getting ready for a swim
By Hugo Drummond
“On the train I can see my reflection
On the window my face transparently reflected
And the clouds that lie behind my eyes.”
Anyone that’s ever lived in Scotland, or even just visited for a short while, will understand that the seasons come and go fleetingly. Often, summer can feel more like winter and grey skies are dependably commonplace. Any Scot will equally understand that to suffer the weather in a stoical fashion, along with any accompanying hurt or misfortune, is as important to our identity as those ever present grey skies that compound it.
Getting Ready For A Swim is certainly a testament to resilience amongst many other ideas. The debut album from 22-year-old singer-songwriter Amy Hill deals not only with the feeling of having to grin and bear it, but also the realisation that uncertainty is something we all must accept. Along with fellow St Andrews student Cameron Newell, Hill, who hails from Dumfriesshire, crafts an album that tackles issues that we can all relate to head on. “It’s not overly emotional” she tells me; “it’s more realistic.”
The opening track Autumn introduces Hill’s song writing style as an incredibly honest entity. Her voice, with lyrics like “used to say I didn’t judge you, but I’m afraid I do”, deals with relationships in an incredibly pure refrain but whilst also encapsulating a wider sense of movement. Autumn, with Newell’s accompanying violin melodies, feels like it’s leading into something bigger than just the 4 subsequent pieces. “Yeah I’m ready for the winter” could be taken literally if you’re looking at it from a purely seasonal point of view (something the pair had pondered), but it’s a greater sense of accepting the the journey ahead that comes across in this track, and the album as a whole.
Eastern Shores stems from Newell’s traditional background, with the pair telling me how the song-writing process often works with Cameron operating from the framework of a traditional form, a reel in this case, and Amy subsequently working in the guitar and vocals. “I’m very focused on melody” Cam tells me, “and this frees Amy up a lot in terms of her own melodies.” Eastern Shores also offers a rare percussive element to Getting Ready For A Swim. The balance of sounds in this album is one of the components that I found most impressive upon first listening, and Hill tells me about the importance both her and Newell placed on the appreciation of space within the recording process. It’s clear that the album hasn’t been over-produced with the mastering respecting the crispness of the prominent traditional tones. It sounds entirely natural.
This is not a choice, I swear it’s not
I wanted to hear your voice to pull me out the dark
Lying in your arms, I’ll dream of violets in snow
And you’ll go quietly before the dawn
Violets in Snow is an incredibly intimate song, most of which was recorded in one take, Hill tells me. “When I recorded violets’ vocals, I needed to remind myself how I felt when I wrote it.” This is something that is consistent throughout the album, an honesty and dedication to explaining an emotion exactly how it feels. Heavy influences from Scottish artists such as The Waterboys, King Creosote and particularly Belle and Sebastian are evident both melodically and lyrically. “These artists never exaggerate emotions. They always talk about things as they are, and I find that inspiring.”
The album’s interlude continues the strong Scottish voice that resonates throughout the album. Newell’s violin and piano composition are combined with a recorded sample of Glaswegian musician, poet and singer Ivor Cutler telling a heart-warming story of fooling around in a shop. “I was just trying to bring a little life into their lives, and they just thought I was a nut” he muses as the violin and piano take over and his voice slowly fades away as the album moves to the final track Crows Fly. The piano melody is deeper here and creates a heady resonance that underpins the vocals and their sentiments. Newell’s vocals combine with Hill’s as the pair sing:
And it comes in waves, punctuated by faces
And then I’m surrounded and
The tide is coming in
I’m getting ready for a swim
As the violin carries these lyrics until they both fade away, it’s clear that Hill’s intention is to give the listener the realest experience possible. “There’s meant be be a sense of – ‘I’m just going to have to deal with this’” she explains, “as opposed to being oh so full of melancholy, you know, just deal with it.” With Amy due to embark on an extensive year-long musical project in South Africa, Jamaica and Lebanon as part of work towards her next album, it’s understandable that uncertainty is something that comes up a lot when speaking to her. Getting Ready For A Swim can be seen as an acknowledgment of ambiguity both in the present and looking ahead to the future. The traditional tones that Newell brings compliment the unpolished truth in her voice and, more tellingly, her lyrics. “I think it’s more relatable”, she says, “because difficult stuff doesn’t just stop.”