Unroofed Records / out now
Collaboration is a beautiful thing. Patti Smith and Philip Glass. Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman. Laurie Anderson and William Burroughs. And here, Charlotte Hathaway (writer and producer) and Mike Vass (music, lyrics and tenor guitar) on the wonderfully immersive The Dead Stations, a cross-platform collaboration telling a modern fairytale within a vast forest and the abandoned (dead) stations along the railway line.
Forests and railway lines spell danger in storytelling culture, and this work continues the theme. A train passenger and a young woman become lost in the forest and wander deeper into this within a confusing, mythical tale. What is real and what is imagined? Who is the wolf and who is the hero? Do the dead stations of the title hide some horrible deed? Hathaway weaves an intriguing fable drawing on the fairy-tales of Charles Perrault, itself borrowed from an older Middle Eastern version.
The young woman and the train passenger, played by occasional Stellar Quine, Ishbel McFarlane and Tommy Herbert, seem unlikely fellow explorers but the uptight passenger warms to the devil-may-care girl. Herbert is held back by his acting skills (or perhaps by the direction); the traveller’s profanities appear out of place and don’t sound natural from Herbert’s lips. McFarlane fares better but is let down by the script in places; the young woman’s exclamations are more suited to a children’s production and feel clumsy, so her character loses some of its intrigue.
Overall, it is a satisfyingly unsettling tale, perhaps made more so by the serenely beautiful music; Vass’s first foray into lyric writing shows him to be a natural. Mairi Campbell (vocals, viola and violin) is an inspired choice to sing these lyrics; her indelible gossamer vocals are perfect. It was the two vocal pieces, Sleepless and Eyes Fixed that set the whole production in granite. The artwork, like the live version animation by Nica Harrison and Atikah Zailani, is a dreamlike mix of part real, part sketched imagery well suited to the subject matter in a half-lit northern, Moomin kind of way. It is a treat for the headphones which brings an intimate quality to the piece.
This type of collaboration is essential to continue developing the Scottish storytelling tradition, encompassing other creative forms to reach out to a new audience. And whilst Hathaway’s writing skills for adults may not have quite caught up with her brilliant, dark imagination, The Dead Stations is one platform not to pass by.