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LIVE REPORT: Erland Cooper LP Launch
Joseph Mumford , March 27th, 2018 14:10

Joseph Mumford heads to London's newest nature reserve for an evening of atmospheric, Orkney-inspired music by Erland Cooper

"There are two geese mating outside", is the first thing I think I hear Erland Cooper say when I meet him at the Walthamstow Wetlands, a new nature reserve in North East London. The geese were merely waiting - it would have been a nice bit of poetry had an evening spent celebrating an album titled Solan Goose commenced with a pair of avians getting it on. Alas.

We’re gathered in the former engine house that once pumped water around the reservoirs which are now part of the reserve to celebrate the impending release of Cooper’s debut solo outing. Solan Goose is a documentation of Cooper’s memories of Orkney, the Scottish archipelago in which he was brought up and spent the first 18 years of his life. Each song on the album has been named after a bird’s Orcadian moniker - Whitemaa (Herring Gull) and Maalie (Fulmar Bird) for example.

The Wetlands, then, is the perfect setting: a nature reserve with vast marshes and stretches of water, and a haven for birdlife. Cooper himself was here birdwatching a few weeks ago. It’s a remarkable space nestled in the centre of a particularly industrial-looking area of London - you’re just as likely to hear a train go past as you are birdsong or crickets, but on looks alone it’s easy to convince yourself you’re somewhere rural.

The Engine House itself, which overlooks most of the Wetlands, is a magnificent Edwardian-Italianate structure that has recently been refurbished into an education and learning centre. In a room upstairs, Solan Goose plays back on vinyl, casting its warm ambience over those who’ve come to listen. The room in question overlooks a cafe, above which dangles an assemblage of mason jars that each house a child's artistic interpretation of the Wetlands, expressed through a three-dimensional collage of found materials.

Downstairs in the lobby, Cooper confesses that he’s anxious. This evening will be his first time performing material off the new album in a live setting, and his bands only rehearsal so far has been during their brief soundcheck. He says this with a mock grimace that implies a healthy mixture of terror and excitement. "You should see the score!" said in a fearful tone. "It’s only a page long!"

This evening the Orcadian is performing in stellar company, so there should be little need to worry. He is joined by soprano and Hardanger fiddle player Charlotte Greenhow (who performs on the album) and Anna Phoebe on violin. Also making an appearance is Will Burns, poet in resident at the Caught by the River website, who introduces the show and recites a short poem that recalls Orcadian landscapes and a metaphysical sense of being among nature.

Midway through the performance, Cooper accidentally triggers a jittery drum machine whilst tinkering with some tape loops. "That wasn’t supposed to happen," he laughs. Later, he tells me the beat was actually from "some Cluster type thing" he’s been working on and admits that it actually "kinda worked". It did - much of the music of Solan Goose is based around space, repetition and layering textures atop simple melodies; the accidental detour into something a little cosmiche fits perfectly.

Otherwise, the performance goes off without a hitch. A captivated, silent audience watches in awe. The evening is a celebration not only of Solan Goose, but of the natural world in itself.