A Song To Mark the Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War
July 17th marks the 80th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War. Huge numbers of men and women from around the world went to fight in Spain between 1936 and 1939, against the fascist uprising that was taking place in that country. They joined up and fought under the banner of the International Brigades.
Having had the priviledge of meeting and hearing the stories of some of the last living members of the International Brigades, I wrote a song about one Brigader. It's called Holding Out Against the Night.
Folk Radio UK are premiering this song on July 17th to mark the date. You can listen to the song here.
Collaboration With George Monbiot - Upcoming Album and Tour
I'm excited to say that this Autumn will see the release of my next album and a tour to go with it. However, it's a bit different this time around.
This last six months I've been working on a collaborative project with the Guardian journalist and bestselling author George Monbiot. It is called Breaking the Spell of Loneliness It began with an idea, a concept that George had written brilliantly about in several places. The idea then became a series of sketches that George sent over for me to work into lyrics and then turn those lyrics into songs.
What we've emerged with is a 'concept' album of nine songs written collaboratively. We'll be performing the project this Autumn, up and down the UK, with George speaking about the topic and telling the stories, me singing and playing the songs; have a look at the Gigs page for info - you're advised to book well in advance for this.
You're probably wondering what the topic is and what the songs are about by now. Well I'd say, being a writer, George is best placed to tell you himself......
Breaking the Spell of Loneliness
An album by Ewan McLennan and George Monbiot, for release in October 2016
It is our natural destiny to be apart, to fear and fight each other: this is a claim that has gathered momentum ever since Thomas Hobbes published Leviathan. It is a claim with no foundation. We evolved in a state of mutual reliance. Defenceless alone, we survived the rigours of the savannah only through cooperation.
But the mythic destiny appears, in the 21st Century, to be approaching fulfilment. Our time is distinguished from all other eras by its degree of atomisation: the rupturing of social bonds, the collapse of shared ambitions and civic life.
An epidemic of loneliness is sweeping the world. The results are devastating: depression, paranoia, anxiety, dementia, alcoholism, accidents and suicide all appear to become more prevalent when connections are cut. To stand back from the state into which we have fallen is to marvel at this misery. It is to witness seven billion people walking past each other.
A new ideology of detachment celebrates social collapse with a romantic lexicon of lone rangers, sole traders, self-made men and women. Corporate lobby groups and thinktanks argue that the defining characteristic of human relationships is competition. They insist that our primary aim is to maximise our wealth and power at the expense of others, to engage in a Hobbesian fight of all against all.
But the levels of altruism and empathy human beings display are unique among animals. While other species might go to great lengths to help close relatives, humans assist people with whom they have no familial connection, sometimes at great cost or risk to themselves: I think, for example, of the Jewish boy my Dutch mother-in-law’s family hid in their attic during the German occupation.
The claim that we are inherently selfish suits those who wish to hold us apart, the better to control and dominate. It persuades them that their ruthlessness and greed are merely a fulfilment of their biological destiny.
So how do we respond to this trend towards social breakdown? An article I wrote about it for the Guardian went viral, and several publishers asked me to write books on the topic. I could think of nothing more depressing than sitting in my room for three years, studying loneliness.
I wanted instead to do something engaging, that might not only document the problem, but help to address it. And what has more potential to unite and delight than music? So I went to a musician whose work I greatly admire, and proposed a collaboration. We would write a concept album, a mixture of ballads and anthems, some sad, some stirring, whose aim was to try to break the spell which appears to have been cast upon us; the spell of separation.
I suggested that I would sketch out the stories and a first draft of the lyrics, and Ewan would turn them into music. It has worked out better than I could have imagined: I hope you will agree that something quite special has emerged from this collaboration.
Our aim is that it should not stop here, that we should use our performances to help bring people together, to overcome our stifling collective shyness and make friends among the strangers in our midst. “Only connect”: a century on, E.M. Forster’s maxim remains the key to happiness.
To coincide with the release of our album, Breaking the Spell of Loneliness, this Autumn we will be performing a number of concerts across the UK. I’ll narrate the show, describe the ideas behind the songs, and discuss the broader theme as well as the politics that underpin it; while Ewan will sing the songs and perform the music that has emerged from our collaboration.
Keep an eye on both our websites in the coming months as we make preview songs from the album public. Tickets for the concerts this Autumn are available now and you can find them on Ewan’s website: www.ewanmclennan.co.uk
Autumn/Winter Solo Tour
I'll be out on tour playing plenty of solo gigs this Autumn.
I'm starting off with a performance at one of London's best, Kings Place, in September.
I'll also be playing Nottingham and Glossop solo in the Autumn before heading back up to Scotland for a wee tour around; taking in Fife, Benderloch, Weem, Elgin, Penicuik and Falkirk.
After a solo gig in Wychwood, I'll then be finishing the year off with a few 'double header' gigs I'm playing with my pals Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, a brilliant folk duo. Together, we're doing Norwich, Bristol and Birmingham; one set each, maybe a few songs together too!
I've played a few great festivals so far this Spring and Summer, Fire in The Mountain being a highlight.
For what's left of the summer, I'll be playing a couple of gigs at Broadstairs Folk Week, a fantastic festival I'm looking forward to returning to. I'll also be appearing at Wickham Festival for the first time in early August too.
All the details are up on the Gigs page here on my website.