Ambitious new project Crow Hill is an album, graphic novel, film and immersive theatre show
Already well-known to Edinburgh audiences by his songwriting alias Meursault, named in honour of Camus' character in his classic existentialist novel The Outsider, Neil Pennycook's music is heartfelt, complex and deserving of far wider attention than it has received up to this point. With four full albums already released on Edinburgh's Song, By Toad label, he sings resonantly of doubt, heartbreak, emotional hurt and hope amid the darkness, with a spine of pitch-black humour throughout. Supported by the Made in Scotland scheme for this two-night Edinburgh Fringe appearance at Summerhall, Pennycook's latest project is unlike anything he's ever attempted before.
Crow Hill is first and foremost an album, to be released in October or November on new Edinburgh label Common Grounds Records, which is run by Graeme Young of the city's Chamber Studios, where it was recorded. It's also a graphic novel, written and drawn by comic-lover Pennycook himself, which will form part of the vinyl sleeve art; it's a planned film project, which Pennycook is working on with Mario Cruzado, a musician with Plastic Animals and a filmmaker for artists including the Spook School and Faith Elliott; and at the Fringe it will be a live performance supported by dancers, actors and bespoke projections.
'Crow Hill is my first stab at writing something completely fictional,' says Pennycook. 'It's a collection of 12 stories, all focusing on an individual character from the town of Crow Hill, which take place within the same 24 hours. They're presented as these strange little urban horror vignettes; the themes and morals are left ambiguous in the songs, but I've tried very hard to keep the tone consistent and to give a real impression that they exist in the same space as each other.
credit. Laura Meek 'So you have a song like "Strong Armed Son", which tells the fairly mundane story of a man returning to his family home and wrestling with the idea of his responsibility to his elderly parents, alongside a song like "Beast", which plays out like a kind of Lovecraftian death cry from a monster the world has long since stopped believing in. I'm very interested in pairing these fantastical characters with banal, real-world settings and giving the listener just as much information as they need to have an impression of what this town is.'
These Summerhall shows, he says, are the first attempts to present these songs as the individual stories that they are, with an emphasis on setting a different scene for each one in order to bring the town of Crow Hill to life. 'I'm keen to have these shows be a good deal more immersive and narrative-driven than previous Meursault shows,' says Pennycook. 'While I still love the idea of a band just getting up on stage and playing their music in a no-nonsense manner, recently I've found myself pining for acts to be a bit more adventurous in how their music's framed. I wish there was more stuff out there – especially within the indie sphere – that focuses on telling stories in unique ways, rather than just trying to sell the act's general aesthetic.'
He wants to do something untried, although Pennycook admits the thought makes him nervous and excited. 'I've no idea if this is something that'll carry into future Meursault projects as I've no idea what they might be yet, but I know this is the way I want to tell these stories,' he says. 'I'm just very lucky to have a band and a label that are as accommodating and enthusiastic as they are, and I hope we're able to present the songs in a way which does them justice. And if we can disturb as many people as possible along the way, then all the better.'
Meursault presents Crow Hill, a series of urban horror story vignettes, set in the titular, fictional, Scottish town. A project comprising of a studio album, a feature film and a graphic novel, Meursault will be performing Crow Hill in it's entirety, accompanied by projections, dancers and actors. 'This…