Did you hear the one about the indie pop drummer who became a noted orchestral composer? Francis MacDonald’s career has been one about-turn after another, with the long-time BMX Bandits percussionist and current Teenage Fanclub drummer also having another, extremely unconventional, aspect to his work.
The past few years have seen the Scottish musician emerge as a composer of rare skill and subtlety, working on a variety of projects that sit alongside contemporary developments in classical music’s rather more minimal furrows.
‘Hamilton Mausoleum Suite’ sits alongside this. The titular building still stands, its remains now disinterred, and boasts one of the longest echoes of any man-made building in the world.
As a child Francis MacDonald would pass the building on his way to school, and it became a life-long point of fascination. Drafted with five musicians from the Scottish Festival Orchestra, this album was recorded in one day, and it feels remarkably fresh.
The slow-paced evolution of ‘Sarcophagus’ allows those high violin notes to pirouette up into the ceiling, the gentle harp casting spells underneath. ‘Folia’ is a pristine, almost-but-not-quite- baroque piece, while ‘Half Past Midnight’ is a lovely atmospheric work.
‘The 10th Duke’ is a thrilling ode to the man who originally built the mausoleum, replete with all the Victoria grandeur one would expect from a person who demanded their remains be interred inside an Egyptian sarcophagus on a plinth at such a grand, imposing building.
‘One Foot Then Another’ has a decidedly slow, quite mournful quality, giving way to honey-sweet tones of ‘Stone Lions Lullaby’. Utilising a small cast and recorded in only a few hours, ‘Hamilton Mausoleum Suite’ manages to encompass an enormous range of aural hues and emotions, casting a real spell in the process. A highly personal passion project, it underlines how potent Francis MacDonald has become as a composer. Well worth seeking out.
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