Corrina Hewat (Courtesy of the Artist's site, 2005)
Over the last ten years, singer and harp player Corrina Hewat has emerged as one of the most distinctive, original and versatile artists on the contemporary Scottish scene. Synthesising the energies and idioms of traditional, jazz and classical music, in formats ranging from entirely solo to a 31-piece "folk orchestra", Corrina's combined talents as a vocalist, instrumentalist, composer and arranger have won steadily increasing acclaim among critics, fellow musicians and audiences alike.
Born in Edinburgh, Corrina grew up largely around Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, where her parents, both folk fans and amateur performers themselves, encouraged her burgeoning interest in the region's rich musical heritage. After a few years learning fiddle and piano, Corrina took up the Scottish harp, or clarsach - Scotland's most ancient national instrument - aged 12, and was soon performing at local festivals and ceilidhs. Her early mentors, partly through the Highlands' feis movement of Gaelic-based teaching festivals, as well as the Clarsach Society's tuition programme, included Patsy Seddon and Mary MacMaster, of Sileas and the Poozies fame, top traditional revivalist Alison Kinnaird, and the world-renowned harp-fusion pioneer Savourna Stevenson._
After a year studying classical harp with the late Sanchia Pielou at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Corrina switched to a BA degree in Jazz, Popular and Contemporary Music at the Leeds College of Music, becoming the first ever harpist to take the course, and graduating with honours in 1993. Her teachers there included the inspirational Irish player Máire Ní Chathasaigh, and it was also during this time that she met her musical partner and now husband, pianist David Milligan, with whom she played in an extra-curricular jazz-funk outfit.
Corrina turned professional early in 1994, launching her new duo with David, Bachué (then Bachué Café), at the inaugural Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. In its inventive, sophisticated yet wholly organic integration of traditional forms and material with jazz tonalities and rhythms, that early Bachué sound set the essential template for much of Corrina's work to date, also marking her first real emergence as a singer. The following year,
performing solo, she was a finalist in the prestigious BBC Young Tradition Award.
Ever since then, Corrina has found herself in escalating demand not only for her harp skills and voice, but as a composer of fast-widening repute. Her full tally of projects is far too numerous to list here, but suffice to say her current discography runs to around thirty recordings, including albums by Eric Bibb, Carol Kidd and Horse MacDonald, as well as three volumes of Linn Records' landmark Complete Works of Robert Burns series. As well as Bachué - whose third album is due out in the autumn of 2004 - she has performed with several different line-ups across the folk-jazz interface, including Seannachie, Chantan and Lammas, and is currently a member of the acclaimed vocal/harps trio Shine. Shine are now collaborating with the female vocal jazz trio, the Passion (Jacqui Dankworth, Sara Coleman and Lianne Carrol). The variety of songs, styles and showbiz in the joining of the two trios is an instant hit!_
Corrina's continuing relationship with the Celtic Connections festival has seen her participating in two of its major celebrations of Scotland's female song tradition: 'My Ain Countrie', alongside Sheena Wellington and Karen Matheson, which won a major award as Best Scottish Act of 1996, and 2001's 'Scottish Women'. She was also a key player in Celtic Connections' first ever Scotland-wide initiative, the 2002 Scottish Women tour. Though she's been writing tunes more or less since she first picked up the harp, recent years have seen Corrina rapidly spreading her wings as a composer of more extended ensemble works. In 1998, she was one of the first artists featured in Celtic Connections' celebrated 'New Voices' series of commissions, winning a raft of critical raves for Making the Connection, a 50-
minute vocal and instrumental suite for ten musicians, blending worldwide traditional, contemporary and jazz elements. This was followed in 2000 by Photons in Vapour, written for the re-opening of the An Tobar Arts Centre on the isle of Mull. Performed by 27 musicians, singers and poets, it celebrates the role of the arts in the community through the symbolism of light, and was released on CD in 2002.
Later that same year, Corrina was selected to take part in the 'Distil' weekend, a new mentoring project part-sponsored by the Scottish Arts Council, which saw nine Scottish folk artists working intensively with top contemporary composers Sally Beamish, Paul Rissmann and Keith Tippett. Perhaps her most ambitious venture to date took place at Celtic Connections 2003, when she and David assembled 31 of Scotland's top young musicians for a two-hour extravaganza of traditional and original music entitled 'The Unusual Suspects', widely hailed as a crowning highlight of the festival's tenth year. The Celtic-style big band has now accomplished (with the organisation of Folkworks with the support of the Scottish Arts Council) it's first UK tour in February 2004. With 22 musicians on the road, the response from audiences was immense, with every concert achieving standing ovations._
Now, somehow, Corrina has succeeded in encapsulating all this multifaceted artistry into a stunning debut album. The cool yet radiant hues of her raw-silk voice print her uniquely sensuous stamp on songs ranging from Burns' ‘Ae Fond Kiss', through the age-old incest/murder ballad 'Sheath and Knife', to the jazz standard 'When I Dream'. Tunes on the CD include striking originals like the waywardly evocative 'Traffic' and the dreamy title track, alongside adventurous reinterpretations of traditional material. Corrina's singing, together with the quicksilver melodies, rhythmic muscle and luxuriant reverb of her Camac electro-harp, are spaciously complemented by David on piano, Donald Hay on drums and Karine
Polwart on backing vocals. Settle back for a tour of My Favourite Place, and it's guaranteed you'll be loath to leave.
You can listen to short samples from some of the tracks from this artist using the player below.
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