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

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June sees the culmination of Sage Gateshead’s latest Artists in Residence cycle – a nine-month process that’s granted four exceptional artists the time, funding and space to deliver on exciting new project concepts. Over the coming weeks, this year’s participants – Ceitidh Mac, Kerrin Tatman, Late Girl and Anna Hughes – will each play a special concert airing their completed work, with the former kickstarting the series on Thursday 15th June with SOUND WEAVE: The Living North.

Born and raised in Pembrokeshire, singer-songwriter Ceitidh MacLeod has spent recent years establishing her name among her adopted North East’s most distinguished up-and-comers. Characterised by a trademark cello and distinctive vocal combo, Ceitidh’s talents have already been showcased over a string of fine singles and 2021’s stellar I Reach for the Pen EP, yet this latest project is a markedly fresh endeavour – a wholehearted embrace of her previously untapped passion for Radio Ballads.

“I think I found a new appreciation for radio during lockdown,” she recalls. “Without gigs, it felt like this constant that kept going, and a place to escape and listen to new music. I also love the way it connects people, with everyone listening to the same thing at the same time.”

“The original Radio Ballads were a creative way of telling people’s stories,” she continues. “I like the idea that people are politics – that we can all learn about the world by listening to people’s lived experiences, rather than trying to engage with the politics of Westminster, which can seem so removed from most people’s lives. Music can be a powerful way of putting people’s observations into a digestible format, with people’s stories told in their own words. It combined all the things I wanted to work with in one!”

Weaving interviews, field recordings and original music, the Radio Ballad format dates back to the 1950s, and has steadily become a staple in Ceitidh’s listening habits. “The first original one I heard is called The Traveling People, which starts with an amazing clip from an interview with a woman talking about being moved on by the police, even when she was about to give birth! Another I love is called Ballad of the Miners’ Strike from 2010, which gives an insight into what life was like during that period in the 1980s.”

Inspired by such examples, Ceitidh has used her residency to painstakingly write, research and record an hour-long show of her own, based on the lives and concerns of people across the North East. “The questions were shaped so they were given an opportunity to look back at the past and discuss the present – but the main focus was what they want the future to look like,” she says, discussing the interview process. “Lots of different things came up… People chatted about their connection to the region. Strikes, both the past and present. Community, and the different places you find it. Technology. Working whilst being a mum. The experiences of women working in male dominated trades…”

Connecting these threads, SOUND WEAVE: The Living North will be Ceitidh’s most expansive live performance to date. As well as regular collaborator Will Hammond, the Artist in Residence show will feature additional contributions from Fran Knowles, plus vocals from fellow singer-songwriters Janice Burns, Mauis Mollis and Martha Hill.

“We’re experimenting with how to shape the live show, but a main focus has been not to make this project extractive,” she reveals. “By that, I mean taking stories, and not giving something back, but hopefully representing the people I spoke to in the melodies and songs. Quite a few of them are going to be coming to the gig, which is the bit I’m most nervous about!”

Ceitidh Mac performs SOUND WEAVE: The Living North at Sage Gateshead on Thursday 15th June.

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