Loving the island life - Salt House’s Jenny Sturgeon on social isolation and the call of the wild

By Stuart McHugh
Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 11:21 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 11:21 am

For most people, ‘social isolation’ will be tricky – especially the culture shock if going from the daily buzz of a city commute.

Less so for the members of Salt House – and particularly Jenny Sturgeon, who is used to a more remote form of living, on Shetland.

Originally from Aberdeenshire, she is heading home following the cancellation of shows in Bristol and Cornwall.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

“This is probably going to be the longest I’ve been on Shetland in one stint, even though I’ve lived there for three years!” she says.

Sturgeon is the most isolated of the three band members – EwanMacPherson and Lauren MacColl living on the mainland, near Inverness. Meaning their usual creative routine will stand them in good stead over the coming months.

“We can exchange ideas by email and it’s great to see things unfurl when the group meets up,” she says brightly.

“Generally we’re all writing or creating – Lauren’s fantastic at taking old words and new melodies, while Ewan and I do a bit more songwriting, but we allcontribute.”

However, as with most musicians, Salt House is not a full-time job for any of the trio.

“No two days are the same – we all do bits of teaching; Lauren runs the Black Isle Fiddle weekend and I run the Shetland Songwriting festival.

”The lovely thing is you meet lots of people, and travel,” she says.

Indeed, particularly for Sturgeon, travel is very much part of the job whenever she has to leave Shetland.

And even when touring the cities of Europe, Sturgeon and her bandmates are mindful of the part nature plays – indeed, to offset carbon (and guilt), the trio are supporting Trees For Life, and offering the chance to plant a tree with the purchase of each album.

And this love of nature comes out on the new release – even in its title, ‘Huam’. Which makes more sense if you pronounce it like the hoot of an owl.

“Nature is our joint love and what our music generally tends to be about – folk is a commentary on society or politics – and it also mentions landscape a lot.”

And the feel of the Scottish terrain comes through on the album’s 10 tracks – perhaps unsurprisingly, as ‘Huam’ was recorded on location with acclaimed producer Andy Bell, who as well as the last Salt House album has also produced the likes of Seasick Steve and Eliza Carthy.

“Having a lovely view or birds outside or rain on the window when you’re recording can inspire you – it all adds to the feel of an album.”

Salt House’s music sits somewhere between ancient and modern, the trio citing ’60s folk acts such as Pentangle and Dick Gaughan as a link of sorts to the present day.

“There’s a lot of crossover,” Sturgeon says, herself having been working withAdam Ross of Randolph’s Leap, among “a variety of very different people – so you end up creating music you wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Of course, any collaborations will, in the short term at least, be very different.

“It’s about trying to think of new ways of creating,” Sturgeon says. “It’s not good to sit on the internet all day – but then again, tech interaction is so great... I see that already on social media, groups are springing up, people offering to pop out and get shopping.”

That is something in common with small communities around the country, which Salt House experience when touring.

“In rural locations people come out to anything, they’ll just see an image of thealbum cover, or they’re aware of Lauren’s music – she plays with Rant, a fantastic all-fiddle four-piece.”

Or indeed, Shooglenifty fans drawn by the presence of MacPherson.

“It could be a bit of a shock in comparison,” Sturgeon laughs, the six-piecepurveyors of Celtic fusion and ‘Acid croft’ quite far-removed from the sedate, pastoral sounds of Salt House.

However, live music activities for MacPherson are like everyone else going to be curtailed somewhat.

“The next three months are going to be… quiet,” Sturgeon muses.

“But creatively, there could be learning a new instrument or writing more music – we’ve got amazing tech at our fingertips so we can still have those important connections with people.

And for someone constantly island hopping, the next few months could be something of a break.

Sturgeon laughs. “When it comes to holidays, usually, I just want to go home!”

‘Huam’ is out now. More at www.salthousemusic.com