Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell combine forces to create Sounding

This article is from 2017

Sounding Off

Sam Bradley talks to the acts involved in one of the most intriguing music events at this year's Fringe

Stockbridge Church, a 200-year-old Georgian building off the beaten festival track, is not a typical Fringe venue. 'It's a beautiful, airy space,' says Emily Scott, lead vocalist of acclaimed landscape pop band Modern Studies. As part of the Made in Scotland 2017 programme, Scott's bandmates and fellow artist Lomond Campbell will be using the church to stage what promises to be one of the most unique performances of the year.

A chance to catch two of Scotland's finest new contemporary indie acts, Sounding will see sets from Modern Studies and Campbell, arranged specially with the full ten-piece string lineup of the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra, adding brass and choral voices to their take on music, as well as a pop-up bar run by Glasgow's Glad Café, spectral visual projections and bespoke artwork for the audience all laid on.

While Campbell will be playing his 2016 album Black River Promise in its entirety, Modern Studies, who released critically acclaimed debut Swell to Great in 2016, will be playing fresh material from their new record, due out next year. For Campbell, the event is a long-hoped-for opportunity to perform his album as it was recorded, with a full string and vocal section at his side.

Campbell says: 'We recorded it in a 500-year-old castle in the central Highlands with a full Pumpkinseeds lineup and I never imagined it would be possible to do a live version, yet here we are. The Pumpkinseeds ensemble is made up of some of the best musicians in Scotland (and beyond) so I'll have to raise my game … or maybe just not show up.'

Each acclaimed musicians in their own right, the members of Modern Studies – Pete Harvey, Joe Smillie, Rob St John and Emily Scott – have known Campbell for years, with Black River Promise scored by Harvey and featuring Scott on bass. 'Aye, we're all pals and I'd proffer that there's a fair bit of mutual artistic respect going on,' says Campbell.

According to Scott, the live collaboration with the Pumpkinseeds will also give them a chance to test out their new material. 'It's a rare chance to imagine these new songs with strings, brass and backing singers from the outset,' she says. 'I've been honing my composing skills since Stray Light [her 2014 solo record], so the opportunity to write for this larger ensemble has been a steep learning curve, but really exciting.'

The performances, St John says, are something of a celebration for both acts. 'Besides the opportunity to play these songs live with a full cast of players, they also give us a chance to plot our next adventures,' he admits. Having signed to bigger labels – Modern Studies to Fire Records in the United States and Campbell to Heavenly Recordings – both acts are at something of a fork in the road. To commemorate the occasion, they're releasing a single together on Triassic Tusk featuring covers of each other's tracks, with Campbell offering up a bluesy take on 'Father Is A Craftsman' and Modern Studies presenting an atmospheric version of 'Every Florist in Every Town'.

Discussing the single, Campbell says: 'Swell to Great was one of my top albums of 2016. Great songs, accomplished production and a sound unlike anything else in Scotland just now. We decided to cover each other's music, initially as a promotional thing for the gigs, but when I heard the two songs side by side I knew it was ripe for a physical release.' Praising Campbell's work in return, Scott says that: '[He] writes the most deceptively classic songs, truly great, but you delve under the surface and there are so many quirks. It's a total gift to have good material as a jumping off point.' St John agrees, pointing out that, 'I guess it resonates with what we do in a lot of ways, a bringing together of approaches, knitted together by the love of a decent hook.'

Despite the busy schedule of both acts, there is a possibility that Sounding could be taken on the road in its own right. 'The Made in Scotland initiative has that idea at its heart, so I'd love to think we could take it on the road; we'd need a bloomin' bus for the orchestra, and it would be a massive undertaking unless it was scaled down,' says Scott. Campbell is also enthusiastic about re-staging the event: 'Both our debut albums are due for a worldwide re-release around the same time this year so a tour together would be apt. Having said that, Sounding is pretty ambitious and we'd need some decent backing to take it on tour. Wealthy benefactors make yourself known.'

For now, they're focusing on making Sounding as good as it can possibly be. If it ends up a one-off run, Scott says, then that's okay: 'I think that makes the impact of this run of shows all the more special.'

Sounding: Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell with the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra, Stockbridge Church, 20–22 Aug, 7.30pm, £12 (£8).

Sounding: Modern Studies and Lomond Campbell With the Pumpkinseeds Chamber Orchestra

Multimedia concert originally staged by Modern Studies, Lomond Campbell and the Pumpkinseed Chamber Orchestra at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.