A recent past, a decade ago.
A Belfast-born Victorian harmonium is entrusted to the care of Glasgow chamber-folk singer Emily Scott. It looks like it should sound: imposing and statuesque, ornately carved with wax-dripping candle holders, organ stops with enticing names and elaborate levers, yet the years have taken their toll.
The ‘mouse-proof’ treadles are mended with gaffer tape. Its breathing is choked and laboured; a ridiculous amount of pedalling is required to produce even the simplest melody. Most of the keys don’t sound; some muster but a grim rattle. Those tones which can be coaxed from within are off-key in one way or another.
And yet, they fall in love, and conspire together to bring about a skeletal cluster of musical fragments. Slowly but surely the harmonium gives up its provenance. Cigarette cards of moustachioed soldiers tucked between the keys, a Miss Havisham drape of cobwebs, a selection of foxed and edgeworn song-sheets, and a short hand-written history of a short life.
A distant past, a century ago.
A Belfast-born Victorian harmonium is entrusted to the care of Daisy Skelly, a music teacher with a sweetheart lost to the Great War, and who would succumb to typhus in her mid-twenties.
Early 2015 and the harmonium migrates to Pumpkinfield, a studio in rural Perthshire. It becomes the thing around which a constellation of people, instruments and ideas begin to orbit. Fragments become lines become songs.
Emily recruits long time conspirators Rob St. John, Pete Harvey and Joe Smillie to map and swell the arcs with rolling piano and analogue synths, skittering drums, acoustic guitar and burring bass and cello.
The four become Modern Studies. Their record, “Swell To Great”, is out in 2016.