INTERVIEW: Heal & Harrow | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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For a period spanning hundreds of years, witch trials and the executions of the accused were common occurrences across much of Europe. In Britain, and in Scotland in particular, many thousands were tried, tortured and killed, until the practice faded in the early eighteenth century.

Almost three hundred years on, a Scottish duo, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, both well-known and respected folk musicians in their own right, have come together to begin their latest undertaking. “Heal & Harrow is a multi-disciplinary project that pays tribute to Scottish women persecuted as witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries while also exploring traditions and beliefs in the supernatural.” They explain.

As a multi-disciplinary project, Heal & Harrow explores its challenging theme from more than one angle, and is the handiwork of a number of influential Scottish women. “We commissioned author Màiri Kidd to write ten stories based on the lives of ten different women. These stories inspired our music, which in turn has informed a specially commissioned film by Alison Piper, which will be part of our live show.”

The project’s album is due for release on 4th February, and debut single, Lilias, is an enticing precursor. Musically, it’s a mixture of folk and modern electronic music, perhaps reflecting its subject matter’s enduring pertinence. “We were lucky to have the time and space in the studio to be quite experimental with sounds and textures.” Rachel Newton explains. “We both have a very solid grounding in traditional Scottish music, but also enjoy exploring other avenues with our music. We worked with producer Andy Bell and recorded at Black Bay Studio on Great Bernera in the Outer Hebrides. It was a very special place to make the album.”

These people, mostly women, suffered a grave miscarriage of justice and we feel it’s important to remember them and to be more aware of what took place in our past

Lyrically, the piece tells the tragic tale of Lilias Adie, who lived from around 1640 until 1704. “Lilias was accused of witchcraft by a neighbour, imprisoned and interrogated for four weeks. She confessed, but died before trial, giving the authorities the unusual challenge of disposing of the remains of a witch who had not been condemned to the fire. They buried Lilias under a slab of stone in the intertidal space of Torryburn Bay. In the 1800s, her grave was disturbed by curio hunters and the remains eventually lost.”

Currently, there is a campaign underway in Scotland for a legal pardon, apology and monument to the victims of the country’s witch trials, of which the people behind Heal & Harrow are supportive. “These people, mostly women, suffered a grave miscarriage of justice and we feel it’s important to remember them and to be more aware of what took place in our past.”

After such a long period of time, some may ask how this terrible piece of history still bears relevance. Witch trials are common subjects of study, often via modern feminist perspectives, and Rachel explains that there are lessons to be learned from the past in order to bring about change:It’s worth noting that witch trials still take place in some parts of the world, and it’s often the most vulnerable in society that suffer.”

This month Heal & Harrow will be touring the UK, with their concert at Sage Gateshead on Saturday 12th February their first in England. Their set will include music from previous endeavours, followed by a full performance of their new album, alongside its accompanying film.

Heal & Harrow perform at Sage Gateshead on Saturday 12th February. Their self-titled debut album is released on 5th February.



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