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)