Andrew Wasylyk on The Paralian

We talk to Andrew Wasylyk about his ambitious third solo-record The Paralian and his launch shows in Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow

Feature by Fraser MacIntyre | 25 Jan 2019
  • Andrew Wasylyk

Christmas is in six days. On the other side of the glass, small strike-teams of last-minute shoppers are scurrying up and down Edinburgh's Cockburn Street. While some have taken to our annual collective conquest for toys and treats with righteous enthusiasm, one or two stragglers gaze longingly at the black coffee in Andrew Mitchell’s hands as he details how The Paralian – his ambitious third solo record – came to be.

Mitchell, who releases under the name Wasylyk in honour of his Ukranian grandfather, was commissioned by Arbroath's Hospitalfield House to write music for their recently restored 19th century harp at the beginning of 2018. Commuting from Dundee to Arbroath several days a week between January and June, his original, modest intentions – to take inspiration from "the history of the house and its owners", the last of whom, Patrick Allan-Fraser, bequeathed his property to the community as an arts centre – were swiftly "derailed" by the presence of the North Sea. Transfixed by its "full gravity and capability", Mitchell felt compelled to write about the relationship between the North Sea and Hospitalfield.

A calm and thoughtful presence, particularly in relation to the deadline-fuelled drama on display outside the cafe we've taken shelter in, Mitchell explains his shift in direction. "Living in Dundee you’re quite sheltered by the mouth of the Tay. I wanted to investigate how beautiful and dangerous the sea can be." To do this, he began to take field recordings during expeditions to "nearby cliffs and weird, secluded alcoves". The running water heard throughout opening track Through the Field Beyond the Trees Lies the Ocean was recorded near Seaton Cliffs. "In my head," Mitchell details, "that [song] offers a journey from Hospitalfield House to the harbour." When asked if the remainder of the record follows any kind of narrative, he nods, while also stating his intention was for "each track to stand alone in its own right". The first half of The Paralian focuses on journeys from land to sea, while the second offers "different perspectives of a return from sea to land at dusk."

Following in the footsteps of many able producers, Mitchell became a little obsessive in his desire to capture the perfect "defined" sound, and received a formidable wake-up call. "I was nearly swept away by the waves when I was recording," he recounts with a chuckle. "I was so absorbed by the sound of them [that] I barely even noticed." The hypnotic tranquility of the sea is captured beautifully by Mitchell on a wildly creative record that sees him delve deeper than ever before into jazz and neo-classical influences, while composing for harp for the first time.

Sharron Griffiths, "a wonderful Welsh harpist living in Glasgow" features on The Paralian. "Sharron plays with a lot of orchestras so her time was very limited. I had to develop a lot of ideas before she went away on tour," Mitchell explains. He wrote Griffiths' parts on the piano, and much of the sense of wonder permeating Journey to Inchape and Flight of the Cormorant arrives from her magnificent performance. The flugelhorn is another key presence on the record, particularly stirring during the mournful crescendo of Mariner's Hymn, where it seems to herald a great loss, or accompany a claustrophobic descent into the abyss.

Elsewhere, Mitchell’s original plans for his residency were altered a second time, as the "minimal harp pieces" he began with "evolved unexpectedly to have brass, strings, oboes, synthesisers and pianos." Mitchell is particularly enthused to speak of his collaboration with Modern Studies' Pete Harvey: "I gave him space to write his own [string] arrangements for a few of the tracks and he did a beautiful job. I think they are my favourite tracks on the record. It’s nice to hear someone else’s personality sitting there with your ideas. We talked about the territory he would explore after I sent him my initial ideas, and eventually recorded all of the strings on the record in his studio just outside Perth in an afternoon."

Harvey, Mitchell is "very pleased" to divulge, will be joining him for the three launch shows he has planned for The Paralian. "A lot of elements need to be recreated with eight or nine people, so rehearsals have been quite full-on. Pete will be playing cello at these gigs, and I’ll be scuttling around various instruments looking anxious." Mitchell will visit Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh during his short jaunt in support of The Paralian, and has a delightfully eclectic array of support acts joining him including Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s Makar between the years of 2011-2016. "I’ve collaborated with her in the past," Mitchell begins, referencing Lochhead, Steve Kettley and The Hazey Janes’ 2016 release The Light Comes Back. "She’s brilliant, very funny and an extraordinarily talented writer, poet and playwright. I love her to bits, it’s an honour to have her on the bill.

"It should be me supporting her," Mitchell continues with a wry smile. "She kindly took me up on my cheeky invite to come and play." Lochhead and Other Lands (Firecracker Records) will join Mitchell in Edinburgh, while Kinbrae will perform in Dundee. Announced for Glasgow after our conversation is the inimitable Alasdair Roberts, currently putting the finishing touches on his own forthcoming release. Mitchell is visibly humbled when discussing the company he will keep at the launch shows, all three of which promise to be uniquely beautiful in their own right, and also touches on how happy he is to be working with Athens of the North, who will release his record on 1 February. 

The Paralian ('a dweller by the sea') retains an incredibly compelling sense of mystique throughout that encourages the listener to envision and be moved by surroundings – foreign and familiar to them – as it unfolds, ably showcasing Mitchell's proficiency in distilling a transformative experience of his own into an ambitious and ethereal work.

The Paralian is out on 1 Feb via Athens of the North; Andrew Wasylyk plays Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 30 Jan (Tickets); Gardyne Theatre, Dundee, 31 Jan (Tickets); Celtic Connections at The Blue Arrow, Glasgow, 1 Feb (Tickets)