In July, London label Critical Heights will release the new album from Dead Rat Orchestra. It was originally recorded as the soundtrack to Intrepid Cinema’s critically acclaimed BBC Documentary The Guga Hunters of Ness, which follows the journey of ten men from the community of Ness on the Isle of Lewis as they embark on a traditional hunt for gannets. Utilising their customarily unconventional instrumentation to create precarious and powerful abstract-folk, the trio of Daniel Merrill, Robin Alderton and Nathaniel Mann have come up with a compelling score, with compositions seeded in hours of study of Hebridean folk song.
Ness is the last place in the UK where young gannets, known in Gaelic as guga, are hunted for their meat. The hunting of sea birds was outlawed in 1954 in the UK, but the community of Ness on the Isle of Lewis continues to be granted the only exemption under UK and EU law allowing them to hold the annual hunt. Every August, ten men from Ness set sail for Sula Sgeir, a desolate island far out in the Atlantic. Following in the footsteps of countless generations, they leave their families behind to journey through wild storms and high seas to reach the remote hunting ground. The men live on the island for two exhausting weeks, sleeping amongst ruins left behind by monks over a thousand years ago.
To record the soundtrack for The Guga Hunters of Ness, the band converted a decommissioned LightShip (Light House Ship) on a tidal river in Essex in to a recording studio, which is probably the only studio in the world whose acoustics changes with the rising and falling of the tide. Working closely with the film’s director Mike Day, the Dead Rat Orchestra camped out for the best part of a week immersed in transporting the listener on the journey the ten men of Ness endure. The band extensively researched old melodies from Ness in conjunction with Malcolm Taylor at the Vaughn Williams Memorial Library. The director also took field recordings of the Ness Church Choir, where they performed a unique form of psalm singing, which appears on the track Saltslide.
Have a listen to The Geshin And The Guga, and pre-order from Critical Heights here.