer a brief, albeit fruitful detour to her comfort zone. “I love it when an EP or an album has a shape to it, so I wanted there to be a thread running through the songs too. I think as an instrumentalist rather than a lyricist – with the cello as another voice as opposed to an accompaniment – so for me those tracks are just as meaningful. I don’t know whether it’s due to my dyslexia and the way my brain works, but it’s always taken me a while to pick out lyrics. I think that’s naturally led me to be someone who writes melody before words.”

With the EP primed to be let loose, focus now turns to an overdue live return, with a clutch of local dates providing warm-up for a nationwide jaunt come November. For most shows, she’ll be joined by the EP’s silent partners, vibraphonist/percussionist Will Hammond and synth player Calum Howard (who also handled production, with Sam Grant on recording duties at Blank Studios). Ultimately, though, the profiles of venues in London, Glasgow or her native Pembrokeshire seem immaterial – regardless of whether they’re accustomed to cello, it’s doubtful their stages will ever have hosted an artist quite like Ceitidh Mac.

Ceitidh Mac’s new EP, I Reach For The Pen, is released on Friday 27th August, the same day she performs at Gosforth Civic Theatre supporting Alabaster dePlume


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