Neil talks about the new album.
" It was 2018 and Judy and I were in Samoa for the first time, invited to perform our show on the life of Robert Louis Stevenson at the home his family built in the early 1890s. That home, "Vailima', sits in a forest setting at the foot of Mount Vaia, on the outskirts of Apia. It is now a magnificently renovated museum to his name, a tribute to those who put their expertise, time, and money into its renovation. We met Margaret, who runs the museum, and she encouraged us to walk around the building and grounds getting a feel for the place. In the downstairs sitting room, beside a totally unnecessary (given the climate!) fireplace, built on the Edinburgh model, I thumbed my way through a museum-published edition of RLS' Vailima Prayers. This book contains all the prose prayers he wrote for the regular meetings of family and friends, local people and visitors, held at the property. RLS wasn't really a 'believer', in fact he fell out with his parents earlier in his life when he told them he had lost his faith. However, in his writing, you can find many references to strongly-held humanist-Christian values, and these emanate from the prayers. As I sat in the sitting room, the Prayers in hand, I came across bits of sentences so poetically and rhythmically written, that they seemed like lyrics in search of a tune. Songs in the making. Later that day I sat down with one of the prayers, took what I held to be the most poetic sections of it, along with what I thought its meaning was, and tried turning it all into something that could be sung. I tried to match his style somewhat. In this example, I took an idea of his and extended it, trying not have my contributions stand out. The prayer is called 'Evening', and the ocean breeze was moving the curtains in the room, as I read Stevenson's words:
'Our beloved in the far parts of the earth, those who are now beginning the labours of the day, at the same time as we end them, and those for whom the sun stands at the point of noon, bless, help, console, and prosper them...the service of this day is past, we resign to your hands our cold hearths and open doors...and as the sun returns in the east, let our patience be renewed with the dawn...'
As the evening light began to fade, these words soon became:
'Now we see the ending of the day, and the work and service of these last hours is past,
Through open windows and open doors, the ocean breeze blows through the house at last,
While elsewhere on this earth the sun is rising, there they begin their labours as we end them,
May those for whom the sun stands high at noon prosper, and may You defend them'
That prayer-song is Track 2 on the recording, a song I call 'Prosper'.
I continued a number of times each day to return to various parts of the museum and its grounds until I had compiled notes and ideas on all the prayers, and as we travelled further in Samoa and then returned home, gradually, over the next months, one prayer-song turned into a dozen - an album's worth.
Our touring overseas with the Stevenson Show continued through 2019, including a sold out season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Then the year ended, and before we knew it the world was in lockdown. All our upcoming Stevenson concerts were cancelled, and like everyone else, we found ourselves at home. Judy suggested it was the ideal time to finish the songs and record them.
The process of recording in lockdown is a topic for another page, but suffice to say, the recording of the 12 prayer-songs from Stevenson's Vailima Prayers, is complete, and the albums and songbooks have arrived at our home. Albums are available as digital downloads or in CD form, from our shop.
I'd been living with Stevenson's Vailima Prayers for about a year when the Covid Lockdown happened, and the lyrics that Stevenson and I had constructed seemed particularly apposite to the struggles we were all going through at the time. Then, not long into the first lockdown here in Victoria, it all became more personal, as I unexpectedly became quite ill. Many of the lyrics took on an extra piquancy and were actually helpful in the process I went through, of coming to terms with my illness and what it means for me, Judy and those around us.
For example, I think of "Prosper', a song whose laid-back feel and message I find calming at even the most stressful moments. And also of 'Remember Heavenly Days', which encourages us in the hardest of times, to remember beautiful things which have happened and to focus on them in detail. Any modern-day counsellor would recognise this as a Mindfulness technique!'
Mischa Herman - engineering and technical inspiration in the old tractor shed
Judy Turner recording fiddle parts in the front room