Kathryn Joseph and the Tinderbox Collective

MONDAY morning January 17. There are less than two weeks until the Tinderbox Collective and Kathryn Joseph take to the stage at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of this year’s Celtic Connections. Only they are not sure that it will definitely happen.

“All my parts are crossed,” admits Joseph, however, the Aberdonian singer-songwriter is hoping rather than believing that his Celtic Connections event will continue when we speak.

“Everyone I know who plays at Celtic Connections has already had theirs cancelled. It will be very lucky if we get there, I think. But then, too, you feel a guilt that the others are not at all. It’s weird.

It has been a difficult, if not traumatic, few weeks for the Glasgow festival as it has sought to cope with this winter’s Covid restrictions which have undermined so many of its plans. Concerts have been canceled, others moved online. But the day after our conversation, Joseph and Tinderbox will receive confirmation that their concert will take place.

This means there will be a real live celebration for the launch of new EP, The Blood, The Weight, The Weary, which sees Joseph re-recording three of his busiest songs with Tinderbox’s 30-piece orchestra of youth.

On paper, it’s a brave move. Joseph, surely one of the most exciting Scottish artists to emerge in the last decade, has made a name for himself with songs full of love, loss and grief presented with emotional and sonic nakedness. His two albums, 2015 Scottish Album of the Year Bones You Have Thrown Me and Blood I’ve Spilled and From When I Wake the Want Is, released in 2018, are stark, bare-bones things driven by piano playing. expressive of Joseph and his extraordinary voice. Marcus Mackay adds drums and synths to both, but even those are used sparingly.

And so, the new EP is sort of a reinvention. On The Weary, arranger Luci Holland adds a sumptuous orchestral introduction to Joseph’s piece. On Weight, Sam Irvine’s arrangement brings a minimalist touch (inspired by Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians). Oh, and a marimba. On The Blood, Tinderbox Artistic Director Jack Nissan layers Joseph’s unique voice into an inflated cushion of orchestral sound that sucks in — and reaches, I think — epic.

Joseph admits she wasn’t sure about the idea of ​​orchestral versions of her work to begin with. “Can I get away with just my weird raspy voice and all that noise?” she wondered.

But the result delighted her. “As soon as I heard the arrangements, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s better than my version.’ It was a very immediate, ‘This makes sense.’

Listening to these new versions of her songs was a moving experience, she says.

“I think it almost gives me a chance to listen to them again and feel them again. A string section makes me emotional anyway.

What’s so impressive about the EP is how the addition of the orchestra never overpowers the original songs. The arrangements never overwhelm the emotion of Joseph’s singing and playing.

It was a real risk,” admits Jack Nissan of Tinderbox. But, he adds, the nudity of the original songs meant there was room for the orchestra to grow.

“There was room to make them sound different and feel different. I was keen enough that they didn’t feel like the original, to bring them something a little different through the arranging and collaborating process.

“I think the main thing is that it tries to contain the soul and the heart that you hear in Kathryn’s singing, retaining the central emotion behind the music.”

Joseph and Tinderbox Collective first collaborated at the Hidden Door Festival in Leith in 2017 and, according to Nissan, there was an “immediate creative click”. Next week’s EP and live performances grew out of that. The EP was originally slated for release in 2020, so there has been a wait for it all to come together. This wait was worth it.

What’s even more impressive is that the members of Tinderbox Collective are so young.

“They could all be my kids,” says Joseph, who was 40 when his debut album won the SAY award. “But I’ve never met such bright, beautiful, kind humans.”

Nissan created the Tinderbox Collective ten years ago. Originally from London, he had moved to Edinburgh to study, then started playing in local bands. He had always had an interest in education and he wanted to bring music and children together.

Based around North Edinburgh Arts in Muirhouse, Tinderbox runs workshops for schools and runs weekly music-based youth clubs. Over the years, he encouraged children in their early teens to learn an instrument. Many members of the orchestra, aged 14 to 25, learned to be musicians through youth clubs and now pass on their knowledge to younger people. Sam Irvine, who arranged Weight, joined when he was 14 and he’s now 24.

Yet none of this has come easy over the past two Covid-scarred years. “Obviously we had to stop playing music together in person,” Nissan admits. “The youth clubs couldn’t meet and we weren’t allowed to play live music, which is very sad.

“We ended up creating a huge amount of youth clubs online, playing music with each other. And we launched an online music school and musical instrument library.

Joseph reckons she has been one of the luckiest during the pandemic. She’s writing and recording a new album due out in April (musically, she says, “it’s more stripped down than it’s ever been”). Inevitably, though, that pandemic time when she couldn’t perform much live took its toll.

“I definitely feel like I’m at the start again, in terms of confidence. But maybe that’s good too,” Joseph says.

“It worries me how it’s affected other people. It’s so hard not being able to do what you need to do to make money. But also your mental health. C It’s so connected for anyone doing anything creative. So, yeah, it’s been a very strange time for everyone.

Now, though we are cautiously heading back in the direction of normality.

“I remember thinking, ‘How is everyone getting back to normal?’ admits Joseph. “Before, it was our favorite thing to do, to see a concert. And now you’re worried about being close to someone at a concert, which is the whole point of being at a concert.

When the world reopened, she said, she went to see Erland Cooper perform at the Barbican in London. “It was the first time I had seen live music in over a year. I knew I would be affected, but I was bawling.

Nissan hopes, however, that we are heading in the right direction again. “The last six months it’s been really exciting to start playing music again and start going to gigs and seeing live music. It’s come back pretty quickly. So hopefully that winter blip will pass and that we will return to live music.

All parties have crossed paths.

Tinderbox Collective & Kathryn Joseph are playing at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow next Saturday. The Blood, The Weight, The Weary releases Friday

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