Musicians' surprise find on abandoned island of Stroma

For the first time in a long time, music has been heard on the abandoned Scottish island of Stroma.

Thursday, 13th July 2017, 1:06 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:55 am
Neon Waltz travelled to Stroma by boat for a photo shoot ahead of their album release - but came away with much more. PIC: Neon Waltz.

Scottish band Neon Waltz recently visited the island to shoot publicity shots for their new album - and ended up incorporating some Stroma history into their sound after finding a dusty harmonium organ in the old schoolhouse.

Barely, if ever, touched by a musician since the last children and teachers left, keyboard player Liam Whittles sat down at the keys - and the notes slowly eased out.

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The eerie photographs of the abandoned island of Stroma

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Neon Waltz's lead singer Jordan Shearer (left) at abandoned harmonium with keyboard player Liam Whittles. PIC: Ronan Park.

With the help of lead singer, Jordan Shearer and guitarist Calvin Wilson, the first song then emerged from the harmonium in probably more than half a century.

“What happened when Liam hit the keys of the harmonium took our breath away and the impromptu performance that followed was unforgettable,” said Ronan Park, photographer and video director, Ronan Park.

The performance of the Caithness band’s recent single, Heavy Heartless, has now been coined as the Stroma Schoolhouse Session.

Stroma was once a vibrant community of “daring and skilful” islanders living amid the treacherous tides of the Pentland Firth.

Neon Waltz pictured on Stroma which was last inhabited in the early 1960s. PIC: Ronan Park.

It’s population stood at a peak of 375 in 1901 but by the early 1960s, just 12 people remained with work and easier living conditions pulling the population away.

Most of the settlement still stands, albeit in various states of ruin. Cottages, a church and a red phone box can still be found - as well as the schoolhouse.

Drummer Darren Coghill, from John O’ Groats, said: “The view from my kitchen window of the Orkney Isles is blocked only by Stroma.

Neon Waltz's lead singer Jordan Shearer (left) at abandoned harmonium with keyboard player Liam Whittles. PIC: Ronan Park.

“There’s nothing other than a mile of water between me and the rock. I look at it every day, but the maddest thing is that I’d never been.

“Finally getting the opportunity to go I didn’t know if it could fulfil what my imagination was suggesting.

“We took an acoustic guitar and a little Casio battery operated keyboard with us hoping to make some recordings on the island…possibly the first ever recordings.

“We had no idea that we’d find this organ and that it’d work. Sometimes it just all adds up: the song, the sound, the surroundings, the people and the history. I see the island in a totally different way - there’s something really magical about it for me now.”

Neon Waltz pictured on Stroma which was last inhabited in the early 1960s. PIC: Ronan Park.

Neon Waltz’s album, Strange Hymns, is released on August 18.