Francis Macdonald: Hamilton Mausoleum Suite
February 26, 2018
We invited Francis Macdonald to tell us a little bit about the making of his gorgeous album Hamilton Mausoleum Suite. Francis has kindly given us a signed copy of the vinyl and the CD, which we’re giving away in a competition on our Facebook page.
Over to Francis…
The slow-germinating seeds of inspiration for my latest album were sown sometime in the mid 1970s. ‘Twas yonks ago as a wee boy I ventured on a family visit to Hamilton Mausoleum in South Lanarkshire, built in the 1850s for ‘El Magnifico’ the 10th Duke Of Hamilton.
I remember the guide talking about whispering walls and Masonic symbols carved into the stones, and when he slammed the building doors the resounding echo seemed to last longer than a game of Monopoly. Indeed it once held the world record for the longest reverb of any man-made building. (Wikipedia tells me that in 2012 the record was broken at the Inchindown oil storage tanks in the Scottish Highlands.)
In the last couple of years I got the idea to record in the Mausoleum. I wanted to celebrate the building and make use of its amazing acoustics. I met with Linda Barrett, the gracious officer of Hamilton Low Parks Museum, and her enthusiasm allowed me to dare to proceed. Fortunately she liked the Music For String Quartet, Piano & Celeste CD that I’d brought with me. I think she was reassured that I would be respectful of the environment. (Considerate is my middle name. (Actually it’s Hugh.))
Creative Scotland also pledged some financial support. Yay. So now I just had to compose myself and get composing.
I think David Byrne’s Ted talk had a bearing on my approach to making music that would ‘work’. The building’s reverberant properties can transmogrify a normal talking voice into the dulcet tones of Charlie Brown’s schoolteacher, so I leaned on slower tempos and plenty of musical space.
Writing for combinations of string quartet and harp, I recruited excellent soloists from The Scottish Festival Orchestra with whom I’d previously worked on an album called The Lost Songs Of St Kilda: Justine Watts (violin), Stewart Webster (violin), Emma Connell-Smith (viola), John Davidson (cello) and Sharron Griffiths (harp).
We had one day of rehearsal and then one day to record everything. A big stone building in the late Scottish Autumn with no central heating = Woolly hats, fingerless gloves, blankets, hot water bottles, thermos flasks, and as few takes as possible.
We got some nice reactions when the album was released earlier this year:
Stirring, solemn beauty ★ ★ ★ ★ (Mojo)
Delightful 95% (Hi-fi News)
Fragrant pastoral passages (The Scotsman)
So hooray for all that.
On Mon 19th Feb we had a live premiere in the Mausoleum itself; a spooky, magical, memorable night lit by a crescent moon. The musicians, dressed in black, were arranged in a row in front of Alexander’s plinth, the sepulchral gloom leavened by candles and alcove uplighters.
We all donned our robes and masks and began chanting and swinging thiribles as the sacrificial rites began…
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