Folk festival founder commissions The Lost Words musical composition

Folk festival founder commissions The Lost Words musical composition

The founder of a folk festival has commissioned eight musicians to create a body of music based on The Lost Words, the illustrated book that celebrated lost nature words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton).

Caroline Slough, one of the directors of Folk by the Oak Festival, was inspired to launch the Spell Songs project after seeing Jackie Morris perform with musician Kerry Andrew at the Hay Festival in May.

“Having created folk music gatherings and projects before,we felt compelled to create a companion piece to this wonderful book,” Slough told The Bookseller. “The project grew so naturally and organically – musicians that we had in mind had already contacted Robert and Jackie as they were so inspired by The Lost Words book, and we were delighted that Kerry was able to join us as she was a key inspiration of ours.”

Musicians Karine Polwart, Julie Fowlis, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter and Jim Molyneux will join Andrew for a 12-day residency, where they will create music inspired by the book. In February they will perform the music at four events around the UK and the album will be released in the summer.

Morris will take part in all of the performances and will paint live on stage.

“I love all the musicians and I’m excited about this project,” she said. “I don’t know how they will interpret the book. They don’t have to stick to Rob’s words. I’m excited to see what they come up with.”

Spell Songs will be as influenced by Morris’ artwork as by Macfarlane’s words, Slough added.

The musicians will also take part in the Folk by the Oak Festival in Herefordshire in June and other festival dates will be announced in due course.  

The Lost Words features poems structured around 20 nature words including ‘acorn’, ‘willow’ and ‘kingfisher’. Macfarlane and Morris created The Lost Words after Oxford University Press (OUP) after they cut nature words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary and chose ‘hashtag’ as its ‘children’s word of the year. At the time, Macfarlane said he wanted to find a way “to release these simple wonder-words back into their stories and their dreams”.

The book, which won a British Book Award, has inspired people all over the country to set up crowdfund campaigns to buy the book for schools, and Morris has been working with local bookshops and libraries to promote reading. In December she painted several nature paintings and, working with Kenilworth Books, raised £3,000 for a school library by auctioning the artwork.

The Lost Words has sold £1.36m through Nielsen BookScan, although only half of the sales go through Nielsen, according to Morris.