Drawing inspiration from the beautiful landscape of the Scottish Borders, Richard Skelton’s ‘Border Ballads’ is a love story and a dedication to its rolling hills and open countryside, coloured in piano, bowed cello, viola, and pale electronics. For the past two years, Skelton has been living on the rural northern edge of the Scotland – England border, a boundary demarcated by water: the Kershope Burn, the Liddel Water, and the River Esk. The border is always there, within range and sight, but never 100% definable.
Skelton’s music desires stability after upheaval, and peace falls over the record as internal conflicts are reduced to ash. But the border represents both the known and the unknowable, creating a stressor with its divisive line, which is invisible to all but separates two differing nations and cultures. A single blade of grass divides the two. Swooning between the still and the uneasy, the twelve pieces are isolated, bordering on moorland and blotted in nothing but green. There aren’t any people here.
Rusty strings seem to sway, haunting the air, evoking a primal form of the region’s folk music and conjuring up its rich heritage by way of a smoky cello and the bronzed, buried relics from pagan mythology. Skelton’s music worships the area he calls home, its wildlife and its ancient pastures, which are renewed with every sunrise and never seem to change. He keeps a respectful eye on the region’s history, which flows somewhat mystically into the music.
You are instantly teleported. You are instantly there.
The music has always lived here. Sounds are unearthed by way of aural excavation. The strings have the rough, grating feel of old soil and eroded coins from long ago. Skelton has gone deep into the earth to find the region’s soul. The piano lies in the low register – either willingly or forcefully buried – and it’s clothed in the thin silk of sadness, mourning over something lost, perhaps longing for a return to its past.
Strings growl and support a stilted melody. At other times, the aged strings roam over the land, snaking along every dip and bump while picking up the essence of the land. Overshadowing the piano with their heavier bodies, they creep into the foreground and infiltrate the space. Border Ballads is not only a reclamation of nature but an evocation of a beloved landscape, a song for home.