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Three-piece group Salt House release their third album Huam with north dates planned later in the year

By Margaret Chrystall

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LAUREN MacColl is talking about the new album Huam just out from Salt House, the group she works on with Jenny Sturgeon and Ewan MacPherson.

You won’t find any songs on the new album mentioning owls, but somehow the title Huam – meaning ‘call of the owl’ – swooped in and became the perfect title.

Salt House. Picture: Archie MacFarlane
Salt House. Picture: Archie MacFarlane

Lauren said: “When you look at your song list and find that none of them jump out as an album title, we were then just on the lookout for a good word that encapsulated the feeling of the album.

“We all have a copy of Amanda Thomson’s Scots Dictionary of Nature – it was one of those books that I think quite a lot of people got for Christmas in 2018 – and it has been lovely to delve into that.

“I think it was Jenny who came across that particular word – Jenny has a PhD in seabirds, so birds are never far away from her mind.

“There is something, the imagery of that word seemed to sit with the tone of that album. So it just clicked for all of us.”

The band were on their way down the M6 to their first gigs on the new album tour, when they parked up at a truck stop to talk to Seven Days.

A week ago, only one gig had been cancelled because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak.

And now, with venues closing and tours being cancelled by many musicians across the country, the good news for Salt House fans in the north is that the dates the trio have planned for us were scheduled for later in the year, so hopefully may still be happening then, when the pandemic may have settled down.

Lauren said: “It is a really worrying time. But it is hard to be concerned about oneself on a personal note. It is going to affect us all. We are trying to take each gig as it comes, but obviouslywe have just paid for a new album to be made and we are looking forward to sharing it, so it is not great timing on that front. But we are just remaining positive and excited to be sharing the album.”

Lauren – whose other projects include RANT, The Rachel Newton Band and her solo work, including composition The Seer – explained how it was that she and Ewan – also familiar from Fribo and Shooglenifty – got together with Jenny.

“We cold called her, really!” Lauren laughed. “We met her at Stonehaven Folk Festival, though we were already fans, so it wasn’t like Blind Date. We loved Jenny’s music and she was a really good fit for what we were working on at the time. It has been a really positive move for us.”

The signature sound of Salt House continues to evolve.

“We did our last album with Andy Bell, a great producer, and we wanted to work with him againWe don’t go into a studio, we get together and write quite intensively, Jenny lives in Shetland, so we can’t just pop round for a cup of tea! So we will just work away for a few days at a time, almost residential retreats and when we go and record, it’s almost an extension of that really.

“Jenny had come across this lovely self-catering house in Argyll that she had been to previously. And we just thought it would be the perfect space for this album.

Salt House. Picture: Archie MacFarlane
Salt House. Picture: Archie MacFarlane

“Halfway through the process, Andy suggested he put it out on his label, Hudson Records. They are releasing some of our favourite music coming out of the folk scene at the moment – people like Karine Polwart and The Furrow Collective. All these great artists, it’s good to be involved with.”

Look closely and there is another owlish presence on the album.

Lauren said: “We see quite a lot of barn owls where we live in Strathnairn, and Jenny found a lovely barn owl feather which we have used for the album inlay.”

Salt House’s third album Huam is out now. Details: https://www.salthousemusic.com/the-band

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