Francis Macdonald has been involved in music for a very long time, a key part of the Glasgow indie scene through his work with BMX Bandits and Teenage Fanclub, record label boss with Shoeshine Records and Spit & Polish (responsible for releasing the debut record by Laura Cantrell) and if that wasn’t enough he has also managed bands such as Camera Obscura and The Vaselines. Not a chap for sitting idly, watching the world pass him by.
A few years ago Francis started to turn his hand to a very different type of musical composition, Francis Macdonald - classical composer was born. Now here at TTE we have never been too hung up on creative lines and boundaries. However you slice it, music is made up of series of notes played in a prescribed way. As the old adage goes, there are only two types of music - Good and Bad although some American folk may wish to believe that the only two types of music are “Country” and “Western”, that’s a discussion for a different day though! This change in song writing direction was though a bold step, for one who as I understand it, has not had any formal musical training.
It’s always been clear from his work over the decades that Francis Macdonald has an easy way with melody, pacing and charm. Luckily for us, it seems that these talents stick with him, no matter what form he chooses to express them in.
Back in 2015 we heard the first elements of this new approach when we came across “Music for String Quartet and Celeste” by Francis Macdonald, we were much taken with it. The eleven tracks on the album provided a delightfully paced 40 minutes of gently stirring compositions, often with the piano at the forefront (played by Francis himself). Often sparse and hypnotically repetitive, I often wondered if there a nod to the Brian Eno - Music for… series of albums. Anyway, it was a lovely introduction to an intoxicating new (in this form) talent.
Francis then went away for a while and made a lot of folks very happy by being part of the revamped Teenage Fanclub. Playing on the “Here” album that came out in 2016 and then touring the world, the bad left many delighted faces behind when they left town.
Also in 2016 Francis produced a stunning arrangement for the a track called “Dun” on the magical “The Lost Songs of St Kilda” album. His arrangement coupled with a beautiful vocal from Julie Fowlis, was one of the most beautiful things that we heard that year.
During that Teenage Fanclub tour in 2016, we managed to catch up with Francis for a chat after a gig in Bristol. News had just emerged of a new record that he was working on, this is the record that has just been released, the Hamilton Mausoleum Suite.
Francis explained that night, as he has done in subsequent interviews, the strange hold that the Hamilton Mausoleum held on him from his days as a schoolboy in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland. An improbable edifice built to humour the vanity of the 10th Duke of Hamilton. It was finally completed five years after the death of the Duke, and his body was interred in an Egyptian sarcophagus. It appears that the Duke was not lacking in vanity or ambition, demanding a resting place that was fit for a King rather than a Duke.
He did leave something remarkable behind, a building with one of the longest echoes in the world, a feature that entranced the young Macdonald when the heavy entrance doors were slammed with dramatic effect, the reverberations echoing on for what must have sounded like an eternity.
Those spectacular acoustics, and oddly still surroundings have inspired a gorgeous suite of pieces, from the now slightly older Francis Macdonald. There is some beautiful footage of the recording taking place within the building that inspired these deft and haunting Melodies. This time the music is provided by two violins, viola, cello and harp and it sounds like a rich autumn autumn evening, gently wrapping itself around your shoulders. The one exception is the piece dedicated to the 10th Duke himself, more jaunty and strident initially, it settles into a restful middle section before the boisterous Duke rouses himself again towards the end.
I expect that you, like us, do not have a mausoleum prepared for your passing, but this a fine piece of music which would work splendidly playing on a loop to set a suitably tone, should you have one. Then again, you don’t need to go to such extremes you enjoy this record. It can provide a gloriously evocative soundtrack to wherever you may find yourself.