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Monday 10 September 2018

Laws of Motion: Kartine Polwart's Masterful Musical Odyssey Takes In Trump, WW2 & Holocaust Survivors

Multi-award winning songwriter and musician, theatre maker and published writer Kartine Polwart's seventh release, Laws of Motion, is the follow-up to last year's A Pocket of Wind Resistance, which was an innovative blend of folk music, spoken word & sound design. 

A Pocket Of Wind Resistance used the migratory habits of geese to crack open universally human societal & ecological issues. 

Here, across Laws of Motion, Polwart coalesces the familial and the familiar effortlessly alongside the foreign, the frightening and the unknown, driven as ever by her gift for empathy and accessibility. 

Subject matter as disparate as Trump, WW2 & holocaust survivors are drawn together by the laws of the album's title alongside the experiences of Japanese migrants and allegorical folk & children's stories. 


Speaking about the album's broad focus, Polwart says: 

"I didn't set out to write songs on a unified theme - they've just landed that way. Perhaps that's no surprise, given the times we're in."

Laws of Motion features amongst its track-listing a clutch songs which Polwart originally wrote with her friend (and Midlothian neighbour) Martin Green, of visionary folk trio Lau.


Affecting Suitcase and album title track (which Polwart dedicates here to the UNESCO Chair of Refugee Integration Through Language & The Arts) were both recorded in different iterations (with vocals contributed by Becky Unthank and Aidan Moffatt) for Green's 2016 multi-media project on social migration, Flit. 

The quietly urgent Suitcase was written by Polwart as testament to all who used - and sustained - the Kindertransport, the underground network which smuggled mostly Jewish children out of Nazi Europe in the run up to WW2. 

Noting the track's relevance to our present as well as the past, Polwart adds: "It's also dedicated to all those who flee still, because they have to."  

Karine is at the height of her story-telling powers at the album's vivid centre-piece, Matsuo's Welcome To Muckhart, which articulates the stranger-than-fiction tale of the famous Japanese garden which has endured at the Clackmannashire home of global traveller & writer Isabella Christie since 1907. 

The garden was tended by a Japanese man called Shinzaburo Matsuo, who sailed 5,000 miles to Christie's remote Scottish home, having lost his own family in Japan"s Great Earthquake of 1923. 

Written again in collaboration with Martin Green, Karine wrote the transportive track when the story was brought to her attention by staff & children at the local primary school, with whom she was working on a community project. 

It's the kind of dignifying of loss, resilience and hidden history in which Polwart revels.

Laws of Motion nods towards the spoken word elements of Wind Resistance on the powerful I Burn But I am Not Consumed, and album-closer Cassiopeia

The former takes the clan motto of Donald Trump's maternal Scottish family as its title, deflating the POTUS's blustery posturing in the process. 

In an age with no shortage of artists taking aim at The White House's incumbent, Polwart is presumably the first - and perhaps the only - to do so via the voice of the ancient rock beneath the Isle of Lewis, birthplace of Trump"s mother, Mary Ann Macleod. 

It's anything but twee - lamenting a wayward island son, "a broken boy", Polwart skewers Trump's narcissism with both precision and humour ("In the name of progress, profit and executive golf / He would pit himself against time & tide"), whilst retaining the vestiges of his humanity. 

The album comes to a close with Cassiopeia, in which the unimaginable concept of nuclear warfare rubs uncomfortably against a young Karine's fearful grasp of the wider world beyond her childhood perimeters - "When the siren sounds above the BP at Grangemouth / We"re gonna hide in the jam cupboard"

The track intersperses snippets from the Protect and Survive radio broadcasts issued by the Home Office during the Cold War with the fearful, unanswerable questions of a nine year old - "How far is it from Leningrad to Bonnybridge?" - all delivered in the richly evocative speaking voice which gives Polwart's music so much of its warmth. 

Katrine Polwart plays Komedia Brighton on 22nd October 2018. New album 'Laws of Motion' is released on 17th October 2018. CLICK HERE for tickets. 

by: Mike Cobley




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