Q&A with Piers Lewin, Lost Songs of Scilly


A unique collaboration that seeks to capture the stories and essence of the Isles of Scilly in music, Lost Songs of Scilly is an on-going musical collaboration between adopted islander Piers Lewin – he's lived there for 25 years - and award-winning composer and producer John Patrick Elliott, a regular visitor to the islands.

Ahead of their tour-ending show at Lighthouse, Piers takes time to answer a few of our questions...

For those who don’t know, what is the Lost Songs of Scilly project and how did it come about? 

The Lost Songs of Scilly album is the most recent point in our long journey towards the creation of a distinctly Scillonian music. The absence of a musical tradition on the Islands has acted as a real spur to fill this important cultural gap with an imagined music. Scilly is such an extraordinary and inspiring place that the musical ideas have come thick and fast over the years, but I feel that Lost Songs of Scilly is our most sophisticated and successful attempt to date. 

I presume there is historical evidence of music making on Scilly and you don’t have to travel far from there – Cornwall, Wales – to find a rich heritage of Celtic music that has survived; why do you think it died out on Scilly? 

The evidence for music making on Scilly is scarce – the odd mention in books of dancing to particular tunes at harvest festival celebrations, vintage photographs of the St Mary’s Town Band and a few indications from place names – Piper’s Hole/Maypole/etc… But there must surely have once existed a rich musical culture like that of Cornwall and other Celtic outposts. In the same way that the Cornish language died out in Scilly before it declined on mainland Cornwall, my sense is that any identifiably Scillonian musical culture would have been swept away by other influences pouring in and out of the islands by sea. Scilly stands at the crossroads of many important international shipping lanes and has a long tradition of cosmopolitanism. 

Sometimes the energy and fresh vision that incomers can bring to a particular place stimulates the local community, how have the people of Scilly taken to the project and has the reaction differed from island to island? 

As the answer to the previous question indicates, the population of Scilly has always been a blend of longstanding island families and more recent incomers – a blend that I believe is a great recipe for vibrant, yet rooted and purposeful community life. I think that as long as there is a degree of respect demonstrated by those who choose to make Scilly their home, the skills and fresh vision they bring can be really beneficial to the place. It’s also important to acknowledge the extended community of Scilly visitors and island lovers who return to the place every year and feel a deep connection to the place – these are some of our most passionate supporters. Each island has a different identity – St Martin’s has always responded particularly positively to our music, for some reason! 

There’s something about outpost communities that necessitates self-sufficiency and you’ve got many more than one string to your bow – musician, composer, carpenter, writer, chef and guest house host – how do they all feed into your creativity? 

That’s a great question! Multi-tasking is a longstanding island tradition – most islanders need more than one occupation in order to make a living. This creative entrepreneurial spirit suits me well and I do find that all these creative outlets support and enrich each other. The Lost Songs of Scilly music is accompanied by a short collection of poems which intertwine with the themes of the music. I have even made a batch of Scilly elm platters engraved with lyrics from the album… 

Perhaps they also make you a natural collaborator? 

Yes – I hope so! 

The current Lost Songs of Scilly tour comes to an end at Lighthouse – what’s next for the project? 

For us, this is a long term project – the mission to represent the island in music will carry on and Lost Songs of Scilly will continue to reach those who love the islands, we hope. I believe passionately in local music for local people in the same way that I source local produce for my food and local timber for my wood turning – I think that we lose something by being so over-exposed to an international musical hegemony. Our aim is not world domination – it is to create a body of music that can mean something to the extended community of Scilly, now and well into the future. 

:: Lost Songs of Scilly can be heard and seen at Lighthouse on Thursday 20 June. Tickets available here Lost Songs of Scilly – Lighthouse (lighthousepoole.co.uk)