As the Qudos lights dim, our night starts with the knowledge that there will be a unifying factor of community. Distant Voices is more than just a collective of Scottish musicians – over the last years, they have worked with those affected by the criminal justice system, with the resulting workshops leading to their 2018 album, Not Known At This Address. Their Celtic Connections gig feels like a reunion of sorts – for many involved it’s the first time performing together for a while – and the emphasis on the project’s community nature is ever-present, from linking the band to the audience, to the supportive nature of all the artists.
Each song is introduced with its story, alluding to the person involved in the songwriting workshop in prisons including Inverness, Polmont, and Shotts. Each song also has a respective artwork beamed on the screen behind the stage – every element of Distant Voices feels inclusive. The evening deals with themes of loss, youth, family, mental health, and the settings of our formative memories. One singer quite rightly notes that the project reflects on the human experience; that music gives a platform for people to express creatively, regardless of who they are.
The night is punctuated between songs from the album, songs written as responses to the album, and poetry. Between the slow and booming ‘Frank’s Song’, by Rachel Sermanni and poetry about masculinity and mental health from Leyla Josephine, to otherwise upbeat, reflective tracks from indie favourites including Pronto Mama and Admiral Fallow, Distant Voices houses everyone. This is emphasised by the volume of people on stage – apart from solo performances, there’s at least seven people at any one time.
As the event ends reflection cards are handed out, asking attendees to respond, and very few people filter out immediately, instead choosing to catch up and discuss the evening between friends. I hand my card in at the merchandise desk, having left a comment hoping for more compassion. The criminal justice system is not merely mysterious prisons, hidden from view – Distant Voices brings together all involved with the system, and gives a voice to many otherwise hushed.
[Amy Shimmin – @amylfc]
[Image credit: Vox Liminis]