Hello and welcome to my Sunday Recommendation. Thanks for joining me. Every week I read great wildlife and nature books, stumble upon engrossing websites and hear wonderful new music. This is my chance to bring you carefully curated recommendations of all the best I’ve experienced – every Sunday. If it’s folk, or independent, or about wildlife, nature or Orkney, I may love it, and so may you.
The Living Mountain – Jenny Sturgeon
This week’s been all about The Living Mountain by Jenny Sturgeon. It’s a record which starts with birdsong, then a drone, then a plaintive voice with clipped pronunciation and a Scottish accent. That tells you straight away why I’m recommending it, doesn’t it? It’s also folk-inspired music by someone who has a PhD in seabird ecology. From the science of seabirds to the music of the mountains. It’s ticking all my boxes.
The Living Mountain is an audio-visual project, with the audio being an album of 12 songs, corresponding with the twelve chapters of Nan Shepherd’s book about the Cairngorm mountains, The Living Mountain.
Here’s Air & Light:
Nan Shepherd wrote her book in the 1940s and didn’t publish it until over 30 years later. I’m glad we’ve not had to wait that long for Jenny Sturgeon’s project to reach a large and appreciative audience. Nan’s work is a very slim volume of philosophical musings influenced by Zen Buddhism with reflections on simply ‘being’ with the mountains. Nan Shepherd’s book has become a classic for modern proponents of nature writing. It’s very different from modern nature writing, which is a genre mainly undertaken by upper-middle class Oxbridge English graduates who can’t do plot or characterisation but can do description. It often contains little science and much superstition.
Nan’s book, however, is a contemplation of how we experience the world with our entire senses when out in nature. It is an exploration of how the in-depth knowledge of a small place can bring out universal themes. It is densely written and full of poetic imagery and philosophical musing.
The Living Mountain was recorded and produced at Clashnettie Arts Centre in the Cairngorms National Park with a guitar made from reclaimed Scots pine from an ancient pub shelf. Every aspect of the project has clearly been very thoughtful.
Jenny Sturgeon’s album ends with Being:
I’ve been enjoying the promotion that Jenny has been undertaking for the album. It’s a modern textbook example of how artists can reach and retain an audience in difficult times. Jenny has recorded a whole series of podcasts called The Living Mountain. It contains interviews with the guitar maker, Nan Shepherd’s biographer and the filmmaker as well as covering feminism and mental health.
Jenny’s also recorded a listening club video with her comments while listening to her album. It’s a great way of gaining an insight into the creative process.
Jenny is currently working on audio-visual project ‘The Living Mountain’ alongside Shona Thomson – a collection of songs and films inspired by Nan Shepherd’s book of the same name. Supported by Creative Scotland and Help Musicians, and on tour in 2021.
The album is also available on blue vinyl and CD from Hudson Records. Jenny has also set up The Living Mountain grove with the Scottish rewilding conservation charity Trees for Life, you can buy a Tree with your CD or LP to help offset some of the carbon expended in their creation. All the CDs and LPs use recycled paper and paper from sustainably managed forests. They have also chosen not to shrink wrap them to reduce their single-use plastic waste. I wonder if the trees will be wrapped in plastic?
Jenny Sturgeon: vocals, guitar, out of tune piano, harmonium, dulcimer, whistle, synth, field recordings.
The Living Mountain is a wistful album of great beauty. Take a listen and just ‘be’.
That’s it for this week. I’ll be back with more recommendations of things you might adore next Sunday. In the meantime, I wish you a great week. Keep safe, everyone.