Woodpigeon: German Ancestry And Gay Pirates

Mark Hamilton & co. return to our shores for a UK tour

‘I went to Whitby…it was hellish’, says Mark Hamilton, better known as Canada’s soothing export Woodpigeon.

He’s a man who loves to travel, loves to find the hidden nooks and crannies of an alien nation, and someone who can’t sit still for long. He once tried to visit all the ‘mouths in England…just because they sounded quintessential English. He wasn’t that impressed. Portsmouth’s not a first choice holiday destination after all.

This week, Woodpigeon returns to our small island as part of a European tour on the back of his latest album Die Stadt Muzikanten, playing such delights as London’s Union Chapel with the delicately sweet Laura Gibson and Withered Hand.

‘Every time we play over sees we play with Withered Hand,’ Hamilton explains over Skype, dressed in a bathrobe yet still looking extremely distinguished.

‘He’s one of my favourite artists and I just love playing with him.’

With his Scottish ancestry, coming to the UK is a little like coming home for Hamilton – north of the border anyway. It could once again be his real home if he decides to take up a Masters at Edinburgh university, following on from his current studies of film made during the Third Reich occupation of Germany, exploring another nation where yet more ancestors came from.

‘The house I live in was built by my Scottish grandparents so I like to express my Scottish side,’ he says. ‘But when I was in Berlin, I started to look at the other side of my family from Germany.’

This delving into his ancestry past has had a big influence on Woodpigeon’s music and especially this latest album. While the last two records were about living in different places, soaking up culture and relishing local nature, this new one was more about ‘living some where for a reason’.

‘My Oma and Opa met when he was a soldier… it’s an amazing thing that people got on these boats and tried to get a new life,’ Hamilton says, recounting tales of how his grandparents fled war torn Germany to start a new life in Canada.

‘For every Germanic person, there’s always that moment in your life where you question what they did and what they were involved with,’ he says deeply. ‘You go to Scotland and find out your ancestors lived next to a glen, but Germany’s history is much darker. You can’t help but ask these questions when you’re in a city steeped in history like Berlin.’ Unfortunately, Hamilton’s grandparents passed away when he was just a child, so only his own research could find him answers.

‘I’m not the sort of person to make a war record though,’ Hamilton quickly explains. ‘It was just the foundation. The record is based on characters – the first two records were just a couple of characters, but now it’s a new character for every song. It’s a bit like the Royal Tanenbaums!

‘Then there’s a song about gay pirates.’ Of course!

Such huge history and so many characters means Die Stadt Muzikanten is a lengthy album…almost like a Canadian folky opera. It’s beautiful though, and Hamilton believes he made the right choice in including all 16 full length songs.

‘There’s a difference between being exhausted and being exhilarated at the end of an album,’ he says.

‘Something that convinced me to keep them all in was the new culture of picking and choosing songs from an album. Hardly anyone listens to a whole album these days. And for those that do, I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much music. There’s no rule that albums must be 45 minutes long.’

It’s a convincing argument and, with Woodpigeon’s haunting beauty evident in every song, which track would have been first for the chop? It’s a fine line between too long and ‘epic’ and Woodpigeon is happy to be teetering into the latter.

Epic is a word that can also be used to describe Woodpigeon’s shows when Hamilton is joined by a host of musicians, linked through what he refers to as a ‘Team Calgary’ collective, despite saying one of his favourite ways to play is solo.

You can expect to find around eight on stage, creating a thick forest of sound that captures the warmth and calmness of his records.

‘It came with the understanding that Woodpigeon wouldn’t stop if someone couldn’t play,’ Hamilton says.

There’s a hope this collective will grow if and when Hamilton moves from Canada to Edinburgh, or possibly Amsterdam.

‘The other thing that makes it interesting is that I get to play with different people all the time.

‘The band coming to England is one of my favourites. I can’t wait.’

Neither can we.

Words by Gemma Hampsons

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